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Devil of a deal

The DEA’s deal with drug kingpin Paul Le Roux didn't turn out as planned Monday

The DEA’s deal with a drug kingpin wasn’t enough to convict this Israeli businessman

The epic case of Paul Le Roux, an international drug and arms smuggler turned DEA informant, took another surprising turn Monday when one of his former employees was acquitted in Minnesota federal court, further calling into question the U.S. government’s unusual arrangement with the shadowy kingpin.

Moran Oz, an Israeli businessman accused of running an illegal online pharmacy scheme masterminded by Le Roux, saw his 18-day trial abruptly end when Judge Susan Richard Nelson acquitted him, citing “a dearth of evidence.”

Court records indicate that the DEA nabbed Oz with the help of his former boss. In addition to the lucrative pharmacy scheme, Le Roux has been linked to a dizzying array of crimes. These include a conspiracy to smuggle ultra-pure North Korean meth into the U.S. with the help of a biker gang and a Chinese crime syndicate; a pair of targeted killings in the Philippines; a yacht that washed ashore on the Pacific island of Tonga with $120 million worth of cocaine and a dead body onboard; and the arming of a militia in Somalia. He’s also a computer whiz who developed a popular type of encryption software.

Oz’s acquittal came after prosecutors rested their case, before his lawyers called a single witness to testify in his defense. The judge ruled in response to a motion by Oz’s attorneys that prosecutors had failed to present enough evidence to prove his guilt. The outcome is extraordinarily rare; one of Oz’s attorneys, Joseph Friedberg, said in more than 40 years of practicing law, this was just his second acquittal by what’s known as a “Rule 29” motion.

“They should never have prosecuted the case,” Friedberg said. “Their source of information was Paul Le Roux, and if you can’t corroborate something Paul Le Roux tells you, you should not act on it.”

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in the District of Minnesota did not respond to a request for comment about the acquittal.

Oz, 34, was a high-level manager at RX Limited, an online pharmaceutical company founded by Le Roux in 2004 and headquartered in Israel. The DEA began investigating the company in 2007 on the suspicion that it allowed customers in the U.S. to purchase painkillers, barbiturates, and other prescription drugs without having to visit a doctor.

Federal prosecutors allege RX Limited illegally sold tens of millions of dollars’ worth of pills. After he was arrested in Romania in 2013 and extradited to the U.S., Oz maintained that the drug sales were legit, and that he became trapped in the business because he feared Le Roux would have him killed if he tried to quit.

In fact, Oz said that when he did try to leave the company, he was summoned to the Philippines to meet with Le Roux. He claimed that Le Roux’s henchmen took him out on a boat, threw him into the ocean, and shot at him. “Their intention was to shoot him but not kill him and let the sharks finish the job,” Friedberg said last year ahead of Oz’s trial.

Joseph “Rambo” Hunter, a former U.S. Army sniper and drill sergeant who worked as an enforcer for Le Roux, later appeared to corroborate Oz’s story. While investigating Hunter in a separate drug and murder-for-hire case, DEA agents recorded him boasting about intimidating a Le Roux employee by chucking him overboard.

“We, ah… not kidnapped a guy, but we conned him to come with us,” Hunter said on a DEA wiretap. “We put him in the ocean, shot at him.”

Hunter eventually pleaded guilty to a range of criminal charges in Manhattan federal court and was sentenced last May to 20 years in prison. Le Roux, believed to be in his mid-40s, is also in federal custody, but the circumstances behind his detention remain murky. He was arrested in Liberia in 2012 after a DEA sting operation allegedly caught him plotting to smuggle meth to New York, but he has not yet been tried or sentenced.

Documents obtained last year by VICE News showed that Le Roux pleaded guilty to federal drug charges and is working with the DEA to set up his former underlings, likely in exchange for a reduced sentence. He was behind the sting operation that ensnared Hunter, and two people who were called to testify in Oz’s trial had already pleaded guilty in the pharmacy scheme.

Oz’s attorneys had planned to call Le Roux and Hunter to testify about the intimidation their client faced; Friedberg said both men were being held at Oak Park Heights, a maximum-security federal prison near Minneapolis, which was especially notable because Le Roux’s exact whereabouts had previously been undisclosed.

“It would the make average juror throw up asking someone to convict based on the testimony of Le Roux,” Friedberg said. He added, “I think this has been a total immoral prosecution and the government should be ashamed of itself.”

Oz’s defense team repeatedly called into question the nature of the DEA’s relationship with Le Roux. Typically, investigators bust low-level members of a criminal organization and use them to help nab the boss, not the other way around. “It is as if Microsoft was a criminal enterprise, and the government cuts a deal with Bill Gates to take down the entire shipping department,” Friedberg wrote in one court filing.

The judge also acquitted Oz’s 58-year-old Canadian co-defendant, Lachlan Scott McConnell, who worked security for Le Roux’s businesses. Two doctors who were allegedly involved in the pharmacy scheme still face charges; their trials are ongoing.

Oz was out on bail while his case was pending, and, according to Friedberg, his wife and two children moved from Israel to Minnesota to be with him. Oz’s wife gave birth to a third child, now an American citizen, about six months ago. The family plans to return to Jerusalem on Thursday.

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