NEW YORK – The New Yorker magazine profiled Cypriot actor Spyros Enotiades in its July 30 issue in the article entitled “The Man Who Captures Criminals for the D.E.A. by Playing Them.”
“When I work, I feel like an extension of law enforcement. I don’t feel like a snitch,” Enotiades told the New Yorker’s Yudhijit Bhattacharjee. The writer met the actor for the first time in 2015, but had heard of his work as a confidential source for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) as far back as 2011. The article recounts a few occasions when the dangerous characters Enotiades encountered nearly cost him his life, as well as the occasions that worked out for him and the DEA.
He started out in the pharmaceutical industry and then later went into the night club business. Enotiades has played Greeks, Lebanese, Italians, and even a Kurd in the course of his work for the DEA, but “he is in some ways an unlikely undercover operative; at seventy-two, he has suffered three strokes and has aching hips,” the New Yorker reported, adding that Enotiades “smokes two packs of cigarettes a day and eats with little regard for his heart condition.”
There is a serious toll his profession takes on his family and relationships, but Enotiades shows no sign of slowing down, though the roles he plays have evolved over time. He started out playing a middleman of sorts, connecting bad guys with the illicit items they were looking to purchase, mostly drugs, but also guns. Enotiades and his DEA handlers would create scenarios, much like choose-your-own-adventure plays, to figure out the various ways a given scene could go, allowing Enotiades room to react naturally to any of the possible outcomes of a meeting with some very dangerous people.
Robert Russillo, a former DEA agent who worked with Enotiades in the 1990s, attributed Enotiades’ success to his “worldly ways” and a knack for “putting people at ease,” the New Yorker reported, adding that Enotiades is “fluent in English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, and Greek,” and “specializes in playing the role of cartel boss, middleman, or money manager, making phone calls and holding face-to-face meetings with the DEA’s targets.”
For the last 30 years, Enotiades “has become one of the agency’s longest-serving and most successful confidential sources, participating in dozens of investigations targeting narcotics and weapons traffickers in the United States, Europe, South America, and Africa,” the New Yorker reported. “His ability to migrate between different types of people and cultures is incredible,” Russillo said.
Enotiades, originally from Nicosia, grew up in a wealthy family with his three siblings, Stephanie, Christis, and Marina. Cyprus was still a British colony then and Enotiades at age 11 distributed flyers for EOKA (Ethniki Organosis Kyprion Agoniston), the National Organization of Cypriot Fighters. After the twelve year old Enotiades began running errands for the group, including transporting “a pistol for EOKA across Nicosia” and then at 13 being “interrogated by the police following a demonstration,” his father sent him away to boarding school in Athens, the New Yorker reported.
In 1960, Cyprus became independent and Enotiades served in the Cypriot Army. He “studied business administration at the Northwestern Polytechnic, in London,” the New Yorker reported adding that “he had never much liked drinking and, at twenty, after smoking hash, developed an aversion to drugs.”
Enamored of nightlife and with gambling skills taught to him by an uncle, after graduating in 1968, Enotiades spent time in France, Germany, and Austria before working for Johnson & Johnson as a sales manager, then moving to Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) to start his own company “importing pharmaceuticals, and returned to Cyprus in 1980, to join his father’s company,” the New Yorker reported.
After his father was approached to illegally relabel medications for export to South Africa, Enotiades decided to ask the advice of his friend “Panicos Hadjiloizou, the head of the narcotics squad in the Cyprus Police Department, who told him that the medication was widely abused as a narcotic,” the New Yorker reported. Hadjiloizou, now manages a Nicosia-based private investigations firm, told Enotiades that “reporting the scheme to him was the right move; his father could have ended up in prison,” the New Yorker reported. With Hadjiloizou’s direction, Enotiades set up a meeting with the buyer in Frankfurt, where the man was arrested by the German federal police. “I felt as though someone had lifted a huge rock from my shoulders,” Enotiades said, the New Yorker reported.
He began working with the DEA in 1988 after having moved to Buenos Aires and starting an export business shipping beef to the United States. While there, “he befriended a Greek taxi-driver named Stavros, who, he later learned, was a drug dealer,” and “one day, Stavros asked Enotiades if he would help locate buyers of cocaine in the United States,” the New Yorker reported, “I thought, I must be jinxed,” Enotiades said and consulted his friend Hadjiloizou, “who cautioned him against going to the local police, because he feared that they were corrupt, and directed him instead to DEA agents at the U.S. Embassy in Buenos Aires.”
Enotiades became a source on the case and the DEA requested he follow Stavros to Panama for a meeting with drug dealers to gain their trust, “Enotiades’s job was to convince the dealers that he could organize the delivery of barrels of acetone, used in the manufacture of cocaine, in exchange for the drug,” the New Yorker reported.
Spending a great deal of time with the dealers at strip clubs and private parties, including one at which Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega was a guest, Enotiades made the mistake of leaving his passport out in his hotel room one day where one of the Panamanians found that Enotiades wasn’t Greek, as he had said, and took the passport to show his partners. Contacting the DEA agents on the case, they were able in a few hours put Enotiades on a plane out of Panama. “I’m lucky they didn’t kill me,” he said, the New Yorker reported, adding that “he was exhilarated by the danger and the thrill of manipulating criminals: ‘Once you get into this and you’re hooked, you’re hooked.’”
Enotiades was soon involved in many international cases from Buenos Aires to Brussels to Caracas, Venzuela. Of the drug dealers and arms traffickers with whom he has negotiated, he told the New Yorker, “They want to believe in me because they are preposterously narcissistic, and they believe they can get anything they want. They have these people around them kissing their feet all day long. They believe that I am a friend of theirs. I am like a rope, a long piece of rope. They grab that rope and they put it around themselves till they get hanged, because they are in this dirty business. I feel sorry for them, but they know what they’re doing.”
According to the New Yorker, Enotiades had planned to retire in 2015 when he first began sharing his story with the magazine. His most recent business ventures have not gone well, however, and he lacks health insurance though he takes medication for his heart and hips, so Enotiades continues working for the DEA, though he is not complaining. “If I had the money, what would I do? Sit by a beach somewhere?” he told the New Yorker, adding “That’s not my style.”