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Monday, 13 October 2008

Sean Erez wheeler-dealer international Ecstasy trafficker

09:00 |

Sean Erez wounded in a botched Harbourfront transaction once masterminded America's largest Ecstasy smuggling ring, which employed naive Hasidic Jews as couriers. But the jury now deliberating whether Sean Erez, 38, is guilty of possession for the purposes of trafficking cocaine never heard of his past orchestration of a ring that exported a million pills from Amsterdam to New York and Miami in the 1990s. It was the largest Ecstasy importing ring uncovered in the U.S. at that time. Erez's couriers included teenaged Hasidic students -- some lured by a cover story of smuggling diamonds -- who transported tens of thousands of pills with Superman and yin and yang symbols on them. "He was a wheeler-dealer. But what he did was shocking to the Jewish community," said Lisa Sweetingham, author of Chemical Cowboys, a soon-to-be released book on international Ecstasy trafficking networks.
"He exploited these very naive youths, who were insulated from the modern, corrupt world. They had the opportunity to travel to Europe, make a lot of money, go to casinos and night clubs," said Sweetingham. Shimon Levita, then 17, was star-struck by Erez's flashy lifestyle, which included a beautiful apartment in a trendy Amsterdam neighbourhood near a casino and the city's notorious red-light district.
Erez was a legitimate entrepreneur as well as a drug importer. He owned a yogurt parlour in Israel and a Manhattan jean shop. But his greatest profits came from his Ecstasy ring, which he established after working for the late Ecstasy kingpin Oded Tuito. While working for Tuito, Erez was caught with 100 pills and jailed for two months in 1998. Tuito, who died at 42 of a heart attack in 2004 while in prison awaiting trial for charges of selling his signature "Tweedy Bird" tablets, used strippers as his drug mules and paid them $10,000 to $20,000 for each time they transported drugs. "In jail, that's where Erez hatched the idea of using the most unlikely of couriers, Hasidic Jews, instead of strippers as Tuito did. And Erez only paid these teens dying to see the world -- night clubs -- a fraction of what Tuito was paying the stripper-mules," said a Drug Enforcement Ad -ministration source, who was a key investigator on the case but now works undercover. Erez paid Shimon Levita, now 27, $200 for each Hasidic Jew he recruited as a courier. The couriers received up to $2,000 for each trip, some carrying the pills inside athletic socks or false-bottomed suitcases, said the source. Erez was arrested for the massive Esctasy operation in Amsterdam in 1999. Another of Erez's recruiters, Simcha Roth, now 27, said during Erez's sentencing hearing that he couldn't explain his actions.
"Sean Erez made everything seem so easy. I was living in a fantasy world," Roth told the court. The free-wheeling world of easy money and travel came crashing down on Erez as his couriers were picked off by DEA agents and police. Eighteen of Erez's underlings pleaded guilty. Erez was eventually ordered imprisoned for 15 years in New York in 2001 after he pleaded guilty to conspiracy. But the sentence was slashed to 10 years -- the Canadian maximum -- when he was transferred to the Canadian prison system in June 2005. Two months later he was paroled. Eleven months after he was paroled, Erez was shot three times at the Westin Harbour Castle Hotel by bandits looking to rob either him or co-accused dealer, Evgene "Andy" Starchik of 4.5 kilos of cocaine in a gym bag, according to the Crown.

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