Not long after the near-miss with the police, Roueche's sister asked to meet him for lunch. When he walked through the door, she could tell he had changed. Just 21, he was still the same laid-back kid, but his frame had filled out, the flab replaced by lean muscle. He looked like the Asian gangsters she'd seen on Countess Street.
"I worry you're making the wrong kinds of enemies," she told him.
Roueche laughed at his sister. "I know what I'm doing," he told her. He had people watching out for him.
Before long, Roueche wasn't content moving a few grams of coke a week. He told Vu about his friends from high school who grew pot. What if he used the money he was making from cocaine to buy weed and shipped it south to the U. S.? But Vu didn't like the idea, thought it too risky, and so in 1997 Roueche went into business for himself. Soon, he was driving up to the Slocan Valley in the Kootenays region, the heart of dope-growing country, to meet with pot farmers.
Settled by draft dodgers and political activists known for blowing up bridges, the Kootenays accounted for three percent of B.C.'s population but produced 20 percent of its weed. In the Nineties, Canadian police estimated there were more smokers and growers of marijuana in southern British Columbia than anywhere else on the continent. "There were no laws against it," Roueche recalls, "and that's how it felt."
Roueche already knew a lot about weed, and the Slocan growers taught him the rest: why some strains yielded more than others, how to increase the THC levels in the plants, and all the things that could go wrong before it came time to harvest the plants. He offered them a deal: Sell exclusively to him, and he'd pay top dollar for the crop even if an early frost ruined it or if someone stole it. "If someone rips you off," he said, "I'll track down the motherfuckers that took it and take it back." For the next decade, he had all the best growers in the valley working for him.
"Clay was a product of his time," says Mulgrew. "You've got to understand, California growers had the same level of sophistication, but no one was doing it on the same scale as B.C. When he was coming up, the weed business was bigger than agriculture, bigger than mining. He rode the crest of that."
Roueche began opening grow ops around Abbotsford, placing each house under a manager responsible for hiring people to feed and water the plants. When it came time to do the clipping and bagging, he carefully selected workers from all walks of life. "The weed business touched everyone in Abbotsford," Roueche says. 'We'd get schoolteachers, old ladies, college kids. I was allergic to the shit – my face would blow up like fucking Garfield – so I couldn't really be around it much. But I'd come around every once in a while just to check in."
Roueche had little fear of getting caught by the police. A million-dollar grow might result in a $2,500 fine, which most growers saw as a cost of doing business. "A lot of the cops I knew from around the valley smoked pot," Roueche recalls. The Vancouver City Council recommended the police not prosecute marijuana cases. "It really wouldn't have changed anything if they would have legalized it," Roueche says. "It already felt legal."
By the late Nineties, he had Vietnamese and Laotian gangbangers operating stash houses and white kids fresh out of juvie handling his dial-a-dope lines in Vancouver. One night at a party in Richmond, one of his friends looked down the table at his growing crew and said, 'What the fuck is this, a United Nations meeting?"
The name stuck. Roueche and his gang designed a UN logo, which they stamped on bricks of cocaine, T-shirts and even tombstones. "The traditional way is to be really slow; no one knows who you are," Roueche says. "But I didn't have patience for that. On the streets, recognition is power."
Unlike the Mafia, the UN had no rigid hierarchal structure; Roueche modeled his organization on the Triads. Individual members asked their dai lo for a blessing to engage in criminal activity, and were then free to strike out on their own, as Roueche had done with Vu. "It's not like all these people they say who were in the UN worked for me," Roueche says. "They might have worked with me, but that's different."
Roueche cribbed the philosophies that would come to define the UN's internal code from books like Sun Tzu's Art of War and a popular series of Hong Kong gangster movies known as Young and Dangerous. Initiation ceremonies soon became an elaborate ritual for entrance into the gang. Roueche refused to discuss any specifics of the gang's ceremonies, but sources say the UN based them on Triad ceremonies in which new recruits pass through an archway of crossed swords ("The Mountain of Knives") and pledge allegiance to the "36 Oaths" before drinking a bowl of wine mixed with the blood of a rooster sacrificed during the ceremony. The money typically came in at about 5 p.m., which is when Roueche usually woke up for the day. He'd count it and then go out with his buddies, bouncing between strip clubs and karaoke bars all over Abbotsford and Vancouver. 'We'd stay out for three days and get fucked up," a current UN member recalls. "Clay was the captain of the ship, so he never indulged as much, but people would be doing lines and shit. And when you've got cocaine, it's not hard to attract women."
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