The tall guy, 30 years old but younger-looking than that, was the host of the party: English Shaun.
It was the fall of 1998, days after Halloween. Afternoon sun poured into the villa, which was rife with the smell of cigarette smoke and chemical sweat. Hunched over the picture frame, English Shaun and Ethan who ran drugs for Shaun back then combined powdered ecstasy, Xanax and ketamine into a large pile. "Zek lines," Ethan calls them. After enough mixing, the two aimed rolled-up hundred-dollar bills into the middle of the pile and snorted. Moments later they both slumped on the couch, eyes slightly open but quite literally unconscious.
"I thought we OD'd," Ethan recalls. "We blacked out for 20 or 30 minutes. I thought we were dead."
When consciousness returned, they went back to the drugs. Throughout the villa stood piles of cocaine, methamphetamine and ketamine. Outside in the fall sunshine, picture frames lay flat with liquid ketamine drying into crisp disks of crystals on the glass. Pills were strewn throughout countertops and pockets painkillers like Darvocet and Vicodan, along with a large quantity of ecstasy, English Shaun's trademark product.
Then there was concern at the locked door to the bathroom. An internationally famous DJ the guest of honor for the party, in town for a rave had disappeared into the bathroom more than an hour ago and turned on the shower, but now he wasn't answering to knocks and shouts at the door.
Will, a drug trafficker and distributor for English Shaun, kicked the door in. He found the star lying in the bathtub with the water still on, breathing but unconscious. He lifted him from the shower and took him out to a couch. And as soon as the celeb came to, the party started up again.
It was a full two days later that the fete finally trickled to a close. The villa sustained considerable damage. Picture frames were destroyed, and glass was strewn throughout the villa. A lampshade caught fire. There were craters in the walls where English Shaun had smashed his head while high on GHB, a liquid anesthetic. Dried wax covered the carpeting and bed, a souvenir of Shaun and Will having hot candle wax dripped on their naked bodies by strippers.
Looking back, the people who were there that day couldn't have realized that this would be the pinnacle of their decadence, the crest of a wave that now threatens to drown them.
Arizonans are by now familiar with Sammy "the Bull" Gravano's exploits as leader of an ecstasy ring, which he ran with the help of his son Gerard and a group of thugs called the Devil Dogs, until his arrest in 2000. Few, however, are familiar with Gravano's contemporary and, some would say, competitor English Shaun, and the organization he reportedly referred to as "the Evil Empire." Investigators from city and federal agencies who have been tracking English Shaun since January 2000 now charge that for years he piloted a syndicate of drug importers and distributors that supplied the bulk of ecstasy in the early days of the Valley's rave scene, and eventually branched out to include meth, pharmaceuticals, designer drugs and marijuana. In the process, it made English Shaun an urban legend in the rave underground.
In May, "English" Shaun Attwood and 12 of his alleged associates were arrested and indicted for a sum of 155 felony violations, including conspiracy, participating in a criminal syndicate, and illegal enterprise. Attwood denies all the charges against him and has pleaded not guilty.
Since the arrests, the legend of English Shaun has flourished in clubs and private parties, and the stories told on the streets these days are elaborate rehashings of antics that crescendo with each retelling, tipping the scales of freak. Rumors of guns, strippers, threats, superstar DJs and enough drugs to kill a herd of elephants. They peak with tales of outrageous parties and heavenly bills, and end with the bald-headed Englishman chained at the legs and wrists in court, staring at nothing, as attorneys discuss what remains of his supposed empire.
Sammy the Bull had the name, and his ride on the ecstasy merry-go-round made headlines around the nation when the former hit man was arrested. The drug, and the rave scene that favored it, had sprung up seemingly out of nowhere. The quantities of pills he brought into the Valley at the time were unheard of. But law enforcement sources now agree that while Gravano had muscle and flash, he was no English Shaun. Gravano lacked Shaun's intelligence, organization, and diverse array of products, they say. They also claim that Attwood easily moved millions of dollars' worth of meth, ecstasy, pharmaceuticals and marijuana through parties and raves in the Valley over the past few years, and they are careful to qualify that estimate as conservative. English Shaun was bigger, in other words, than Sammy the Bull.
And in more ways than one. Attwood is tall, lanky and bald, with pale white skin and pinched features. His accent is where the "English" comes from, a Mad Hatter tea-time lilt. He has braces on his teeth, his lips are thin and pursed, and his blue eyes glimmer mischievously, even in a mug shot. Friends and former roommates describe him as a sort of vampire largely nocturnal, with a thirst for the GHB they say he drank like blood, and a more than passing resemblance to Nosferatu. He could be proper, charming, polite, with an intelligence that matched his magnetism.
