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And though the multiagency, international investigation was centered in New York, Lacewell emphasizes that more than half of the million pills the ring smuggled into this country were sold in Miami Beach through Berman and his dealers. "This was a significant ring," Lacewell says. "I'm not aware of a larger Ecstasy organization that's yet been broken up." The DEA has published reports linking Ecstasy smuggling to Israeli organized crime, but nothing in the public record about the Erez ring suggests any mob ties to the operation. Lacewell declined to comment on possible links between Erez and Russian/Israeli gangsters.
Does the fact that the alleged couriers were mostly Hasidic young men especially trouble other observant Jews in South Florida? The rabbi contacted for this story hadn't heard the tale. After reading an Associated Press account of the bust, he reluctantly agreed to an interview, taking pains to stress that such behavior is an aberration. (Which, of course, is precisely why Sean Erez used young Hasids in the first place.)
"Every community wrestles with these kinds of issues," he says. "Teachers and parents wonder how to train the next generation, and when something like this happens, it just points out the challenges we face. The fact that young people are going to clubs and taking Ecstasy is the problem, that's what bothers me more. It's terrible that people are going to go to such lengths to recruit and plan for the supply of this drug, but the real question is, 'Why are kids taking this drug?'"
In the Miami Beach club community, after-hours clubs are not the only ones in which Ecstasy is being sold and consumed. But the number of wide-awake early-twenties clubbers the drug generates clearly is driving the bottom line of The Mix and its after-hours brethren, the Fabric and Kit Kat clubs.
Their proprietors probably know this, and they also know that the combination of their drug-haven rep and the ungodly hours they keep (4:30 a.m. to noon) has put them in the cross hairs of cops and politicians on the Beach. But hey, these people are going to be awake for a while anyway. Do the powers that be really want packs of young adults roaming the streets, touching everything that moves?
"I've seen some crazy things," says bartender Kirsten Leistner. "Those glow sticks, you know how people wave them around in front of people's faces? This girl was standing in front of my bar two or three months ago, totally rolling, and this guy with two glow sticks comes up to her and starts making them go around her head, really fast. Then, he smacks her in the head so hard that she starts bleeding! The guy freaked. He was like, 'Oh my God, I'm sorry!' I gave her some napkins and asked, 'Did you notice that you're bleeding?' She just kind of wiped it off and smiled. She didn't even fucking care."
(Leistner adds that X actually has been a real bummer for those in her profession. "I made more money from the cokeheads," she says. "They have more to drink, and they get generous when they're wired. The X kids don't have much money, and they spend it all on the drug. Plus you don't want to drink anything but water on X.")
Would shutting down after-hours clubs solve the Ecstasy problem in Miami Beach? According to several sources, the X connection to the Beach goes way deeper than that.
"We are an epicenter of Ecstasy for the world," stresses Jim Hall of the Miami Coalition for a Safe and Drug-Free Community. "Even in New York, it's the Miami name that you find associated with some of the Ecstasy tablets. We are a world capital for Ecstasy, not the production center, not necessarily even the consumption center, but one of landmark, prestige centers of the MDMA cognoscenti. They visit here, they deal here, they trip here." He pauses. "They raise a lot of money here for charities."
Hall is referring, rather pointedly, to another aspect of Ecstasy's broad appeal. Not just skater/ravers from Kendall, but Miami's gay male clubgoers are rolling these days, as many of them have been throughout the decade. "Of the circuit parties, the White Party stands as the center event of that scene, which has done wonders for [AIDS-related] charities," Hall says. "Yet within that genre has also appeared the international jet set of this drug. The cognoscenti comes to the high temples of the high parties, whether they're on an island in Thailand or Sydney or London or Paris, Amsterdam, or New York."
And while local law enforcement hasn't made any busts on the scale of the alleged Erez ring, they have been noticing a sharp uptick in the amount of Ecstasy flowing into South Florida.
Agent Brent Eaton, public information officer for the Miami office of the DEA, notes that MDMA distribution and use has risen dramatically in the past few months. He cites several DEA busts as evidence of this trend. On July 21, two Dutch women were arrested at Orlando International Airport after arriving on a flight from Brussels with 50 pounds of MDMA. On July 25, a Dominican woman was arrested at Miami International after arriving from Santo Domingo with 9500 tablets of X; she was the most recent of five Dominican couriers arrested at MIA within the past six months. On July 29, a German man and woman were arrested at Fort Myers International after having brought 33 pounds (50,000 tablets) of Ecstasy on a flight from Düsseldorf. (Eaton says these pills were bound for Miami.) And on August 25, a Dutch woman was busted at the Orlando airport after bringing in 27 pounds of the drug from London.