Official Selection, Best American Crime Writing, 2002
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From Details: The X-Files
Israeli Immigrant Jacob “Cookie” Orgad Was an Unlikely Godfather: A King of the International Ecstasy Market Whose Subjects Included Strippers, Hasidic Teens and a Texas Couple with a Retarded Son.
By Julian Rubinstein
In the early evening of April 7, 2000, one of the strangest and most lucrative careers in the history of American drug smuggling was coming to an end. Twenty undercover agents, most from the U.S. Customs Service and the Drug Enforcement Administration, fanned into position outside a plush midtown Manhattan high-rise waiting for Jacob “Cookie” Orgad, the enigmatic Israeli king of ecstasy, to return from dinner.
When he arrived, at around 9:30—a babe on each arm and reeking of cologne—the former “Beeper King” of Los Angeles calmly consented to a search of his three-bedroom penthouse. What would a 43-year-old self-described former rabbinical student have to hide? But with Cookie, nothing was ever the way it seemed. As the search commenced, one of his girlfriends entertained the agents by showing them the marijuana leaf tattooed on her ass.
Such was the bizarre and incongruous world of Jacob Orgad—a.k.a. Tony Evans—a man feared by some and considered a joke by others, whose rise to prominence on the Hollywood scene as a close associate of Heidi Fleiss gives new meaning to the immigrant ideal of the self-made man. Was Cookie the Pablo Escobar of ecstasy? Was he responsible for an increase in ecstasy addiction? If so, he went down without so much as a splash. “Wait up for me,” he told the girls through his thick Israeli accent as he was cuffed and put into a waiting car. “I’ll be back in a few hours.”
But Cookie wasn’t going to be coming home for a long, long time. There were too many people—from the notorious former Gambino crime family underboss Sammy “the Bull” Gravano down to the Las Vegas strippers and Brooklyn Hasidic teens employed as drug mules—who had been convicted for working in the worldwide ecstasy empire Cookie shrewdly came to rule. “It was one of the most sophisticated and complex operations we’ve seen,” says Dean Boyd, a spokesman for U.S. Customs. It was also one of the most unlikely.
Cookie’s rise and fall traces a precipitous Wall Street–like graph: His fortunes boomed spectacularly in the mid-to-late 1990s—when the emergence of a massive market for ecstasy reconfigured the power structure of the world drug market—before crashing at the tail end of an investigation that spanned three continents and tore up the lives of scores of the most unlikely pushers imaginable. Take 19-year-old Simcha Roth, a Hasidic Jew from Brooklyn who pleaded guilty to ecstasy-smuggling charges in a related case. At his bail hearing, he was released to the custody of two rabbis.
As much as 90 percent of the world’s ecstasy supply is manufactured in secret, high-tech labs scattered throughout the Netherlands, where the materials to make the hallucinogen are not as closely regulated as they are in the rest of Europe and the United States. For years, a cabal of Israelis have used Holland as a base for diamond smuggling through the ports in Antwerp and Rotterdam. In the mid-nineties, some of them noticed that an even more lucrative trade had blossomed around them, one with few players as well positioned to cash in as they were. “Israelis are everywhere, and they get to know each other very fast because of the language and the tradition,” says an Israeli intelligence official familiar with his countrymen’s stronghold on the world ecstasy market. “It doesn’t take long for a guy like Cookie to get big.”
Authorities say that by the time of his arrest, Cookie had brought in more ecstasy to the United States than any other individual ever has: an estimated 9 million pills with a street value of more than $270 million. A former discount-electronics salesman, Cookie climbed to the top of the world drug trade chiefly by lying with such élan that emboldened associates were eventually threatening to “whack” Mafia made man Gravano. But in the end, Cookie’s sex-filled gangster paradise grew too big for its own good.
“I was stupid,” Cookie told me through his lawyer from a federal detention facility in Brooklyn—one of the few comments he agreed to make for this story. “It was a macho thing.”
What most people who knew Cookie in his early L.A. days remember is that he was a member of Mossad, Israel’s elite intelligence organization. Cookie grew up in Israel—in a big Moroccan Jewish family in the north of the country—and followed his ex-wife, Sigal, and 6-year-old daughter, Ravid, to the United States in 1985. He spent a few years in Fort Lauderdale before moving to Los Angeles in 1989. And though he has been able to keep many of the facts about his life a mystery even to the authorities who tracked his case for years, one thing is certain: Cookie was never an intelligence agent.
Cookie might never have amounted to more than a street-level salesman if it weren’t for his extraordinary ability to exploit opportunity—the Southern California equivalent of good genes. An opportunity presented itself to Cookie in the form of Heidi Fleiss, who showed up at his electronics store one afternoon in 1990, looking for a bargain on a big-screen television. Not that Fleiss needed a bargain. She was already running what she brags was the best operation of its kind in the world—a $1,500-a-night call-girl service. (The “Hollywood Madame” eventually drew three years in prison.) “I dealt with the richest people in the world and the best-looking girls,” Fleiss crows from her Los Angeles home, where she remains sequestered as part of her parole agreement.
Cookie knew who Fleiss was; a mutual Israeli friend had told him that she would be coming in for a deal on a TV. Law-enforcement officials here and in Israel believe Cookie was already involved in drug dealing—cocaine, mostly—but it was small-time stuff; it’s unlikely that’s why Fleiss sought him out. What is clear is that Cookie sold Fleiss a television and drove it to her now-infamous $1.6 million Benedict Canyon pleasure palace himself.
“Next thing you know, Cookie’s doing favors, running errands,” says Ivan Nagy, Fleiss’s boyfriend at the time. The call-girl market, much like the ecstasy scene that would soon explode, was fiercely competitive. With demand exceeding supply, many girls were looking to use Fleiss as a springboard to their own service.
