As the plane began its descent into Mexico City, Clay Roueche leaned back and took a deep breath. Ever since they'd left from Vancouver, a looming sense of dread had gnawed at him. He thought about the amulet around his neck, a thin gold chain holding three miniature scrolls blessed by a Buddhist monk to give him protective powers. He'd be just fine, he told himself.
Roueche glanced around the plane, confident that no one suspected that he was one of the continent's most wanted drug traffickers, leader of the UN gang, a multiethnic band of Asian, white and Middle-Eastern dealers who dominated the British Columbian weed trade, united by his bastardized version of the samurai code, whose motto was "Honor, loyalty, respect." His tattoos of fish swimming upstream and flying dragons on fire, emblems of his ties to Asian organized crime, were hidden beneath his clothes. His fellow passengers probably looked at him and saw an aging jock – a former tae kwon do champ going to flab, in a too-tight Affliction T-shirt and a bejeweled hoodie worth $1,500 – and figured he was some kind of Euro-trash goon on holiday. Roueche smiled at the thought. He liked when people didn't know who he was. He called this "ninja mode."
His girlfriend noticed him fidgeting and asked if he wanted to trade seats. "That's all right," he told her. She was a "square" in gang parlance, meaning she went to college and had little idea how Roueche paid for the diamond-and-jade necklace she liked to wear or her Gucci purse. He liked that too. The less she knew, he figured, the better.
The plan was they'd stop in Mexico City and then fly on to Cancun, where he would attend a wedding of one of his gang members and shore up his connections with the Sinaloa cartel, one of the most powerful drug-trafficking organizations in the world.
As he and his girlfriend exited the plane, two armed federates asked for their passports. "What is going on?" his girlfriend said, looking up at him. Roueche told her it would be fine, but a sense of panic began to swell inside him. "You've been denied entrance into Mexico," one of the cops said. "You'll have to get on a flight back to Canada."
A half hour later, he was standing alone at the gate of an American Airlines flight bound for Vancouver, with a layover in Dallas. He knew that as soon as they landed in Texas, ICE agents would be waiting for him. With only one federale watching him, he decided to make a run for it, and took off down the terminal.
"Señor!" the cop yelled. "Señor! No! No!" Roueche started dialing the number of his girlfriend as he ran, trying to figure out what the Mexican authorities had done with her. He didn't get far before five more cops emerged and led him back to his plane. Minutes later, sitting in coach with a U.S. marshal watching his every move, he began texting bank-account codes to his associates in Vancouver, hoping they could get his money out before it was too late.
As soon as the plane landed in Dallas, police took him into custody. Anyone watching from the gate wouldn't have appreciated the significance of the arrest, but a year later, on December l6th, 2009, the U.S. attorney for Seattle put it in the proper context. The court, prosecutors argued, always heard stories about "the shadowy 'main guy' who calls the shots for the organization." The man standing before them was that phantom, a global don sitting atop a multimillion-dollar empire. Roueche may not have looked like it, but he was one of the most significant drug traffickers the U.S. had ever captured.
There are a few places on Earth where drugs have played a more transformative role than marijuana has in British Columbia. Over the past 20 years, the province has become synonymous with an extremely potent strain of weed known as B.C. Bud, which is arguably the best pot in North America. Roueche owed his success to two things: the global demand for B.C. Bud, which spawned a $7 billion industry, and a liberal local government that until recently rarely cracked down on guys like him. "When I was growing up, it didn't seem like the cops cared," Roueche told me when I met with him earlier this year in prison.
More drugs flowed through the port of Vancouver than just about anywhere else on the West Coast, but people in the business rarely shot at one another, which is why the government didn't seem to mind that Hastings Street hosted the largest open-air drug market on the continent. For potheads, the southern reaches of the province took on the mythic aspects of a hippie Shangri-La, a place where the weed grew so thick you could smell it 100 yards away. In the ski town of Nelson, once dubbed the marijuana capital of North America, they liked to say that if you couldn't score a dime bag within 10 minutes, you were already high.
Over more than a decade of running his operation, Roueche transformed the mom-and-pop B.C. Bud business into big business. Not content to move small loads across the border, or do anything quietly, he professionalized the industry the same way Pablo Escobar had done decades before in Colombia, albeit on a much smaller scale, using helicopters, float planes and tractor-trailers to move an estimated 20 tons (or $120 million) of weed a year into the U.S. Roueche's particular stroke of business genius was to realize he could parlay B.C. Bud into cocaine from the cartels. At one point, he was laundering a half million dollars a week in drug profits, expanding his operations into Chicago, Texas and New York.
But it had come at a price. By raising the stakes so dramatically, he attracted attention and enemies. Not long after his arrest in Dallas, a brutal gang war engulfed Vancouver, and the violence continues to reverberate to this day. A murder trial, in which Roueche is named as an unindicted co-conspirator, is expected to begin later this year.
