Evil Empire

Ethan, Will and others who were there still talk about the scene that night. Two girls — a stripper and her friend — walked arm in arm through the living room of a villa at an East Valley resort hotel. Braless in matching bright halter tops, the girls wove their way through the crowd, sharing balance among their four feet. They wore naive, synthetic grins, eyes lolling about the room. Near the kitchen, their gazes landed on a six-foot-tall bald man. He was, Ethan recalls, crushing and chopping pills, spilling the granules into a pile of powder on the smooth glass of a picture frame that had been taken off the wall.

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.