Attwood came over from the U.K. in the early '90s, working as a stockbroker. The National Association of Securities Dealers reports that in 1999, while working in the Valley, "Attwood was censured, fined $68,016.90, and barred from association with any NASD member in any capacity." The sanctions were based on findings that Attwood and an associate "engaged in excessive trading in a customer account. Attwood also failed to respond to NASD requests for information."
Coen, who formerly dealt Attwood's ecstasy and used his funds to promote raves, remembers him back then. He was "like a guy from a big brokerage house in London [who] had somehow walked into the wrong party but was having a really great time," he recalls. "He seemed out of place, but he was outgoing enough that he made people quickly forget it and just accept English Shaun as part of the overall weirdness around them."
That weirdness was an inherent element of the nascent rave scene, populated by glitter girls, drag queens, club kids in rabbit ears, and fueled by music and drugs. Coen was a part of it, too and he was among the first to stake out its enormous built-in drug market, long before Shaun went from being a stockbroker to an "E" broker.
Now 30, Coen graduated from Arizona State University in 1993 with an arts degree. He lives alone in an elegant four-bedroom home in Tempe. He says he began frequenting the rave scene purely as a raver, not a dealer, just before and after graduation. "Raves and dropping E every weekend was a symptom of my senioritis," he says.
In '93 and '94, he says, there was no organized system of dealing in the Valley. "The scene then was really just a few hundred ravers. The scene hadn't reached the critical mass of people who were into it and doing E as a part of the whole experience, where someone would look at the possibilities and see a profit potential."
But that all changed in the summer of 1995. Before then, Coen says, anyone could fly to San Francisco or New York and bring back a supply for the weekend's parties, making enough money to cover the plane ticket while still having a couple "rolls" of E left over. But as the scene grew, so did demand.
Coen saw that he could easily subsidize his lifestyle by selling E on the side, he says. Corresponding with this realization, or perhaps inspiring it, was a visit to an ASU frat brother who had moved to Hollywood to be a script-reader and had delved into L.A.'s underground club scene. The script-reader kept a jade ashtray full of E tablets in his bedroom.
Coen's friend said the E came from a cocktail waitress in a techno club on the Vegas strip. Although the script-reader refused to link Coen directly with his source, they negotiated a deal: Coen could phone in an order with five days' notice, then fly to L.A. to pick it up $1,200 for 100 pills, a price he later negotiated down to $5,000 for 500 pills, the maximum order his friend would allow.
Two weeks later, Coen flew to L.A. and returned with 300 pills. "We got rid of them in one weekend, just me and a few friends working three parties." Besides a private party and a rave at the Icehouse, there was an easy market at Chupa, the legendary Phoenix after-hours nightclub where gay pretty boys and drag queens two key factions in the founding of every major city's rave scene congregated once the raves in Phoenix began to attract young suburban "candy ravers."
Coen was not choosy about his clientele; drag queens, candy ravers, Coen sold to them all. He remembers selling off 100 pills "in 10 minutes" at a private party with DJs, at a profit of $15 a pill. In a scaled-down version of the operation that authorities claim Attwood would eventually control, Coen recruited 13 dealers to fly to L.A. for him, making weekly trips.
By the last half of '95, Coen began extracting himself from the hand-to-hand sales at parties, concentrating instead on wholesaling the drug to small-time dealers. After the New Times piece about the Valley's emerging rave scene, "Rave New World," came out in December '95, business was booming, he says. He started charging $25 a pill to the newbies; his friends still paid $20.
Today Coen speculates that this jacked-up pricing may have been what gave Shaun an entree into the E market, in 1996. That's when the rumors began that a bald-headed Englishman was slipping into the business end of the scene.
Marcus lives in a nondescript one-story ranch house in Tempe. Ring the doorbell and a Doberman pinscher barks like hell. Marcus opens a medieval-castle-style security plate in the door that reveals his eyes, then he unlatches three deadbolts and opens a heavy oak door. He is wearing jeans and an ASU tee shirt.
Virtually a third of Marcus' living room is taken up with boxes of action figures and unassembled plastic models from Star Wars and Star Trek, plus the entire line of new Spiderman figures, even a few Battlestar Galactica figures from the late '70s. It's a huge pile of hundreds of collectibles, all still in their boxes, haphazardly dumped on the living room floor.
Marcus feels inclined to explain: "Some dude owed me a lot of money. He paid me in action figures." He shrugs at the unlikely inventory. "Such is the business I'm in."