"There's no doubt Clay Roueche changed Vancouver," says Ian Mulgrew, author of Bud Inc.: Inside Canada's Marijuana Industry. "Before, it was this hippie-dippie place. But the level of violence and the way people started to look at drugs and policing changed. He ushered in a new era."
The Fraser Valley, where Clay Roueche grew up, lies an hour outside Vancouver, not far from the U.S. border. Like the rest of British Columbia, it has a wild libertarian streak, which only increases as you head into the untamed reaches of the province, where glaciers slough into crystal-blue mountain lakes and the air carries with it the smell of freshly cut timber.
Like a lot of guys in the province without college degrees, Roueche's father worked in mining, but by the time Roueche came along, many of those jobs were gone, and a new underground economy had begun to take root in bluecollar British Columbia. "Everybody was in the business," says Roueche's sister Sherry, one of his two siblings. 'You'd see people driving nice trucks, and you knew where it came from."
Guys like Roueche rarely got out of Chilliwack, the Fraser Valley town where he was raised. He'd spent his school years jumping off railroad trestles into the Vedder River, crashing cars into trees and stealing expensive wine from rich kids. He had simple tastes – bonfires down by the river with his friends, joy rides in his dad's '67 Camaro, the thrill of sneaking into bars with a fake ID he'd made himself. "Clay was a popular guy growing up," says his sister. "But he didn't have any big plans to, like, take over the world or anything."
After high school he went to work for his dad crushing cars for the family-owned wrecking business. Roueche hated the work. "If we went out to eat after work, he'd sometimes refuse to get out of the car," his dad, Rip, recalls, "because he wouldn't go into a restaurant looking dirty."
Roueche yearned for something more than the life of a scrap-metal dealer, and when he quit the business, his father couldn't contain his anger. "Go see what's out there for you, then," Rip had said to his son. "I loved my family, don't get me wrong, and we were close," Roueche says, "but you want to improve upon where you started." He'd discovered karate in elementary school through a friend and became infatuated with Bruce Lee. He began taking tae kwon do lessons and got his mom, Shirley, to build him a dojo in his basement, where he memorized the moves that would make him a provincial champ. He even practiced at his dad's wrecking yard, once getting his foot stuck in a windshield he'd just broken with a "sliding side kick."
In high school, Roueche started hanging out on Countess Street in nearby Abbotsford, the heart of the Vietnamese and Laotian communities, with kids he'd met from Thai boxing. He loved the fortunetellers he'd find there, grainy bootlegged kung-fu movies and Vietnamese girls. As strange as it was to say, he felt Asian, drawn to a world completely different from the one he'd grown up in. Roueche even came to believe that he was a reincarnated samurai. "Clay was never white," says a Korean friend. "Maybe he was born white, but his soul was never white."
He graduated from high school in 1993 and was soon introduced to a legendary Vietnamese underworld figure named Vu, who had connections to the city's Asian organized-crime syndicate, known as the Triads. Vu was a few years older than Roueche, but the two hit it off. "He was the type of guy who did what he said he'd do, and I respected that," Roueche says. "He wasn't a paper tiger." Roueche began to see Vu as his dai lo, a Chinese word for "big brother."
Soon police were spotting Roueche in illegal gambling shacks downtown, partying with known Triads. Unlike Roueche's father, Vu seemed to understand his ambitions and how to make them a reality. Vu talked about Buddhism, which Roueche had already been dabbling with, and he became fascinated with a concept called kaizen, or continual improvement. Roueche liked the idea and the possibility that he could reinvent himself, even if it meant casting off something as core to his identity as race.
Roueche soon teamed up with Vu to get into the dope game. Vu had a plan. Some of the white guys Roueche had gone to high school with were weekend-warrior types who liked cocaine, which Vu could score. He'd get someone to front Roueche a few ounces and see how things went. At first, Roueche just sold to his friends, but before long, word spread, and he was making $1,000 a day.
One afternoon, when Roueche stopped by a stash house in Abbotsford, police grabbed him as he walked in. He had so far avoided any run-ins with the cops. As they frisked him, one of the cops noticed a tattoo of Chinese characters on Roueche's neck. He had gotten it a few months earlier with the tight-knit crew he had been running with as a sort of testament to their bond. "It means 'blood brothers forever,'" Roueche told the cops.
Luckily for Roueche, the stash house was clean and the cops couldn't book him. "I was surprised at how cool Clay was," says Abbotsford Detective Andrew Wooding. "Most kids, the first time dealing with cops, they'll get rattled. But he didn't. He just said he didn't know anything."
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."
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."
