A tale of “one of the most profitable illicit opiate dealing schemes in American history.”
The most impressive element of this book is that Newsday criminal justice writer Deutsch (The Triangle: A Year on the Ground with New York’s Bloods and Crips, 2014) was able to get behind the technology that hid the identities of the two computer-programming drug dealers from the police, the public, and the many of those deeply involved in an operation that generated hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue and claimed hundreds of casualties through overdoses and gang rivalries. The story begins in Baltimore with the highly controversial death of Freddie Gray at the hands of the police. The riots sparked by the outrage provided the perfect opportunity for the looting of “approximately $100 million worth of prescription opiates and heroin in little over a day.” The author terms this “a feat unprecedented in the annals of American crime,” but what really distinguished the operation were the methods through which the dealers distributed the drugs and spread their network. The masterminds were two techie teenagers who employed programming and encrypting to ensure efficiency and anonymity. “It looked like Uber, but it was built for [dealers] to get product to customers,” said one gang leader. “For two 18-year-old kids to run a business like this…it’s genius, from a criminal’s perspective,” marveled one of the detectives. “But it’s also just about the most horrible thing you can do to places that are already suffering from poverty and violence.” Despite the riveting setup, much of the book finds the author reporting dialogue remembered by participants from years earlier, re-creating scenes that he never witnessed, and trying to interweave context from police and addiction authorities with the street narrative, which has a completely different tone.
An important story meticulously reported but that nonetheless strains toward novelization in the telling.