Marcus is a coke dealer, not a toy collector, and a former ecstasy associate of English Shaun. Now he's 29, attending graduate school at ASU and trafficking in cocaine. He'll continue dealing coke until he's through with school, he says.
"Now I have to sell this shit to get my money," he says, referring to the merchandise filling his living room. "I'm living on eBay, bidding out Boba Fett dolls to Star Wars geeks who want to know if the missile on his jetpack is painted red or yellow, because yellow is way more rare or some shit like that. . . . The guy's tab had gotten up to about three grand and he promised me this collection was worth twice that, but I don't know. I'm like, what, Star Wars toys are legal tender for cokeheads now?"
Marcus sells about an ounce of cocaine a week, profiting around $500. He has a regular clientele and makes his rounds every night in Tempe bars, and in nightclubs in Phoenix and Scottsdale.
"The people I sell to are mostly professionals with something to lose," he says. "They're not going to buy an eight ball off me, then snort up half of it, do something stupid and get arrested."
Marcus has been involved in the Phoenix rave scene from its beginnings in '92 and '93.
It wasn't until 1995, after graduating from college, that, like Coen, he decided to deal E. "When I first started dealing E, it wasn't about making a lot of money. It really wasn't," he says. "What it was really about was being able to maintain my lifestyle of not having to have a job, and being able to afford to go to all the raves and clubs I wanted and buy all the records I wanted and still have an apartment and a car and a new pair of kicks to wear out every two months from dancing on so many warehouse floors, right?
"Plus, I was able to convince myself that I wasn't a drug dealer, I was a servant to the scene. Like, I'm bringing the love tablets to the masses. Obviously, I was high on my supply. But like I said, it was a different time. The E then was still really good, a lot of it, so I felt like I was selling optimism in a pill."
He remembers first hearing about English Shaun in early 1996, around the time of a party called "Icey." The touchy-feely effects of E were in full force that night.
"They had this big bouncy castle out in the parking lot at that party, and I was all E'd out lying in there, because of course by about 1 a.m. it had turned into a big cuddle-puddle chill room. . . . Everyone was coming down a little bit off their first pill, probably, and feeling more touchy-feely.
"This chick was sitting behind me with her legs over my shoulders, so my neck is pressed between her legs, and she's like rubbing on the back of my neck and massaging my shoulders by flexing her thighs, right? It was awesome."
Marcus takes a moment to savor the memory.
"Anyway, she starts talking about this guy English Shaun, how she bought her E from English Shaun, and how it was from London and it was pharmaceutical and it was really, really clean."
About this time in the scene, the first batches of bad E were showing up; either having no effect or making kids sick. For the first time, kids were beginning to pay close attention to the symbols stamped on E pills, to keep track of what brand they were taking.
"This chick who was giving me the neck massage, she told everyone in the cuddle-puddle that the E she bought from English Shaun wasn't even a pill, it was just white powder in a capsule, like a Tylenol, and I hadn't even heard of E coming that way yet."
At that time, Marcus was selling "Pumpkin Seed" Es, so named because of their shape and size; he bought them from a local middle man for $15 each, then re-selling the pills for $20 per. "I would go through 50 pills in a weekend, easy," he says. "I'd usually sell all 50 at one party, on a Friday night, then buy another 50 on Saturday and get rid of those, too. If I had a few left over, there was always some after-party at someone's house where they'd decided to keep the party rolling through Sunday night. And if you showed up there with a bag of 15 or 20 pills, you were the hero."
So he heard of English Shaun's powdered E and wanted to meet him. Two weeks after the Icey party, he says, he did meet him, at a rave at the Icehouse. "He was just this really sort of vibrant, attractive character, and I more or less had a friend introduce me, and came right out with it: that I heard he had really good E and I wanted to talk to him about buying in bulk. . . . He wasn't the guy going around the party doing hand-to-hand transactions. Already, he had people to do that for him. But he told me he'd flag me down that night as he was leaving, and I could follow him home and we'd talk things over."
Later that night, he did follow Shaun and his entourage to Shaun's home; Marcus won't say just where. Among that entourage that night, he says, were none of the people now indicted, except for Shaun. "I think it was more or less just a bunch of kids he'd met in the scene," Marcus says. "This was the very beginning of Shaun's syndicate. He was in the recruitment phase, seeing who worked out and who didn't. And I worked out very well."
