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.
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