One afternoon in late September 2012, Paul Calder Le Roux was sitting in a hotel room in Monrovia, Liberia, working out the final details of a large cocaine and methamphetamine deal with the head of a Colombian drug cartel. As the pair discussed prices and drop-off points, Le Roux—a programmer who had turned an online pharmacy business into a global criminal empire, trafficking in drugs, arms, and violence—reflected aloud on the two ways he kept his criminal organization in line. The first was zero tolerance for stealing: He’d ordered his top lieutenant killed for as much.

The second, he said, was ensuring that employees never informed on him, or the business. “You get caught doing anything, remember: You keep your mouth shut,” he would tell them. There were those, we went on, who “get afraid in jail and then they think that the government is going to help them. They think the government is their best friend.” For them, he said, he always had a message: “What’s going to happen when you get out, you make the deal? You think we’re going to forget about you?”

Le Roux’s philosophy was quickly put to the test when he was arrested the same day in a sting operation orchestrated by the US Drug Enforcement Administration. The supposed Colombian cartel leader, it turned out, was a paid informant, and the trusted Le Roux employee who had orchestrated the drug deal had been working with the DEA for months. By the time the DEA’s plane carrying Le Roux was over the Atlantic headed for New York, he was already asking how he and the government could help each other.

Nearly eight years later, that cooperation finally came full circle as Le Roux, 47, was sentenced to 25 years in federal prison on Friday in New York. Le Roux, who will be credited with his seven-plus years in custody, had faced up to a life sentence after pleading guilty to crimes ranging from methamphetamine trafficking to selling weapons technology to Iran. Both Le Roux’s attorney and federal prosecutors had argued that Le Roux’s extensive assistance to the DEA, in which he helped set up his former employees and testified against them, warranted a lesser sentence. “The violence in this case was wrong, and I am sorry for this,” Le Roux wrote in a letter to Judge Ronnie Abrams, who carried out the sentencing in the Southern District of New York. “I accept full responsibility for my actions. I have blood on my hands.”

In a video hearing marred by the kind of technical difficulties that would have infuriated Le Roux in his former life, Judge Abrams said Le Roux’s expressions of remorse rang hollow. “There’s no question in my mind that Paul Calder Le Roux deserves to spend the rest of his life in prison,” she concluded, calling him a continuing danger to the community. “The scope and severity of Mr. Le Roux’s criminal conduct is nothing short of breathtaking. I have before me a man who has engaged in conduct in keeping with the villain in a James Bond movie.” But the sentence, she added, needed to reflect Le Roux’s extensive cooperation and the danger he faced. “If judges don’t give cooperating witnesses a significant benefit at sentencing,” she said, “the criminal justice system will suffer, fewer people will be willing to cooperate.”

Le Roux’s career was marked by technical brilliance and almost surreal levels of criminality, as I reported over five years for my 2019 book on Le Roux, “The Mastermind.” Born in Zimbabwe and raised partly in South Africa, he spent years in the late 1990s and early 2000s designing a piece of disk encryption software, called Encryption for the Masses (E4M). The code from E4M formed the foundation for TrueCrypt, considered among the most secure and widely used encryption programs until its anonymous creators abandoned it in 2014.

animation of a man with gun walking away from a body laying on the ground

Meth, Murder, and Pirates: The Coder Who Became a Crime Boss

Along the way, he contributed to America’s painkiller epidemic and got involved with North Korean methamphetamine manufacturing, Somali pirates, and murder-for-hire.

In 2004, operating out of the Philippines, Le Roux began his foray into the darker sides of the internet, opening an online pharmacy under the name RX Limited to sell prescription painkillers to American customers. The company, which recruited American doctors and pharmacists to write, fill, and ship the drugs, proved highly lucrative, earning hundreds of millions of dollars. By the late aughts, Le Roux had leveraged those proceeds into a staggering range of criminal activities, including cocaine and methamphetamine trafficking, gold smuggling, and weapons dealing. His empire grew more violent as it expanded, with Le Roux hiring teams of mercenaries to intimidate and kill his perceived enemies.


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