The atmosphere that night was typical rave after-party chic. The lights were either dimmed, colored or black. Fractal videos played on TV monitors with the sound down low. "This was like 4:30 in the morning," he says. "There's people crashed everywhere, making out standing up against the walls everywhere, some guy who's all fucked up trying to make smoothies in the kitchen and getting frozen blueberries all over the place that's one detail I remember, just that these frozen blueberries were flying out of the blender and then getting tracked all over the place, rolling around like little cold marbles . . ."
Business and pleasure were never far apart in Shaun's mind, as Marcus soon found out. "At one point Shaun is sitting on this couch with these two young girls, an arm around each of them, and they have glitter on their face and their arms and their legs. You know, glitter girls . . . really hot but really young. . . . [He] gets up with the girls and walks back to his room with them. But he's caught my eye as he's getting up from the couch, so he knows I'm watching him," Marcus remembers with a smirk. "But then as they're getting right up to the bedroom door, he flips his head back over his shoulder and sort of quickly nods for me to follow him."
Weaving through the dancers, he made his way to the bedroom; Shaun locked the door behind them. Inside, Marcus says, there was a "pile of powder" on the bedside stand. Shaun then took out a deck of playing cards, Marcus remembers, cut the deck repeatedly until he found the Queen of Hearts, and used the card to shovel out a dose of E onto a rave flier on the bed.
"I'd never heard of anyone snorting E, at this point, right? . . . But one of the glitter girls sort of sees me looking a little freaked out, and she goes, It's E. It's good. Do it.' So I put that shit up my beak and it burned like a bitch for about 30 seconds, and then the rush hit me and I was all good, you know? All of a sudden I was the coolest person in the world and so were they. I was used to taking E in a pill, where it takes 30, 45 minutes to kick in. So snorting it, I was like, Damn. Okay. This guy knows his drugs.'"
For the next two hours, Marcus and Shaun talked, while the glitter girls played with one another's hair on a velvet love seat, constantly arranging and rearranging styles, taking turns on one another.
"Shaun was mister congeniality, you know, mister polite manners and charming accent," Marcus says. "We talked about music, about the scene in Phoenix, about the party that night. . . . And then at one point he tells me, Well, let's get back to business for a moment.'"
Marcus explained his current arrangement to Shaun: He was getting 50 pills for $750 from his current supplier, but the quality of the drugs was inconsistent. English Shaun, he says, saw an opportunity to recruit a new seller while hobbling his competition.
"So Shaun tells me, I can do you better, but here's the thing: You work with me, and only me, from now on.' I got the sense he'd decided to go head-to-head with this guy, you know, and he was like a headhunter from a rival stock company, trying to hire away a top broker."
Marcus says Shaun promised consistent, high quality, and a much better price. But Marcus would have to buy more pills at a time. "He told me the way his operation worked was, he liked to buy larger amounts every once in a while you know, the fewer deals on the whole, the better for everyone rather than making a deal every two weeks. And he said if you bought his E to sell, you had to do the same. Meaning I had to buy 500 hits a time instead of 50, except that instead of paying 15 a pill, I'm paying 10. And if all goes well, he'll drop it to 9 in six months. You know, like I was on probation for a new job or some shit."
Soon after his E-fueled meeting with English Shaun, Marcus put everything he had, including a cash advance on a Wells Fargo student credit card, to buy in: $5,000 for 500 pills.
"After we set the price and I agreed to his terms, he pointed at the glitter girls and sort of went, Which one do you favor?' I didn't answer, and he sort of called out to one of them." Her name was Heidi.
"He said, Heidi, love, why don't you spend some quality time with Marcus here?'"
Heidi smiled at Marcus, then ran her tongue all around her lips, got up and took him by the hand, and led him back into the living room, where they kissed and felt each other out for hours. At one point he had her pressed into the speakers, grinding her from behind.
She leaned her head back to lick his ear, and said to him words that seemed to intertwine with the music: "You're so cool, you're so cool." And he remembers thinking to himself, "I've got it made. I'm in."
While Marcus was moving in, Coen was trying to move out. By 1997, he had severed his ties with Shaun and had moved from E dealer to rave promoter, throwing monthly raves, sometimes handling weekly club nights at night spots in Scottsdale, downtown Phoenix and Tempe.
But later that year, when Coen wanted to do a couple of raves featuring A-list DJ talent, Shaun heard he was looking for investors and offered to both invest in the raves and get him a deal through promoter connections in the U.K. His DJ connections never came through, but Shaun's money did. Coen says Shaun's investments were legitimate. But thinking back, he remembers: "Shaun always wanted to be paid in checks drawn on a business account, rather than in cash."
