The Mastermind

He was a brilliant programmer and a vicious cartel boss, who became a prized U.S. government asset. The story of an elusive criminal kingpin.

By Evan Ratliff



Paul Le Roux, a global criminal kingpin long held in secret U.S. custody, makes his first court appearance.

Episode 1: An Arrogant Way of Killing

How a real-estate agent in the Philippines became the target of a criminal mastermind.

Episode 2: I’m Your Boss Now

When you don’t know who your boss really is, a dream job can turn into a nightmare.

Episode 3: He Always Had a Dark Side

How did a Usenet troll and encryption genius become a criminal mastermind?

Episode 4: Absolute Fear

The programmer transforms into an insatiable tyrant.

Episode 5: He Got Greedy

A yacht called ‘I Dream’ washes up in Tonga carrying drugs and a grisly cargo.

Episode 6: Eyes Everywhere

How a retired American soldier became a brutal enforcer for a global cartel.

Episode 7: The Next Big Deal

A shroud of secrecy, a legal gambit, and a mystery solved.


A murder case at the heart of the series goes to the U.S. Supreme Court


“The Mastermind” was originally published in weekly installments between March and April 2016.

Evan Ratliff is an award-winning journalist who has written for The New Yorker, National Geographic, and Wired, where he has contributed for more than two decades. He is the author of the book The Mastermind, based on his Atavist series of the same name. His writing has appeared in numerous Best American anthologies, and he is a two-time finalist for both the National Magazine Awards and the Livingston Awards. Evan was the founding story editor of Pop-Up Magazine, and he cohosts the Longform podcast.

Editors: Katia Bachko, Joel Lovell

Additional Reporting: Aurora Almendral and Natalie Lampert

Designer: Thomas Rhiel

Fact Checker: Queen Arsem-O’Malley

Copy Editor: Sean Cooper

Trailer: Paul Kamuf

Images: Courtesy of the National Bureau of Investigations

Design updated in 2021.