• November 28, 2021

Coder-Turned-Kingpin Paul Le Roux Gets His Comeuppance

Le Roux’s career was marked by technical brilliance and almost surreal levels of criminality, as I reported over five years for my 2019 book on Le Roux, “The Mastermind.” Born in Zimbabwe and raised partly in South Africa, he spent years in the late 1990s and early 2000s designing a piece of disk encryption software, called Encryption for the Masses (E4M). The code from E4M formed the foundation for TrueCrypt, considered among the most secure and widely used encryption programs until its anonymous creators abandoned it in 2014.

In 2004, operating out of the Philippines, Le Roux began his foray into the darker sides of the internet, opening an online pharmacy under the name RX Limited to sell prescription painkillers to American customers. The company, which recruited American doctors and pharmacists to write, fill, and ship the drugs, proved highly lucrative, earning hundreds of millions of dollars. By the late aughts, Le Roux had leveraged those proceeds into a staggering range of criminal activities, including cocaine and methamphetamine trafficking, gold smuggling, and weapons dealing. His empire grew more violent as it expanded, with Le Roux hiring teams of mercenaries to intimidate and kill his perceived enemies.

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As part of his cooperation agreement, Le Roux admitted to ordering at least seven murders in the Philippines, including the kidnap and execution of a real estate agent named Catherine Lee, whom Le Roux suspected of stealing from him. In 2019, Judge Abrams sentenced an ex-US Army soldier named Joseph “Rambo” Hunter, the leader of Le Roux’s kill team—and two of its members, Adam Samia and Carl David Stillwell—to life in prison for Lee’s murder.

“It’s closure to a long hard journey for everyone involved,” said Mathew Smith, Le Roux’s cousin and a former employee. In 2008, after a dispute over money, Le Roux ordered Smith’s house in Zimbabwe firebombed. Smith escaped uninjured. “Paul is a phenomenon that caused a lot of pain and hurt. Thank you to the brave people who helped end this nightmare.”

From the moment of his arrest in September 2012, Le Roux’s case in the US was highly unusual. The DEA held him in secrecy for years as he maintained to associates that he was still at large, and then with his help, the federal drug agency developed elaborate sting operations against his employees. In a document detailing Le Roux’s cooperation, prosecutors noted that he “assisted law enforcement in shutting down his criminal organization and bringing a dozen of his former associates and mercenaries to justice.” In addition to Joseph Hunter, against whom Le Roux testified in court during his murder trial, Le Roux assisted in rounding up four other mercenaries, along with five associates who’d helped Le Roux purchase large quantities of methamphetamine out of North Korea.

Other attempts to leverage Le Roux’s cooperation, however, came to nothing. His weapons contacts in Iran failed to bear investigative fruit, authorities admitted. Three employees of Le Roux’s prescription drug operation, arrested with his assistance, were acquitted in Minnesota in 2017. Another escaped from a halfway house and has never been found. Le Roux’s case ultimately became a rare example of “cooperating down,” in which authorities made a deal with the top of a criminal organization in order to catch those beneath him. Because of his cooperation with prosecutors, Le Roux will serve less time than several of the underlings who had carried out his murders-for-hire.

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