I Used My Stockmarket Millions to Throw Raves and Sell Drugs

Think of drug lords in America and it’s likely that you’ll think of emotionally erratic men with harems of coked-up mega babes on big yachts in Miami. Or, if you watch a lot of HBO box-sets, terminally ill chemistry teachers or Idris Elba. One cliche that probably won’t spring to mind is a polite, educated ex-stockbroker from the UK’s industrial Cheshire.

Shaun “English Shaun” Attwood is an incredibly unlikely ecstasy kingpin. Growing up in Widnes, just outside of Liverpool, Shaun invested in the US stock market when he was young, made his millions, moved to Phoenix, Arizona, started throwing raves, and became a major drug supplier. While he wasn’t planning parties in the deserts of Arizona, he was working in direct competition with the Italian mafia and alongside the New Mexican Mafia to supply millions of dollars worth of ecstasy to the ravers of mid-90s Phoenix.

His motivation for doing all this (besides the fact that partying for a living is a lot more fun than selling shares)? He wanted to introduce Americans to the British rave culture he’d grown up with. Unfortunately, as is often the way when you’re handling millions of dollars worth of narcotics, Shaun was caught and ended up being sent to Maricopa County Jail, widely regarded as America’s toughest prison. Shaun’s been out of jail for a few years, so I called him to see if he’s still so keen to spread the love to the Yanks.

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Shaun after being released from prison. Photo by Libbi Pedder.

VICE: Hey Shaun. So you went from being a millionaire stockbroker to becoming a major drug dealer in Arizona. How did that happen?
Shaun Attwood: The Manchester rave scene made such a big impression on me that I decided to transfer that scene to Phoenix, Arizona after moving over there. After becoming a millionaire as a young person, I had more money than common sense, so I didn’t see the law as an obstacle to my partying or a barrier to bringing tens of thousands of hits of ecstasy into America from Holland.

That was for the mafia, right?
Yeah, I was supplying ecstasy to the New Mexican Mafia. In the beginning, I didn’t know who they were, but it came about because I was a friend of a gang member’s brother. Years later, they were all arrested and the news headlines reported that they were the most powerful and violent mafia in Arizona at that time, committing murder for hire and executing witnesses.

And you were in direct competition with the Italian mafia member Sammy “The Bull” Gravano—what’s the story with that? 
Yeah. Years later in prison, his son, Gerard Gravano, told me that he’d been dispatched as the head of an armed crew to kidnap me from a nightclub and take me out to the desert. I’d avoided him that night because my best friend Wild Man had got in a fight and we’d had to leave the club in a hurry.