Why a diet clinic entrepreneur was the perfect subject for season 2 of investigative podcast Chameleon
The first season of the investigative podcast Chameleon looked at the story of the so-called Hollywood Con Queen and how this scam artist lured film industry wannabes to Jakarta with false promises of work. Season 2 is titled Chameleon: High Rollers and considers a similarly bizarre tale closer to home with journalist and new host Trevor Aaronson detailing how a Las Vegas diet clinic entrepreneur became entangled in an ultimately abortive FBI money laundering sting.
"The show is about this FBI sting that was known as Operation Bo-Tox," Aaronson tells EW of the Campside Media-produced podcast. "It was a money-laundering sting involving the owner of a diet clinic in Las Vegas named Emile Bouari. We explore the reasons why the FBI started this investigation in the first place, because the people they targeted were not big time criminals, they were not dangerous to the community, they were for the most part regular people. You could argue that Emile might be a bit of a snake oil salesman but these are people who would not be the usual targets of an FBI investigation or an FBI sting. [The podcast] really takes you into this behind-the-curtain look at an FBI sting as it unfolds and into the tactics that the FBI uses that are really quite questionable."
Below, Aaronson talks more about Chameleon: High Rollers and why he is not (too) worried about the FBI targeting him.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Could you talk about your background and how you got involved with this story?
TREVOR AARONSON: I've been reporting on the FBI for about 10 years. In 2013, I wrote a book called The Terror Factory which was a look at the FBI's counterterrorism program and the use of sting operations to find would-be terrorists. It focused on criticism that the FBI would find people who were maybe mentally ill or easily impressionable, did not have access to weapons, did not have money, they just were loudmouths with some bad ideas. The FBI, through an informant, through an undercover agent, would say like, "Hey, let me give you a bomb," and they'd guide them through this plot, and then it's paraded out to the public as another mini-Osama Bin Laden captured. That got me really invested in this idea [of] how the FBI uses sting operations, and the evolution of sting operations, and when they're appropriate and when they're not.
I initially [wrote] this story for The Intercept back in 2018, before Emile's charges were dropped. I laid out the case in that story, and then the charges were dropped, and more and more information started coming out after that point. It was clear that this was something that lent itself to [being] a podcast.
Did Emile take much convincing to participate? He's clearly depicted as a bit of a character in the podcast.
Right. Emile is definitely a character. I think that's what makes him interesting. He is not necessarily an angel. He has his own flaws. I think Emile knew going in that I was going to tell his story warts-and-all. But I think he felt the injustice that he hoped to expose in the telling of this story was important.
Do you ever worry about the FBI keeping an eye on you?
[Laughs] Sometimes. I always joke that I've never been audited by the IRS but that is a fear. I also want to point out I'm not an FBI-hater. This is not an anti-FBI story. There are plenty of people in the FBI who work with me as sources because they agree with much of the criticism that I bring in this case. What you'll find out later in the podcast is that there's a former FBI agent who figures out what was happening in this case, and becomes more of an institutional voice of why this case was so bad, and questions why the FBI management would have allowed this to happen.
The first two episodes of Chameleon: High Rollers are available to hear now.
Watch a trailer for Chameleon: High Rollers above.