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According to information compiled by U.S. Customs, many distributors pay Dutch or Israeli smuggling rings $100,000 for bringing them 200,000 pills from the Netherlands or Belgium. They then sell those pills to dealers for $8 to $11 apiece, earning a profit of $1.5 million. That might seem like an awful lot of ecstasy to unload, but demand is so high, most dealers purchase by the thousand. "Ecstasy is a much neater business than cocaine or heroin," says Customs commissioner Raymond W. Kelly. "You can invest $100,000 as a distributor and get $5 million back."

Before it was busted in February, the Israeli ecstasy ring that supplied Greg out of an apartment in Forest Hills sold dealers as many as 100,000 pills a week, according to the Queens district attorney's office. One member was observed by the DEA saying he needed 10,000 ecstasy tablets immediately and 25,000 more within the hour.

Both the reach and the organization of the Forest Hills ring were impressive. "They were very, very smart -- even if you were buying a few thousand pills, you'd always deal with the guy lowest on the totem pole," says Greg. "And their reach was amazing. I would buy pills from them, and the next week I'd talk to friends out in San Francisco and Dallas who had the exact same pills."

An even bigger Israeli ring, allegedly run by 29-year-old Amsterdam resident Sean Erez, recruited Hasidic Jews from Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and Monsey, New York, to smuggle ecstasy from Amsterdam through Paris. Although Erez and his girlfriend remain in Dutch custody fighting extradition, the other people named in the indictment all pleaded guilty, including Shimon Levita, an Orthodox Jew from Brooklyn who helped Erez recruit Hasidim, who were given $1,500 for each trip. When the ring was busted, Erez had almost $475,000 in a Luxembourg bank account, and law-enforcement officials estimated it had smuggled more than a million tablets of ecstasy into the U.S.

Even those operations pale in comparison with the Los Angeles-based ecstasy ring allegedly run by a 44-year-old Israeli national named Jacob "Koki" (pronounced "Cookie") Orgad that was busted by Customs in June. During the past two years, the group allegedly brought at least 9 million pills into the U.S. "We've only identified 30 couriers so far, and there could have been many more," says a source at Customs. "So 9 million pills is actually our low estimate, because we know that each courier brought in at least 30,000 pills."

"Once you do the first pill, your whole perspective on life changes," says Kristin, 14. "I would look at clean people and be like, 'They don't know what they're missing."

Beyond sheer numbers, the group was run with a "level of sophistication that until now has only been associated with heroin and cocaine smugglers," according to the Customs source. Orgad's group recruited poor families from Texas and Arkansas who would then be taken by lower-level associates to "local malls where they would be outfitted in conservative clothing like plaid shirts and penny loafers. They would then be coached on how to act when going through Customs at the airport."

The group also employed decoys. "They would send a pair of girls in their twenties who wore tie-dyed shirts and looked as though they had just taken a vacation in Amsterdam," according to the Customs source. A Texas couple working for Orgad brought a mentally handicapped teenager with them, but the ruse didn't work -- the pair were caught with more than 200,000 ecstasy pills in their luggage. Sometimes the decoys also served as monitors to make sure the smugglers didn't make off with the drugs. To give their couriers a better chance, Orgad's organization even booked them on flights scheduled to land during an airport's busiest hours, says the source. "They wanted to send their guys through when our inspectors were overwhelmed. That proves their level of sophistication."

Orgad allegedly maintained the kind of high life usually associated with cocaine and heroin kingpins. He had a fleet of luxury cars and, according to the Customs source, "was often accompanied by two women, usually exotic dancers." It has also been reported that in the early nineties, he was an associate of Heidi Fleiss who helped her recruit prostitutes.

As Orgad awaits trial, Customs continues to bust his associates. On Thursday, four of his Texas-based smugglers were arrested, one for allegedly facilitating the transport of pills from Europe to Houston. A week before, a more important Orgad associate, Ilan Zarger, was busted for running what Customs officials allege was the largest ecstasy-distribution network in New York City. Customs estimates that Zarger's organization distributed more than 700,000 ecstasy pills in the New York area over the past six months alone. The organization, which also included another alleged Orgad associate named Assaf "Assi" Shetrit, supplied ecstasy to a violent Brooklyn-based street gang called BTS ("Born to Scheme" or "Brooklyn Terror Squad"), who sold the drug at raves in New York, Connecticut, New Jersey, and Washington, D.C. Zarger also arranged for 40,000 ecstasy pills to be delivered to the Hamptons in April, according to Customs. Zarger allegedly charged his associates an extra 2 percent if they brought him anything smaller than a $100 bill, thought nothing of lending $100,000 to friends (as long as they paid him back in hundreds), and socked away $1.5 million of drug profits in a safe.

The organization, which Zarger himself claimed on wiretap was protected by the Russian Mafia, was unusually well run, according to Customs. "It would appear that he controlled all ends of the ecstasy business, from importation to retail," says Customs special agent Joe Webber. The group's reach extended beyond the New York area, too: Zarger allegedly threatened to have Sammy "the Bull" Gravano "whacked" during a price dispute.

As demand rises, ecstasy smugglers are becoming as diverse as those who use the drug."We used to be able to break down the trade fairly easily," says Murray. "We could put the Israelis at about 50 percent, the Netherlands at 15 percent, and the rest everybody else. But that 'everybody else' is getting larger every day. Our math no longer works." Kelly agrees. "We're seeing smugglers from incredibly diverse backgrounds," he says. "Older people, younger people, black, white -- it's an across-the-board demographic."


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