Evil Empire

Investigators say he was bigger than Sammy the Bull. His minions say he ruled the drug trade in the Valley's rave scene. Now, authorities have "English Shaun," the man they claim reigned over a nighttime empire of ecstasy, meth, violence and excess.


In 1997, the rave scene was reaching its boiling point. Some look back on those times as the halcyon days of the Evil Empire.

Back then, they point out, underground dance parties weren't yet on the authorities' radar screens. An ecstasy dealer could sell out his pocket just by yelling loud enough at a rave. These were the days that bred a stereotype of ecstasy dealers: club-dwelling mysteriosos wearing shirts with a large E on them, treated deferentially as shamans of the scene.

Carina McCormick was arrested with 100 pills of what prosecutors suspect is ecstasy.
Todd H. Lillard
Carina McCormick was arrested with 100 pills of what prosecutors suspect is ecstasy.
English Shaun has been charged as a "serious drug offender" and could face a life sentence.
Todd H. Lillard
English Shaun has been charged as a "serious drug offender" and could face a life sentence.

Details

Read Westword's related feature story about black-market GHB, "Sip of Fools."

English Shaun one-upped the "E"-shirt methodology. Will says he adopted the Batman logo as his own, outfitting himself and his network of distributors in tee shirts and caps bearing the spread-wing bat design. Not coincidentally, the ecstasy pills he was importing from Europe were embossed with the same logo.

At the time, English Shaun's international ecstasy importing was a fairly straightforward affair, law enforcement officials say. Ecstasy was a new phenomenon for authorities, who were ill-equipped to trace and identify the substance using traditional methods, like drug-sniffing dogs. So importing E involved little more than buying in bulk, usually from Amsterdam, obscuring the drug in luggage, and flying it in to Phoenix.

Domestic trafficking was reportedly even easier. Both Will and Ethan claim that LSD was brought in from the Bay Area, while crystal meth came at various times from Southern California, small Arizona towns, and Mexico, and pharmaceuticals were readily available just across the U.S.-Mexico border.

According to Will, who was a veteran middleman for English Shaun, a mule would carry white envelopes, each stuffed with $10,000 cash, denominations neatly in order, easily concealed inside the hyperbolically big pants that were part of the raver uniform. The carrier would fly or drive to the pick-up city — oftentimes San Francisco or Los Angeles — phone the connection and set up a meeting. The carrier would be put up in a swank hotel, and the next day would return with the drugs either strapped to his body or carefully concealed in his luggage. Upon his return to the Valley, Will says, the carrier would report to Shaun and spend some time sampling the merchandise before it was parceled out to the underlings for distribution. Will himself claims to have done this.

Authorities also state that the Evil Empire's upper tier was exceptionally well-managed, and an air of invincibility permeated the operations. When Will needed an enormous quantity of pharmaceuticals promptly at a hotel party, all it took was a phone call. "I'm having a hotel party, I've got a bunch of girls, got a bunch of ecstasy, but we don't have things to come down on," he says. "I called Shaun up in Tucson, like, What you got?'"

He says Shaun offered him "a couple of Xanax," a prescription depressant. When Will said he needed closer to 500 pills, Shaun offered to fly a courier from Tucson to Phoenix with the merchandise for a $70 fee, with delivery promised within three hours.

"So two hours later I get a knock on the Sheraton door in Mesa, and it's Ethan. He brought over a couple hundred Xanax."

The lower, street-level tiers of the organization were considerably more complicated to manage. Will and Ethan both claim that promoters at the time hired English Shaun's organization to handle security at their parties, as well as to provide for the ravers' chemical needs. Outfitted in black SECURITY' tee shirts, wielding Mag-Lites, and often Tasers in their pockets, they say, Shaun's underlings could effectively shut out any competition. Though the Evil Empire apparently had the rave drug market on lockdown, there were always upstarts looking to make money at the parties. And toward the millennium, Sammy the Bull's minions were beginning to assert their presence at raves.

"Yes, [Shaun's underlings] were Tasering the competition and taking their shit," Will affirms. He worked security with English Shaun once in May 1999 at a rave called Golden, held outdoors south of Phoenix, and witnessed the assaults firsthand. "They just did [the Tasering] with impunity because of who they worked for. They were just thugs who did it for their own gain." Working for English Shaun seems to have bestowed these lower-level operatives with a license to do as they pleased: Taser the competition, take their product, sell it and pocket the profit, with English Shaun none the wiser. "The people who jacked the other people, they would profit before [Shaun] did," Will continues. "It's not like everything was paid to the Don. It's still a free market."

Tales of violence and kidnapping permeate the legend of English Shaun, most of them probably nothing more than tales, but some can be confirmed. "I'd heard all sorts of glamorous stories of kidnappings or assaults," Ethan says. "I think for the most part many of them were fictitious, just to keep the underlings in check — the fear factor."

He pauses, then continues hesitantly, describing the retribution he inflicted, with Shaun's assistance, on a customer who owed him around $10,000. The unsuspecting victim was invited to a dinner party at a restaurant with a large group of people affiliated with the Evil Empire, including English Shaun and Ethan. Sedatives were surreptitiously slipped into the debtor's drink, Ethan says, rendering him helpless as he was taken to a car by Ethan, Shaun and several others.

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