From 1998 to 2000, Coen admits, he and Shaun did share a laundering arrangement: Shaun would transfer cash to Coen, who in turn would give him a check for 90 percent of the cash he'd received. The benefits to Coen were twofold: First, he got to keep 10 percent of whatever Shaun gave him; and second, he got investment money for his raves and club nights. If Shaun invested 10 grand the most he ever put in Shaun got nine grand back. And if the event made money, Shaun could actually profit on his investment, at the same 90 percent ratio.
Shaun almost always asked to be paid in checks drawn on a business account, Coen claims, logged as "promotional services" or "entertainment consulting."
It's all those old, canceled checks for $5,000 and $10,000 that now have Coen worried.
As his influence grew in the Valley's burgeoning rave scene, his former associates say English Shaun wielded his power with a combination of charisma, magnetism and generosity. "I think his outgoing personality collected an interesting assortment of individuals," says Ethan, a former importer and distributor of drugs for English Shaun. "He kept the party atmosphere going with his minions, to instill some sort of loyalty towards him. People find it harder to betray someone once they're known on a friendship level rather than a business level."
Shaun's recruiting, another associate adds, tended to target youths who needed the security and prestige that they thought a position within the Evil Empire might offer. "All through the years he would contract out essentially to these kids that had nowhere else to go," explains Will. "Maybe they had no credit histories, no rental histories, no jobs, nothing really going for him except they worked for him."
Attwood reportedly kept his street-level co-conspirators in apartments and townhomes that he financed under their names throughout the Valley, where they would run their operations. "They would be supplied an apartment," Will says. "Places like the Quads [in Tempe] and numerous other apartment complexes which were many times kind of overrun a funnel of these fuckin' apartments per apartment complex. It's kind of a terrorist method, I guess, these cells. If you don't know about each other, you're not going to get busted. You know each other, but you're not associated with one another."
Of his own relationship with Shaun, Will continues, "The reason that I got along with him was that we were both intelligent business-wise and educationally . . . we both had something to offer each other. Really all of Shaun's interactions, if they didn't make him money, they weren't valuable. He always picked out the more intelligent people to be his chiefs or admirals. He usually didn't have to be authoritative with his underlings. He was Tony Soprano. It's not like he had to stress anything. He just said what he'd like to happen and it happened."
The key to Shaun's successes in the drug underworld, both these traffickers say, was his wealth and his organizational skills. "He came over here with money. The only reason that he was really English Shaun' is because he financed a lot of shit," Will says. "A lot of the product that was slung on the streets was first fronted out by him; his money was the origin. The other people would all be fronted drugs by him, they all owed him money. The people who owed him the most were closest to him, his best buds. People were really dedicated to different sections this person dealt with this [drug], this other person dealt with the other [drug], and not knowing what was going on was really the key. The less informed [they were], the better that was always the standard to be held by."
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.
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.
They reportedly drove south into the desert toward Mexico until they found a suitably desolate stretch of sand, where the deadbeat found himself making retribution with his own blood. The victim suffered a beatdown at the hands and feet of at least five people, according to Ethan, but that wasn't the end. "We placed small amounts of dope in his pocket, hoping he would run to the police," Ethan says, "and they would find the dope on him, disbelieve all the accusations, and he would get a dope charge."
And at least one account suggests that the wrath of the Empire could be triggered even when the stakes were substantially lower. According to police, in November 1997, Attwood, along with his alleged enforcer and fellow Englishman Peter Mahoney, were arrested for threatening to kill a Tempe woman for $25. They showed up at her door around 9 p.m. demanding payment for a small ecstasy sale that had taken place earlier. The woman told police that Attwood yelled, "Pay me my fucking money or I will kill you." When she told Attwood she didn't have the money, Attwood reportedly responded, "Well then I am going to break into your apartment and steal everything in there, and if anyone gets in my way I am going to kill them." Soon after the woman called the police, a neighbor said she saw Attwood push a gas grill up to the woman's door and attempt to light the propane tank with his lighter. According to police reports, Tempe police sought charges of felony theft by extortion; he was convicted of a lesser charge and served no jail time.
As the accounts of both police and former drug dealers attest, the meth, the eccentricities and escalating violence had made Shaun and his crew stars in their own movie, and their audience was losing interest. But that didn't hold true for law enforcement, who had had their eyes on Shaun since the mid-'90s, waiting for a break.
