By the late nineties, the B.C. Bud industry was exploding, and within a few years the province would have an estimated 20,000 grow ops tucked away in the suburbs and the forested mountains. Vancouver, long a sleepy West Coast city with few incidents of violence, was in the midst of change. Upstart gangs had begun shooting at one another in the streets, and some had even taken to calling each other out on the 6:00 news. A crew called the Indo-Canadian Mafia employed a death squad dubbed the Elite, which is believed to have killed some 30 people.
One fall night, Roueche and a few friends stumbled into a downtown restaurant called the Lucky Garden. Though Roueche was aware of the rising tensions on the streets between rival gangs, he didn't realize that he had become a target.
A little bit drunk, he asked for a VIP area in the back and took a seat with his friends. One of his crew gave him some Buddha prayer beads that he had been eyeing. After ordering some food, Roueche noticed members of a rival gang get up and leave their table. Suddenly, three guys in ski masks burst through the glass doors of the restaurant and started firing at Roueche and his friends. Scrambling for cover, as bullets shredded the walls and ceramic plates and teacups shattered around them, Roueche kicked over the table and cowered behind it, clutching the prayer beads around his wrist for luck.
Once the gunmen fled, Roueche looked at a friend next to him, who had taken a round to the chest and was bleeding badly. Roueche grabbed his hand, telling him to hang in there. Somehow they had all survived. "That was when I realized all the fun I was having came at a price," Roueche says. "Before that it was bar fights. Everything changed after that."
In that instant of extreme violence, Roueche says he felt a moment of stillness and clarity. "Everyone has something that makes them believe," he says. "That was what it took for me." He'd been toying with the idea of becoming Buddhist, but now he embraced it fully, figuring his prayer beads had saved his life. But more than that, he felt a responsibility – to Vu, to the Triads and to the UN members he'd sworn allegiance to.
He crafted a new kind of street image – equal parts neo-Buddhist philosopher and ruthless take-no-prisoners drug lord, like something out of a granola version of New Jack City. "I wanted to be the biggest drug dealer in Canada," he says. "I wanted to make history."
On trips to Hong Kong and Vietnam, he visited monks and ancient temples. He began covering his body with tattoos that he believed reflected his true self – a cobra and a dragon representing heaven and Earth adorned his chest, and a depiction of the Chinese monkey king on his back.
In the summer of 2001, Roueche married a Laotian woman from Countess Street in an elaborate traditional wedding. After that, he tried to take life more seriously. He invested in a waterfront condo project, opened a restaurant called the Millennium Cafe and invested in real estate all over the valley. "I was in this for the long haul," Roueche says. "I didn't want to be one of those guys who makes a bunch of money and blows through it all in a couple of years."
Roueche had vowed to raise his wife's daughter from a previous relationship as his own, and eventually his wife gave birth to two more daughters. He made it a point to come home for dinner, like any other suburban dad. He'd tuck the girls into bed, read them a story and then head out again to party or take care of business.
He also believed he was forging a street family in the UN and prided himself on the fact that his gang took in all races, particularly those from immigrant groups that had been marginalized by the whites-only Hells Angels. "You had all these guys who had been picked on, and he brought them all together," says another UN member. "He felt responsible for all of us."
He helped members out with mortgages and car payments. He once spent thousands of dollars trying to get one UN member off drugs by installing him in a high-end hotel room under 24-hour guard. When that failed, he chained him to a beam in a basement of a grow house for days. He checked in on the wives and girlfriends of his UN members and made sure they were taking care of their kids.
"I had girls I didn't know calling me because their fucking boyfriends were abusive, all that kind of shit," Roueche says. "I had to deal with it, and it would get under my skin. It was fucking exhausting."
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