Drug Empires

51 articles
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In Colorado and beyond, a negotiated surrender in the war on drugs.

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On the experimental favela police force UPP (aka “The Big Skull”) and their efforts to clean Rio’s largest slum in advance of the World Cup and Olympics.

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The rise of the “wildly lucrative” herbal incense business, and the downfall of one company.

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A profile of Griselda Blanco, aka the “Black Widow,” who pioneered the cocaine trade in New York and Miami.

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The rise and fall of Lisette Lee, the self-proclaimed “Korean Paris Hilton,” who was busted for drug trafficking.

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The rise and fall of Mickey the Pope, the founder of a New York City marijuana delivery business.

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Life inside a provincial Russian drug den. Originally appeared in Russky Reporter.

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Perpetually reinvented through experimental chemistry, manufactured in Asian mills, packaged in foil with names like White Slut Concentrated and Charley Sheene for use as “hookah cleaner,” distributed in college town head shops, snorted and injected by hardened addicts and high school thrill seekers alike, bath salts may be the strangest and most volatile American drug craze since crack. And they’re (quasi) legal.

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How a Mexican drug cartel makes its billions.

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On the Mexican drug cartel accused of laundering money with race horses.

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A profile of the Mexican newsweekly, a “lone voice” in reporting on the narcos.

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The profile of a crime syndicate which dominates the European cocaine trade.

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"Opium does not deprive you of your senses. It does not make a madman of you. But drink does. See? Who ever heard of a man committing murder when full of hop. Get him full of whiskey and he might kill his father."

A journey into New York’s turn-of-the-century opium dens to find out who gets hooked and why.

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How Tom Arnold’s little sister started the meth epidemic.

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After the United States demanded the extradition of a drug lord, a bloodletting ensued.

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A statistics-based argument that drug pricing, not drug use or law enformencement, is the only way to predict swings in violent crime rates.

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The author travels to Mexico to meet a retired assassin and kidnapper, now himself a target of the faceless cartels that once employed him

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How LA-style gang life migrated to the slums of San Salvador.

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A tony bedroom community in Los Angeles, a kidnapping gone horribly wrong, and the birth of a teenage fugitive.

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How a middle-class jock from a Texas border town became La Barbie, one of the most ruthless and feared cartel leaders in Mexico.

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The intertwined destinies of El Paso and Ciudad Juárez.

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How synthetic drugs became a booming (and mostly legal) business.

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American demand for drugs gave birth to the cartel war that is paralyzing Mexico, but American guns purchased legally across the Southwest and smuggled over the border have made it staggeringly lethal.

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The anatomy of a bungled, massively expensive undercover sting conducted by the Seattle Police Department.

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An interview with David Simon, creator of The Wire.

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How Craigslist dealers do business in New York City.

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Has Mexico become a failed state?

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On the many lives and careers of Owsley Stanley (1935-2011), chemist, sound design innovator, and outback jeweler, whose name appears in the OED as a synonym for “a particularly pure form of LSD.”

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An undercover report on Afghanistan’s drug-smuggling border police that is now heavily used for intelligence training.

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Stuck between the Taliban and the U.S. Military, Afghanistan’s farmers risk their lives both when they grow, and when they refuse to grow, fields of poppies.

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Customer feedback on the New York City coke dealing industry.

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On the pair of entrepreneurs behind a Wal-Mart of weed in Oakland. The duo is talking IPO. “Everybody I was meeting was a little bit older, more a part of the hippie generation,” says one. “I was like, ‘I bet there’s so much room for innovation and new ideas.’”

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How the relationship between favela-based drug gangs and elite police units tasked with fighting them came to define Rio de Janeiro.

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Colombian traffickers have a new smuggling method of choice: specially designed submarines capable of carrying 10 tons of cocaine and covering 2,000 miles without refueling.

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A former pilot of miniature cocaine-smuggling submarines tells his story.

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How the bulk of the cocaine entering the U.S. ends up cut with a cattle dewormer.

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Scenes from the new Tijuana: two teenage brothers from the country club set descend into the cartel underworld, bored federales guard the acid pit where hundreds of bodies were erased, families picnic through a chain-link border fence.

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Dandenis Muñoz Mosquera, a.k.a. “La Quica,” was one of Pablo Escobar’s top killers. Now he’s in a maximum security prison in Colorado. Here’s the thing: for all his crimes, La Quica may not have committed the one that put him away.

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A single-page version of Shalhoup’s reporting on the Black Mafia Family, one of the largest cocaine empires in American history.

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The narcocorrido-immortalized Pacific coast traditionalists, the kidnap-crazed Gulf coast Zetas, and massacres that no longer seem tied to a discernible purpose; inside the ruins of the Mexican-American border.

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In Torreón, north of Mexico City, cartel gunmen are freed from a prison, commit a massacre at a wedding that includes the band, and then return to custody.

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How Juarez became the murder capital of the world.

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How PCC, once an inmate soccer team and now Brazil’s most notorious prison gang, coordinated seven days of riots throughout São Paulo using mobile phones.

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Nitrous balloon vendors clash in the parking lots of jam band festival across the Northeast.

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Lenny makes $5,000 a week selling coke. It was easy to get into the business after finishing prep school. Getting out and going legit after his final score is proving much more difficult.

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It took a desperate screenwriter to find Max Mermelstein, Miami’s former coke overlord, after twenty-five years in hiding.

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In nine hours, Guinea-Bissau’s President and military leader were assassinated in separate incidents. Their dealings had turned the country into the runway of choice for drug smugglers and Hezbollah.

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The rise and fall of a chubby Idaho pizza delivery boy turned weed kingpin.