Near the turn of the millennium, ruptures in the seams of English Shaun's organization were appearing. The immense quantity of meth being moved had overtaken ecstasy as the Empire's most profitable merchandise, according to Shaun's employees. Competition with Gravano, meanwhile, had lowered the profit margin on ecstasy. In time, nearly the entire foundation of the Evil Empire the traffickers and the distributors was hopelessly addicted to crystal meth, as alleged by former associates and confirmed by law enforcement officials.
The entry of the Gravano syndicate into the market brought ecstasy into mainstream dance clubs, where it was far more susceptible to observation by the authorities. "[Gravano] attacked the whole club [scene], beginners, the amateurs, pretty much," Will recalls. "More scrutiny had come upon the rave scene. [Shaun] of course went to other avenues, and that was meth. He made a killing on meth. . . . That's pretty much where his emphasis was up until the point where I last talked to him."
English Shaun's network had another problem as well. "It was just everybody getting old, really. His operation has been around for close to fuckin' 10 years now," Will explains. This brought about the recruitment of younger and younger people to handle the street-level distribution, while the older functionaries of the Empire degenerated into their addictions. "A lot of these [older] people were getting busted stupidly just generally being junkies," Will continues. "These [younger] runners would be less conspicuous than the older, hardened junkies, and also they're far less valuable as well. If they get popped and they're juveniles too, they're gonna get a fuckin' slap on the wrists."
But these younger, more disposable distributors also opened up the Empire to new liabilities. "You cannot have a fuckin' establishment run on those kind of kids," Will says. "Those kind of kids are going to fuckin' turn over easily. Mommy and Daddy are going to pay for their lawyer, and they're going to fucking give up whatever they know."
It wasn't hard for those involved in the beginning to see that Shaun's enterprise was sinking. Coen, for one, finally broke off all business relations with Shaun in 2000, because Attwood was, as he puts it, "going Nosferatu," a reference to the old silent-movie vampire.
"Shaun worked overtime on his own legend," Coen says. "He led la vida loca and he made sure we all knew about it. He didn't much care what was said about him, as long as they got his name right and they were saying he was a crazy motherfucker.
"I didn't need him anymore, and he was too hot to handle."
Marcus, too, sensed the bottom falling out of the operation in 2000. One particular incident lingers in Marcus' mind, toward the end of his dealings with Shaun.
A shipment from Europe was running late, and Marcus was stressing. It was Friday afternoon, he recalls, and he was out of pills. He and other members of the Empire were in a mad rush to get their product ready for sale at that weekend's clubs and parties. Finally, Shaun called him over to the house, where Marcus says he found Shaun and two of his associates sitting around the kitchen table, shades drawn, techno blasting, with a mountain of white powder on the table and a brown grocery bag full of empty plastic capsules. The three were scooping powdered ecstasy into the empty capsules and depositing them in an empty 30-gallon aquarium on the kitchen counter, Marcus says.
"So they're moving really fast and . . . meanwhile all this shit is soaking into their pores because their hands are all sweaty because they're nervous, so they're all getting super high. . . . So of course, the actual dose of these pills is all over the place.
"I was looking at all the pills in the fish tank, which were piling up at a pretty impressive rate, and in some of the capsules, there's just a little pinch of powder at the capsule, and it some others, a full half the capsule is full of powdered E, like they're ready to dose an elephant."
That weekend, the scene was rife with reports of people either tripping on one hit or taking three and feeling nothing. "It was insanity," Marcus says. "It went on for weeks, where people would take one capsule and feel nothing an hour later so they'd think the hits were weak, so they'd take two more and those two would be packed to the brim, and 10 hours later they'd be sitting on a corner talking to Santa Claus. And it was all because few people thought to look to compare the amount of powder in these capsules. . . . It was such total chaos that taking an E in Phoenix that weekend was like playing a pharmaceutical slot machine."
Marcus says he stopped buying E from Shaun shortly thereafter. He was disturbed by what he describes as Shaun's increasingly erratic behavior, including Shaun's increasing paranoia and his loud, public boasts about being a wealthy drug lord.
"Shaun was radiating sketch," Marcus says. "He had this favorite line of his, where if the subject of E came up in a cluster of people, whether he knew them or not, Shaun would start bragging " Marcus affects a light English accent:
"I can get you any kind of fucking E you want, man. Green clovers, blue stars, yellow moons, the whole bowl of Lucky Charms with a little sugar on top."
Marcus drops the accent, then continues: "Now, picture that lovely little self-promo coming from this tall, bald-headed motherfucker with an English accent, waving his arms all over the room, sweating, twitching, all gakked out on speed, saying this loud enough for the whole party to hear. And if you're me, standing over in the corner with a beer, and maybe you just stopped by the party to pick up 100 Es from Shaun's crew, right? Well, seeing him acting that way gets you to thinking, and what it got me to thinking was, I need to forget I ever knew this guy.'"
