The private intelligence service Stratfor has published a podcast for subscribers in which analyst Fred Burton discusses the case of Vincent Paul Bustamante, a U.S. Marshal found shot dead in Mexico.
In an earlier report on the incident, Stratfor wrote that Bustamante:
…was found in a canal with what appeared to be multiple gunshot wounds to the head, was identified by fingerprints and an identity document.
A USMS spokesperson said that before his death, Bustamante had surrendered his badge, credentials and weapon, as he had been placed on administrative leave for failing to appear in court on charges associated with criminal theft of public property (possibly a shotgun). According to one account, there had been a warrant out for Bustamante’s arrest since March 18. Such charges could be associated with accusations of corruption.
Little additional information is available at this time, and while there is no evidence yet that Bustamante’s death was linked to organized crime, there is strong reason to believe that this is the case. If so, Bustamante’s death represents a significant development in the cartel war in Mexico, as it would be the first time a U.S. federal law enforcement officer has been killed in Mexico in the last few years.
CNN reported that their law enforcement source said Bustamante was doing a law enforcement version of dipping into the till: pawning official guns and then buying them back after pay day:
Bustamante, 48, was charged with stealing U.S. government property including Glock and Ruger handguns, a shotgun and a pair of binoculars, according to court documents.
According to the federal source, who was not authorized to speak about details of the case and asked not to be named, a pawnshop owner became suspicious when Bustamante attempted to pawn a shotgun and called the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
The source said Bustamante would buy back items he had pawned on his pay days and return them.
Burton, however, goes beyond this in the podcast to suggest that Bustamante “could have gone rogue, could have gone dirty.”
If so, the consequences could be profound. “This is just not a dead cop–this is larger,” Burton warns. Investigators must “unpack” Bustamante’s “knowledge base” to find out what he knew and what he might have given up if he was dirty.
One extremely sensitive area: protected witnesses. I write about several extremely sensitive transnational gang investigations in my forthcoming book (No Boundaries: Transnational Latino Gangs and American Law Enforcement) in which “flipped” and later protected witnesses were crucial. (You’ll have to read the book, but two cases contain details never before written about publicly.)
There is an axiom among agents about organized crime cases: “no informant, no case.” [OK, another more cynical one is, “No case, no problems.”]
Naturally, the Mexican drug cartels and their affiliates would love to find out who flipped, where they are, and how the U.S. government protects them. This is true “sources and methods” stuff — not the imagined worries that too many federal law enforcement executives use to keep the American public in the dark. This is the kind of stuff that gets people killed.
Well…the Marshals Service runs the federal Witness Security Program — often also called the federal “Witness Protection Program.” Since the program by any name started in 1970, says the Marshals Service, “more than 7,500 witnesses and over 9,500 family members have entered the Program and have been protected, relocated and given new identities.” The service also states that “No program participant who follows security guidelines has ever been harmed while under the active protection of the Marshals Service.” (Be sure to read the fine print in that statement — warranty voided if you don’t follow the rules or are not under “active protection.”)
But Burton’s warning does not end there. He argues that the Bustamante case demonstrates that “we have to take control of the corruption on this side of the border.” This is especially interesting in light of Mexican President Felipe Calderon’s explosive statement to BBC this week:
There is trafficking in Mexico because there is corruption in Mexico…But by the same argument if there is trafficking in the United States it is because there is some corruption in the United States… It is impossible to pass tonnes of cocaine to the United States without the complicity of some American authorities.
As I wrote in a report on gun trafficking to Mexico released this week, Calderon is not just making this up:
U.S. officials also worry about the potential for corruption of law enforcement officials at all levels of government in the United States. In May 2008, for example, there were reported to be about 200 open cases investigating corruption among U.S. Department of Homeland Security officials working on the border. The agency’s inspector general reportedly saw an increase in cases that it investigated from 31 in 2003 to 79 in the 2007 fiscal year.
“Tom Diaz has worn out some shoe leather—much like a good detective—in gathering facts, not myths or urban legend. “
—Chris Swecker, Former Assistant Director of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division.
“Few people know more about the subject than Tom Diaz and no single book tells the whole story better than No Boundaries. If you really want to know what organized crime in America looks like today, then read this alarming book.”
—Rocky Delgadillo, former City Attorney of Los Angeles
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