By Anthony Breznican
January 14, 2019 at 04:07 PM EST
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William Morrow

The capturing of a monster is usually cause for celebration, but when the DEA arrested the murderous transnational arms and drugs dealer Paul LeRoux in 2012, it was done in total secrecy.

LeRoux, a former encryption programmer who help make organized crime harder to track and prosecute by decentralizing its business of narcotics, murder-for-hire, and high-tech blackmarket arms deals, became the key to crashing his whole blood-soaked network.

The story of his secret capture and the way he was flipped to become a weapon against his own fellow killers and outlaws is told in journalist Elaine Shannon’s new book Hunting LeRoux, which hits stores Feb. 19.

EW has the exclusive cover reveal, above, showing the hulking, dour LeRoux as he appeared in video recorded by a trusted associate who was also a DEA informant.

“He spent seven months dealing face-to-face with LeRoux, recording their phone and personal conversations and exchanging emails with him,” Shannon says. “The video was made in Monrovia on the morning of Sept 26, 2012, by a device hidden in his clothing. It became the ultimate evidence that captured LeRoux’s criminal intent to traffic in drugs and arms.”

“His eyes are alight with anticipation as he looks forward to the next meeting, in which he plans to make a lucrative deal to trade North Korean meth for Colombian cocaine offered by ‘Diego,’  who he thinks is a Colombian cartel operative in Africa,” Shannon adds. “Actually, Diego is an informant too. I love this image because I can see LeRoux for what he really is: a powerful, determined master criminal, stripped of the civility he displays in court.”

The harrowing cascade of subsequent takedowns by the DEA’s special ops 960 Group is chronicled in the book, which will also be the first title in a new publishing imprint from The Insider and Heat filmmaker Michael Mann.

“It’s one of the best detective stories and crime stories I’ve ever encountered,” Mann tells EW. “I have never read an account that places you so in the moment and in such close proximity beat by beat with a high order law enforcement operation that’s very complex and spans the world.”

One of his favorite aspects of the story is how LeRoux’s clandestine nature was used to “roll up his criminal empire.” When LeRoux was first seized by the DEA, that was just the midpoint, not the end of the operation. And it only worked because the criminal had insulated himself from his associates. They didn’t know to miss him.

“Nobody knew where LeRoux was at any one moment in time, ever,” Mann says.

The Miami Vice producer and Shannon previously collaborated in 1990 on the Emmy-winning NBC miniseries Drug Wars: The Camarena Story, about DEA agent Enrique Camarena, who was assassinated by Mexican cartels after disrupting their trafficking operations. Mann developed the show from Shannon’s 1988 book about the killing.

She began talking with him about Hunting LeRoux in 2012, when it was still an unfolding operation, and Mann served as a reader, editor, and sounding board in addition to becoming her publisher.

“He had great advice, which I always took, about how to make the narrative sharper, clearer, and more accessible. It’s a complicated story, spanning every continent but Antarctica, and many personalities,” she says. “I wrote. He read takes, with endless patience, and advised me to move this, get more of that or cut that. Sometimes writing is like painting but sometimes it’s like sculpting. You have to carve away extra stuff you don’t need so you can see the form you envision take shape. He helped me carve.”

Mann had other books he planned as his imprint’s first project but credited Shannon for her speed in finishing the story while also crafting one he couldn’t put down. That vaulted it to becoming the first title from Michael Mann Books.

Even after reading and advising for so many years, he said he’s still transfixed by the figure at the center of the story. “He did everything from designing guidance systems for the Iranians to moving North Korean meth to making undetectable explosives to contract murder to smuggling cocaine and killing people himself,” Mann says. “The reason why he was a ghost on the radar and undiscoverable is because there was no physical organization. He’s not like a Cartel based in Guadalajara or the Juarez Cartel.”

Mann’s films have always focused on the gray area between those who are driven to do wrong and those who push back to do right. This story also presented a number of heroes, particularly 960 Group point men Eric Stouch and Tom Cindric.

“Stouch and Cindric started out as street cops and then street agents, in the roughest part of Baltimore and Washington,” Shannon says. “They got to know each other on a Mid-Atlantic task force. They wound up in the 960 Group, which is like Yale’s Skull and Bones, for their investigative skills, their enterprise, their creativity, and that intangible, undefinable cop gut that great investigators have — a combination of keen instincts, obsession, crazy work ethic, and a world-class bullsh— detector. They are never off the job.”

“Stouch and Cindric don’t seem to fear the violent people whom they chase down…or much of anything,” she adds. “Instead, they’re focused and motivated by the psychological parrying of their job. Call it playing chess with the Devil.”

Mann says the interesting thing about LeRoux is, he was motivated more by the thrill than the spoils of his crimes. “What’s unusual is the ego-drive he had towards audacious criminality,” he says. “The sheer audacity of it is what appealed to him. The money he made was just points on a scoreboard.”

The book imprint started, Mann said, as a way to tell the stories he wasn’t necessarily able to put on the big screen. One of the upcoming projects, for instance, is a prequel to Heat, co-written with Reed Farrel Coleman.

Nonetheless, he has hopes for taking Hunting LeRoux from the page to the screen. “I want to do a motion picture on this guy and what he means as a completely new kind of antagonist,” Mann says.

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