It turned out to be easier said than done. "I let Shaun know I wouldn't be picking up any more E from him, and he sent that goon of his, that fucking soccer hooligan in a silk shirt" he identifies the man as Peter Mahoney "he sent him around to have a little talk with me that went like this: You don't want to sell E anymore, fine. But you don't sell anyone else's E, either. We find out who you are, we'll take your kneecaps off with a handsaw.' Or words to that effect.
"I haven't sold E since."
Throughout this epic rise and fall, law enforcement was not oblivious to English Shaun's activities. Tempe police received an anonymous tip in 1998 about a house in the Valley where raves and after-hours parties were occurring, complete with the illegal party favors they knew Shaun reveled in. But just as the investigation was getting started, "we hit a wall," says a source close to the investigation. "Shaun moved again and he was a ghost."
In January 2001, another source called with concrete information about Shaun's whereabouts and activities that set things in motion for a full-blown investigation. Extensive surveillance began and wire taps were installed on the phone lines of key players in March of 2002. For the next 80 days, law enforcement agents from Phoenix and Tempe sat through thousands of calls, sometimes hundreds in one day.
What they expected to be an ecstasy-based operation took on greater proportions: methamphetamine, LSD, marijuana, cocaine, Xanax, morphine, somas, Valium, GHB.
Shaun was careful on the phone, police sources note, which they say explains the scant nine charges against him. He would meet to discuss details of his business in parking lots of supermarkets, shopping malls, or at restaurants like Malee's on Main.
But by May 16, law enforcement which by now included U.S. Customs, the DEA, and Phoenix, Scottsdale and Tempe police had heard enough. They picked up Shaun at his girlfriend's apartment in Scottsdale just after 7 a.m. A source close to the investigation describes his living conditions as squalor, with sex toys on the floor and trash strewn around the apartment.
Attwood denies the charges against him, and at their arraignments in May, all 13 entered pleas of not guilty. "I am shocked and appalled at the seriousness of these charges," Attwood said. On his booking record, he listed "sales" as his occupation.
Where Shaun's money went is another piece of the puzzle prosecutors are slowly putting together. An account in Attwood's name has been seized with a little over $20,000; but sources close to the investigation say they suspect he may have off-shore accounts, and add that he has been known to use many aliases. Friends also say that any time a crony of Shaun's would make a trip overseas, they would courier out envelopes filled with cash. They say Shaun would bring his aging grandmother over to the U.S. for frequent medical treatment, then stuff the structure of her wheelchair with money before she rolled onto the plane and back to the U.K.
Those facing the most serious charges are Attwood, who is being charged as the ringleader; Peter Mahoney as the enforcer; Kerry Osborne as the administrator and dealer; Gary Menichello, who allegedly worked in meth; and Cody Bates and Sherwin Williams, who prosecutors maintain worked as dealers and smugglers. The other names on the indictment are involved on a significant yet peripheral level. Investigative sources warn of more indictments to come. This investigation, they say, is far from over.
It's just past 7:30 a.m. on June 28, and the waiting area outside Judge Michael Wilkinson's courtroom in Phoenix Superior Court is sterile in appearance, and morgue quiet. It's the initial pretrial conference for the 13 indicted in the English Shaun case. The last time they were all in the same room may have been when drugs and money were the foundations of their friendship. Now, it's hard to tell if any of them are friends at all.
The lucky have bonded out, such as 20-year-old Andrea Swanson. She was busted with a quarter-pound of meth in her car near Gila Bend in March; those charges will be refiled as part of this indictment. She is tall and rail-thin, her gawky limbs dangling from a prim striped sweater and long navy skirt. Her hip bones jut visibly through the fabric as she careens around the sterile space like a pinball. Loping, pirouetting, pacing, tapping, spinning and flitting in and out of the rest room. Her parents, Brock and Judith, are there, standing silently on opposite corners of the room.
Ten minutes later, Attwood's girlfriend, 19-year-old Amber Holwegner, arrives with a young man and her parents. She is relaxed, even giggly. She and her friends laugh at the aliases the prosecution has assigned to those indicted, especially those they've given to her boyfriend. "Wanker . . . Evil . . . ," she reads them off. "They just do that so they can embarrass people." The Dietrichs arrive next, distant relations of Attwood's, and they introduce themselves to Amber and her family. They are here to try to get Amber's boyfriend's bail reduced from $750,000. They will tell the judge they trust Attwood implicitly, and would gladly have English Shaun baby-sit their 4-year-old child. They will be unsuccessful in convincing Wilkinson.