Over the next five years, Roueche's life began to take on a routine of managed chaos. He rented an old warehouse and furnished it with a gym and a boxing ring, turning it into a popular hangout for aspiring MMA fighters. He kept an office upstairs, where he would have a few drinks when he wasn't tracking his loads of marijuana crossing the border. Dressing in tight Ed Hardy shirts and carrying a Prada "man purse," he became a fixture at lower-circuit cage fights, sitting ringside like the Mafia don he fancied himself. But it wasn't just fantasy: On wiretaps, police heard him talking about a silencer for a gun, shipments of product tied up with the Chinese and his connections in Mexico. He had become the street shogun godfather figure he'd long fantasized about being. On one recorded call, he was heard talking to a doctor he'd apparently worked with before, saying a "friend" had been shot in the stomach. "Hey, bro, it's me, uh, it's a bit of an emergency," Roueche was heard saying. "I have a friend here in town. I need to see you tomorrow, uh, middle abdomen, no exit, that's all I know."
On weekends, he was a different person altogether, ferrying his three girls to dance recitals in the family minivan and taking his wife out to dinner. After five years of marriage, she had tired of the way he could disappear – at a family vacation to Mexico, at a fashion show they sponsored for the Laotian community – and she could fly into a rage over an argument, smashing china against the wall as Roueche sat there, trying to ignore her. "My family couldn't believe I put up with all the shit she put me through," Roueche says. "I'd come home and sit on the couch with the kids and say, 'I'm not going to argue with you,' and she'd start breaking stuff. I'd be in the bathroom taking a shit, and she'd be trying to kick in the door."
By the spring of 2005, Roueche had landed on the radar of federal agents in the U.S., specifically ICE agent Peter Ostrovsky, who had cut his teeth chasing down fast boats loaded with cocaine racing between the Bahamas and Miami. Ostrovsky had become an expert on how to smuggle weed into the states, but he'd never seen anyone who operated with the audacity of Roueche flying massive loads across the border in helicopters.
"In 1997, a big B.C. Bud load was 15 pounds, then it went to a hundred pounds," Ostrovsky says. "But once they started flying it across in helicopters, it jumped to multihundred-pound loads. They were flying million-, million-and-a-half-dollar loads. The goal became to move as much weight across the border as possible. There were other groups that did helicopters too, but nobody did it to the extent Roueche did."
Working with the Canadian police, Ostrovsky and his agents had discovered 16 hidden landing spots in the Okanogan National Forest that the UN and other drug-trafficking organizations were using for helicopter drops. The choppers typically came in at first light, flying just above the tree line before dropping into the forest, where drug mules tossed hockey bags of weed into waiting trucks or vans.
"Think of the I-5 as this big conveyor belt from Seattle to Los Angeles, with the marijuana going one way, and the cocaine, cash and guns going another," Ostrovsky says. "The UN was basically using America as a bridge into Mexico to get cocaine."
As Ostrovsky and his team began closing in, Roueche started losing loads to the police like never before. Between 2005 and 2006, police intercepted 321 pounds of marijuana that had been offloaded from a float plane in Washington, $2 million in cash from drug sales, and 144 kilos of cocaine from a plane traveling from L.A Despite the heavy losses, Roueche kept up his regular routine, flying to Macau to party at the casinos, getting high on Ecstasy at strip clubs, and soaking in his Jacuzzi, while tracking shipments on his BlackBerry as his wife nagged him. "Clay wasn't the type of guy to get stressed out," says a UN member. "If things were going wrong, he never let it show."
The biggest threat to Roueche's operation turned out to be a new generation of drug dealers that he himself had inspired. Known as the Bacon Brothers, they came from the same middle-class suburb as Roueche and specialized in ripping off grow ops. They were pure Hollywood – Gucci suits, Armani shoes – and the press loved them. The Bacons had originally worked with associates of the UN but had suddenly switched allegiances to a rival gang known as the Red Scorpions. Roueche had no idea why the Bacons had got into the drug game – it seemed like they came from money – and had little respect for them, considering them more talk than action: "To me they were just little errand boys."
The police saw them differently and suspected they were behind the worst gangland slaying in the province's history: a botched execution at a high-rise that left six dead. "Vancouver had been this quiet town, and suddenly you had these shootings in intersections in the middle of the day," says author Mulgrew. A gunman lit up the Corvette of one of the Bacons as he pulled into his parents' driveway, and an armed group later riddled a Porsche Cayenne owned by the brothers, killing the driver, who turned out to be an innocent man installing a stereo system in the car. The new conservative government began pressuring the gang squad to quell the violence before it spiraled out of control.
Roueche had already survived several brushes with death since the shooting at Lucky Garden, but some of his contemporaries hadn't been so lucky. Bindy Johal, who had run the Indo-Canadian Mafia, was gunned down at the Palladium Nightclub. Clay's own mentor, Vu, had been killed crossing the street. Roueche began to wonder how much more time he had.