Cookie didn’t look like much—short, pudgy, hairy, with a sartorial style reminiscent of Steve Martin’s Wild and Crazy Guy: tight pants, shirts unbuttoned to his navel, lime-green Valentino jackets, and chest-nesting gold chains. But Cookie recognized Fleiss’s need for someone to protect the business, and the Mossad tale was born. “Heidi and I looked at him like he was a moron,” says Nagy. “But at that time, anyone who suggested they could be some kind of an enforcer was valuable.”
Fleiss (who has little bad to say about Cookie) says she never believed his Mossad yarn but did make use of it. “I had a lot of enemies,” she says. “Sometimes I needed to find out something about a girl and he’d help me.”
“He and his friends would wait around for the girls to come home and then sneak up on them and say, ‘When are you going to go see Heidi?’” recalls one source. “They killed one girl’s cat.”
As Fleiss’s “enforcer,” Cookie had found a place for himself in the Hollywood scene. But he quickly came to realize that the role was limiting. He had a legendary libido—”He could fuck all day,” says one source—but being feared didn’t get you much action that you didn’t have to pay for. Nor did it command respect. While dapper johns like Charlie Sheen were whisked into the clubs with the Fleiss posse, Cookie had to stand in line with the rest of the losers.
But not for long. If there was one thing his days with Fleiss seems to have drilled into Cookie’s head, it was this: Girls are the universal currency; they’re accepted anywhere, and the more you have the more powerful you become. Soon, Cookie’s services to Fleiss involved more than just security. He began recruiting women for her, picking one girl up outside a Western Union by offering to shoot modeling photos. Cookie also ingratiated himself with women by providing them with drugs. “Sometimes guys would request drugs from the girls,” says the source, “mostly coke and ‘ludes.”
The official federal case against Cookie, which charges him as the leader of an international ecstasy-smuggling conspiracy, involves offenses committed only between 1998 and 2000. But law-enforcement sources say he was operating well before that. “He began moving a lot of cocaine in the early nineties,” says one source at Customs.
Fleiss refuses to comment on the drug allegations, but doesn’t deny Cookie was pimping for her. “He knew a lot of really cute girls,” she says. “Some needed money, a little makeover. I turned these girls into millionaires and they loved Cookie for the introduction. I paid him, on average, $500 a girl.”
Around this time, Cookie moved out of his dingy apartment and into a swanky high-rise just off Sunset Boulevard. He was now in the heart of Hollywood, where self-invention is standard operating procedure. But he soon learned that trying to prove you’re legit in an illegitimate world can also be dangerous. Within a year, his new twelfth-floor bachelor pad became the scene of an incident that nearly sidelined him before he became a true contender.
In February 1993, Cookie began spending time with a beautiful 22-year-old named Laurie Dolan. They’d known each other about two weeks when Cookie showed up at her apartment one evening in a limousine and whisked her and another young woman to dinner at the popular fashionista hangout Tatou. “She called me from there,” remembers her father, Paul. “It was obvious that she was out partying, but she said, ‘Dad, I’ll be all right.’”
After dinner, the group showed up at their regular hangout, Bar One, where Cookie was now a part-owner—no more waiting in line for him. He made a show of buying buckets of the best champagne before heading back to his apartment with Dolan and two other women. (“He always liked three or four women in his bed,” says one former associate. “It was like Caligula every night.”)
Dolan surfaced around 5 p.m. the next day, when Cookie left her comatose body at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. She never regained consciousness and three days later was pronounced dead, the victim of a massive drug overdose. An investigation into the death didn’t begin in earnest until four months later, in the wake of Fleiss’s June arrest. When the media put together the Fleiss-Cookie-Dolan connection, the mysterious death of one of Heidi’s supposed call girls became fodder for Hard Copy and tabloid headlines all the way to London.
Fleiss claims that she never met Dolan before in her life. But perhaps it was only a matter of time. “A girl like Laurie Dolan was worth $50,000 to Heidi,” says Nagy. “She was gorgeous, natural, young.” Nonetheless, the investigation into her death was eventually dropped after witnesses refused to speak to authorities, and Cookie was never charged. That fact hasn’t changed the mind of her father. “He should have been arrested for murder,” says Paul Dolan. “He took away Laurie’s innocence, her beauty, her life. This is what he did for a living. He drugged girls up, got them hooked, and turned them into prostitutes.”
As the Fleiss affair filled the tabloids in the fall of 1993, casual acquaintances began to reconsider their association with the woman the New York Post called “the Heidi Ho.” For Cookie, who appeared by that time to be using the Fleiss scene as cover for his growing drug business, their relationship meant danger.
As L.A. burned, Cookie split town. For several months, he began showing up nightly in the high-end strip clubs in New York City and Las Vegas, throwing his money around like a sultan. “He would drop $10,000 to $20,000 a night,” says the owner of a New York club.
But in 1994, three clubs he frequented barred him from the premises. “He was soliciting the women,” says one of the New York managers who banned him. “He liked the bisexual ones with big tits. He’d tell them, ‘I’ll take you shopping tomorrow. We’ll go out to eat.’ Soon, they were on his payroll and not coming to work anymore. I thought he was a pimp, not a drug dealer.”
With Cookie, who left almost no paper trail and few documents registered to his name, it was always hard to tell. While he appeared to be angling to succeed Fleiss—at least outside California—back in L.A., he was returning to his straight sales roots. A year earlier, he’d opened a pager store called J&J Beepers, and in 1994, he began a major promotional campaign. According to his own newspaper and radio ads, Cookie was now the “Beeper King” of Los Angeles.
But if Cookie was really looking to go clean, he chose an odd location for his headquarters….
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