Gary Menichello enters next. His hair is cut short, his belly hangs over his pants, he's got a stud in his left ear. He rocks back and forth on his feet, fidgeting. Gary's girlfriend Carina is still in custody. They fell in love years ago when Gary was a nationally known DJ who played clubs all over the country. Meth appears to have ended that career rather quickly, tweak eating away at his talent and destroying his reputation. The day he was arrested was his first day on the job as a fund raiser for the Republican party.
Andrea manages to unfold her arms from around her chest to wave a little hi at Gary and Angel Capdevilla, another woman named in the indictment who has just shown up. Andrea goes to the rest room again, then emerges with a newspaper crossword which she holds in front of her face as she sits and gnaws on a pen. She hops up and heads back to the rest room.
The door to the courtroom opens and Cody Bates strides in wearing a white tee shirt and blue jeans. His brother and mother are with him. He buries his hands in his pockets and sighs noticeably when the judge rolls into the room. His public defender isn't present, but Cody stands tall in the back of the courtroom as he addresses Judge Wilkinson. He makes an unexpected announcement. "I'd like to self-surrender myself back into custody at this time, have my bond exonerated and back to mother directly today," he says. "I'm attempting to hire private counsel with bond money." His bond was $50,000.
The bailiff pulls out handcuffs; Cody takes a sip of water and hugs his mother. As they embrace, he whispers, "Bye, Mom. I'm staying alive. I'm going to jail, but I'm safe."
Throughout the proceedings, Shaun Attwood sits silently, staring ahead, as his attorney, Alan Simpson, argues that his client is just a day-trader from Tucson with no serious charges against him, certainly not enough to warrant three-quarters of a million dollars as a cash bond. Simpson produces a six-foot timeline of the case against his client, with the alleged telephone conversations marked in canary yellow.
Simpson is facing a tough and well-respected prosecutor, Laura Reckart from the state Attorney General's Office, who was also part of the case against Sammy the Bull and has worked extensively in gang and sex-crime cases.
"You know, as I was driving to work today I was listening to that Aerosmith song, 'Livin' on the Edge,'" Reckart says after the hearing. "When you live on the edge, you can't keep yourself from falling. That's what this case reminds me of. Once upon a time you thought you were so powerful, and now you're invisible, in chains in a courtroom."
Although transcripts of the wire taps a principal source of evidence in this case are sealed, Simpson questions the detectives' interpretations of the code they say Shaun and dealers used when making transactions. He painstakingly questions nearly every word, nit-picking what "green" or "girl" could mean. Of count 61, he says: "It's a solicitation call to Angel, in which my client says, Hey, you got some of that wine?' Surveillance then has Shaun going to her house and emerging with a bottle of wine."
Reckart coolly corrects Simpson, without glancing at his color-coded time chart.
"He didn't just ask for wine. He asked for any of that salty fucking wine,' pardon my language, your honor, which is slang for GHB, which Shaun was addicted to."
On July 11, prosecutors added "serious drug offender" allegations to those charges already filed against Attwood, Mahoney and Osborne, because of what the prosecution calls aggravating circumstances in the case, including the use of minors in selling drugs. If convicted, they could face a life sentence with possibility for parole after 25 years.
Outside the courthouse walls, meanwhile, news of the arrests takes on a life of its own. The indictments, and the fear that there may be more to come, have stirred things up in the rave and club scene.
"It was pretty ironic in a way, because at first it wasn't as if everyone was saying, English Shaun got busted! English Shaun got busted!' It was more like, Hey, remember English Shaun? He finally got busted.'" Over the last few years, Coen says, he still heard the occasional Shaun story, "but he wasn't at his peak anymore. Far from it. He was just another crystal casualty on a larger scale."
The bust is disconcerting to many of the older crowd like Coen the more discerning businessmen who got out when the getting was good. They can't help but wonder how far back the arrests will go. "I'm nervous," he says. "I know people who did business with Shaun two, three, four years ago and they're nervous right along with us. No one's sure how far this thing is going to go, and until it's over I'm going to be taking a deep breath every time my doorbell rings."
If anything is surprising to English Shaun's former associates, though, they say it's that the Empire fell at the hands of law enforcement, rather than from its own self-destruction.
"I really thought he'd die before he'd get caught," Will says. "That's what we were all betting on."
Editor's note: The names of Will, Ethan, Coen and Marcus have been changed. Additional reporting by David Holthouse.