Worried about leaks within his own organization, Roueche tightened his grip on the UN. To discipline members who had stepped out of line, he began holding organized beatings, which he called UFC matches, ordering two UN members to beat another senseless to instill discipline. Or he'd do it himself, once allegedly smacking a subordinate with a dull machete. On other occasions he'd take a fistful of lit incense and hold the burning sticks to the stomach of a gang member who'd crossed him. "I didn't like that sort of shit, seeing someone begging," Roueche says. "You have to be sick to like that. I tried to keep it at a distance, but it's like a game of checkers: You make a move or you lose."
The pressure became too much, and in 2007, Roueche's wife asked for a divorce. He fought it at first, but eventually gave in, agreeing to give her half of what he owned. The divorce left him devastated. "I loved coming home and having my daughters crawl on me, taking them swimming, all that kind of stuff," he says. Now it was gone, and he felt lost and unmoored.
One night the next spring, he stopped by his dad's house to tell him he was going down to Mexico. Something about the trip gave Rip a funny feeling. "Maybe you should sit this one out," he urged. The Abbotsford cops had stopped by recently and told Rip they were surprised his son was still alive – there was a hit out on his life. "This is the last one, Dad," Roueche said. "And then I'm staying close to home."
He had no idea that by the time he landed in Mexico his run would be over.
It's a balmy January morning in central Florida, not far from the swamps of the Everglades. Inside a sterile, windowless visiting room, Roueche sits a few feet from me, negotiating the plastic wrapper of a hamburger I just nuked for him in the microwave. He makes it clear he's talking only with the blessing of the UN and his associates. To do otherwise could get him killed, he says. After five years in prison, Roueche is ripped, his body chiseled down to nothing but muscle and bone. But in his oversize prison jumpsuit, he seems diminished. He is polite and friendly, with a Canadian accent and an easy, goofy smile – it's easier to imagine him as a bro drinking at a bar than as a ruthless drug lord. Two years ago he lost his final chance for appeal, and he's now pinning his hopes on a treaty transfer back to Canada. In a pending civil lawsuit, he is arguing the wiretaps that sunk him were illegally obtained and that the American and Canadian police conspired to use a form of extraordinary rendition to capture him. At his sentencing, the judge gave him 30 years. "They wanted to make an example of me," Roueche says now softly, recognizing that his helicopter shipments of pot were probably his undoing, a ballsy but reckless move that amounted to a middle finger to the sovereignty of U.S. airspace.
In the year following Roueche's arrest, the gang war that had been simmering for years between the UN and the Bacon Brothers exploded in violence. In 2011, Jonathan Bacon was leaving a casino in the resort town of Kelowna when a masked gunman pulled up behind his SUV and opened fire, killing Bacon and wounding four other passengers, including a high-ranking member of the Hells Angels. The three men charged in the murder have been linked to the UN and other gangs. Canadian police have separately linked UN members to a plot to kill the Bacons. One UN member pleaded guilty in April, and the trial for the rest is expected to begin later this year. Roueche will say little about the Bacons, other than to express intense dislike, because of the case, in which he's named as an unindicted co-conspirator.
Regardless of what happens with that trial, the UN has been decimated since Roueche's fall. Two of his closest confidants were killed in Mexico in cartel-related hits shortly after his arrest. Of the original 50 members, 28 are reportedly either dead, in jail or addicted to drugs. Sitting in prison, Roueche seems almost relieved to be here. "I'm alive, for starters," he says. The growers he once worked with say they can no longer move product out of B.C. because West Coast bud has flooded the market. Now that Washington and Colorado have legalized grow ops, they only expect it to get worse. "The whole market shifted to the U.S.," Roueche admits. "Supply is outstripping the demand." Ostrovsky says he hasn't busted a load of weed coming from B.C. in three years.
'We knew we were like those moonshiners out in the boonies back during Prohibition," says Roueche, "trying to make our money before it becomes legal."
His family hasn't visited him in years; the gang he forged exists in name only. He gets so lonely in prison that he once kept a praying mantis called Arnold as a pet. He spends his days working on a book that outlines the Bushido code he lives by, with grandiose chapters like "The Warriors Anthem" and "Training Like a Champion." It's filled with pencil drawings of samurai warriors, flying eagles and Buddhist monks, the sort of stuff he might have drawn in junior high sitting in his dojo listening to Metallica and dreaming of becoming the next Bruce Lee.
As we visit through the afternoon, it becomes clear Roueche sees prison as nothing more than a part of his spiritual path to enlightenment, as if the karmic forces of the universe have put him here for his own good. "I can't change what's done," he says. "I won't make the same mistakes, but what's negative today is positive tomorrow. I'll keep marching forward."
By the time he gets out of prison, B.C. Bud will probably be legal, I suggest. 'Yeah, that's true," he says, his voice picking up. "There might be a business opportunity there."
This story is from the May 9th, 2013 issue of Rolling Stone.