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.