Banged Up Abroad: Former drug lord reveals how Manchester’s rave scene led him to America’s toughest prison

By Megan Bramall

An ecstasy king-pin who will appear on Banged Up Abroad tonight claims the Manchester rave scene kick-started his journey into the drug business, MM can reveal.

Shaun Attwood, 44, from Cheshire, spent six years behind the bars of one of America’s toughest prisons after a police investigation uncovered he was running a drug ring in competition with the mafia.

Growing up in Cheshire and attending Liverpool University studying business, Shaun was a shy and self conscious student until a friend introduced him to the Manchester party scene in 1989.

He told MM: “It was like a revolution. All of a sudden there were people partying in warehouses to amazing music, before I knew it we were coming to Manchester every weekend.

“The atmosphere was mind blowing, it was so intense. It was the rave capital of the world at the time.”

Whilst partying at clubs such as The Hacienda, The Thunderdome and Konspiricy in Manchester in 1989, Shaun had his first taste of the drug that would change his fortune.

Speaking within his second published book Party Time, he said: “I remember going to the bar – but that doesn’t matter anymore, nor does losing my girlfriend, the engine problems with my car, the calculus-heavy five-thousand-word balance-of-payments essay due on Monday morning. The high is demolishing every worry in my life, leaving me no choice but to be happy with the way things are.”

After graduating Shaun moved to Arizona with aspirations to make money on the American stock market.

He told MM: “I noticed the rave scene in America was very small, and I told myself when I made enough money I was going to try to transfer the rave scene to Phoenix.”

Within a few months he had made his first $1million and set out on his mission.

“I wanted Americans to have the same fun I had experienced in Manchester, I wanted to share that feeling,” he explained.

Shaun began hosting house parties and buying ecstasy pills for his friends, but as the pills ran out and the demand grew the stock-market-millionaire saw an opportunity.

Speaking on Banged Up Abroad he says: “From seeing the demand at the parties I started to see the business opportunity in selling ecstasy.”

After tracking down a supplier in LA, purchasing up to 10,000 ecstasy pills at a time and recruiting dealers, Shaun began hosting raves for thousands of people.

“Within weeks I had hundreds of people working for me and my own security team, it was just getting bigger and bigger,” he said.

Over the few years that followed, Shaun continued to provide Arizona with a taste of Manchester’s party scene.

At the height of his operation Shaun was selling 30 thousand pills per week, making millions of dollars and living in a lavish mountainside mansion.

In an interview with National Geographic he said: “At the peak of my wealth, I’d jump on a plane to go clothes shopping on Melrose Avenue, LA, or Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas. Most of the money went on raves and lavish after-parties at resort villas that lasted for days.”

The party ended for Shaun in 2002 when a SWAT team smashed down his door, arresting him on 20 drug charges based on six years of investigation.

Facing two hundred years behind bars, Shaun was sent to Maricopa County jail run by Sheriff Joe Arpaio, the jail with the highest death rate in America, to await trial.

“I broke the law and I take full responsibility for my actions but the conditions in that jail were squalid and illegal,” he said.

The jail has been centre of controversy in America for many years and Shaun reports stories of vicious treatment from guards towards inmates on a regular basis.

He said: “The food was rotten, cockroaches swarmed the rooms when darkness fell and brutal violence happened everyday.

“Guards would attack inmates with mental illness.”

During his stay at the jail Shaun scribed a blog named Jon’s Jail Journal to expose what was going on there. His writings were smuggled out of the jail during visits from Shaun’s Aunt hidden amongst legal paper work, and were later published online by his family. His shocking tales gained attention across the world and the jail was closed two years later following investigation.

After serving six years Shaun was released and returned to the UK, where he now spends his time writing books and speaking to around 20 thousand students per year across the country.

He said: “Every day I receive emails and tweets from students, sometimes asking me for advice and sometimes thanking me for talking at their school.

“I also get thankful emails from parents claiming that their children are more open to talking about drugs after listening to my story.”

Shaun’s Banged Up Abroad episode named Raving Arizona will be shown in the UK tonight at 9pm on National Geographic. The programme is now in its eighth series and is shown across 41 countries. 

Looking back on his experiences, the Liverpool business graduate still thinks of Manchester in a fond way.

He said: “I have spoken to students in quite a few schools and colleges since my return to the UK and I still love the atmosphere the city has.”

Shaun’s book Party Time, the third in his trilogy, English Shaun, will be in shops February 2014.

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