Tom Diaz

Posts Tagged ‘Mexico’

50 CALIBER ANTI-ARMOR SNIPER RIFLE A FAVORITE OF MEXICAN DRUG GANGS

In bad manners, Crime, Drugs, Gangs, Guns, Latino gangs, Mexico, Running Fire Fight, Washington Bureaucracy on March 16, 2010 at 6:44 pm

We Feel You ... But Not THAT Much!

The murders of several U.S. citizens connected to the American consulate in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico has elicited the usual transparently fake concern by the usual suspects in Washington.

President Obama sent out to a flack to say that the Chief Executive was “deeply saddened and outraged.”

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton  declared that the murders:

… underscore the imperative of our continued commitment to work closely with the Government of President Calderon to cripple the influence of trafficking organizations at work in Mexico.

"Gun Dealers? I Don't See No Stinking Gun Dealers!"

The unspoken overalls in the chowder of Secretary Clinton’s declarations about working closely with Mexico and crippling drug lords is the fact — political, historical, and inconvenient — that the Administration of President Obama has no intention whatever of taking on the U.S. civilian gun industry (and import houses) that are major suppliers of firearms smuggled to Mexico for use by the drug gangs and other criminals.

One of the most popular is the Barrett 50 caliber anti-armor sniper rifle.  Although its inventor calls his gun “an adult toy,” Mexican criminals understand its real capabiliities, which are basically its ability to punch holes in armor from a thousand or two yards away.

Although there is nothing amusing about the war in Mexico, here’s a charming little video about the Barrett rifle.

AVENUES GANG BUSTED FOR SMUGGLING ALIENS

In bad manners, Crime, Drugs, Gangs, Latino gangs, Mexico, Transnational crime on October 17, 2009 at 9:28 pm
Deported?  No problema!  Federal Indictment Charges Avenues Gang's Drew Street Clique Operated Door to Door Immigration Smuggling Service that Included Illegal Reentry Option

Deported? No problema! Federal Indictment Charges Avenues Gang Operated Door to Door Immigration Smuggling Service that Included Illegal Reentry Option

Calexico is one of California’s best kept secrets. A delightful blend of American and Mexican cultures, Calexico’s small-town lifestyle, combined with its convenient proximity to the metropolitan areas of Mexicali and San Diego, make it a great place to live.

Internet Website, City of Calexico, CA

Kinda “homey,” right?

If Calexico is one of California’s “best kept secrets,” then the arcanum acarnorum, the secret of secrets, was the transnational alien smuggling ring allegedly being run through Calexico’s sister city, Mexicali, Mexico, by members of the notorious Avenues Latino street gang in Los Angeles.

An indictment handed up and sealed on October 1 and made public October 14 is the latest in a hammering series of actions against the Avenues by federal and state law enforcement authorities. [You can read an earlier Fairly Civil post about the Avenues gang here, and connect through links to other posts.]

ICE Press Release

The Immigration and Customs Enforcement Press Release describes the scope of the ring’s activities and some context:

According to the search warrant affidavit filed in federal court in connection with the case, the ring allegedly smuggled more than 200 illegal aliens per year into the United States. At one point, investigators say, members of the Drew Street clique contacted the smuggling organization about bringing the infamous matriarch of the gang, Maria Leon, into the United States from Mexico. While the ring did not end up smuggling Leon into the United States, she returned to the country illegally and was subsequently arrested. Leon is now serving a 100-month federal prison sentence for racketeering crimes related to the Avenues street gang.

The indictment in the case of United States v. Eduardo Alvarez-Marquez [U.S. District Court for Central District of California, Docket No. CR-09-01013, filed October 1, 2009] illustrates two general points about trans-border criminal organizations:

  • Transnational criminal organizations are increasingly adapting their cellular structures to a variety of opportunistic crimes.  Structures originally set up for drug trafficking can also be used for smuggling aliens, trafficking human beings, extortion, and trafficking in firearms.
  • Retired Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department Sgt. Richard Valdemar is bang on when he says (as he did to me several months ago) that so-called “street gangs” like the Avenues have jumped in the alien smuggling game as a source of revenues.
  • Background on the Mexicali–Calexico Border Crossing

    The border crossing the Avenues exploited is one of the busiest.  According to the City of Calexico’s website:

    More than 18.9 million vehicles and pedestrians cross into U.S. through Calexico’s two Ports-of-Entry. The East Calexico port of entry provides an improved link to major trucking routes, and has increased the ease with which people and goods move between the two countries.

    The Avenues alien smuggling business exploited the crush.  The following excerpts from the indictment describe in some detail how the gang operated.

    Overview

    Defendants … would arrange for unidentified co-conspirators to smuggle illegal aliens into the United States by methods that included jumping over the international boundary fence, walking through the Calexico Port of Entry using fake or falsified documents, riding in cars entering the United States through the Calexico Port of Entry using fake or falsified documents, concealing themselves in hidden compartments in vehicles, and wading through the New River in and around Calexico, California.

    Defendants … would negotiate the price and method that would be used to smuggle illegal aliens into the United States from Mexico… [and] would instruct illegal aliens to wait at particular locations in Mexicali, Mexico, in order to be smuggled into the United States.

    The Safe Houses

    The gang kept a “safe house” in Mexicali as a holding tank for aliens waiting to be smuggled.  Once the aliens were safely across the border, the gang then stashed them in safe houses on the U.S. side, one close to the border, and another in Los Angeles.  The aliens were later moved from these safe houses to other locations, some to as far away as New York City.

    Defendants … would meet illegal aliens once they had been smuggled into the United States and take them to a residence in Holtville, California….until transportation from the area could be arranged.

    Defendants … would [also] harbor and conceal recently smuggled illegal aliens at a residence on West Avenue 34 in Los Angeles…[and] would arrange and coordinate transportation for illegal aliens from the Los Angeles area to other locations in the United States.

    Defendant Alvarez-Estrada told defendant Alvarez that unidentified co-conspirators would charge $700 to transport an illegal alien from Los Angeles to New York.

    The Prices

    The smugglers charged different fees, depending on how the illegal aliens came across the border:

    On August 26, 2008, by telephone using coded language, defendant [Rosario Maria] Rodriguez told a confidential informant (the “CI”) that defendant Alvarez [Eduardo Alvarez-Marquez] has different methods for smuggling illegal aliens into the United States; that the price for smuggling illegal aliens ranges from $2,500 to $4,500 depending whether the alien walked through the Port of Entry with false documents, rode as a passenger in a vehicle, or jumped over the international boundary fence in a remote area near Mexicali, Mexico…Rodriguez told the CI that an alien should not sneak into the United States by jumping across the international boundary fence unless the alien previously had been deported.
    ….
    On August 26, 2008, by telephone using coded language, defendant Alvarez told the CI that Alvarez only smuggles illegal aliens through Mexicali, Mexico; that he charges $2,800 for aliens who jump the international boundary fence and are picked up by a vehicle in the United States; that he charges $3,500 for aliens who use a guide to walk the alien through the Port of Entry with a lost, stolen, or falsified green card or visa; and that he charges $4,300 for aliens who he arranges to have driven through the Port of Entry as a passenger in a vehicle.

    Rodriguez told an unidentified co-conspirator that previously-deported illegal aliens were smuggled into the United States undetected through the Port of Entry at a price of $3,500 to $4,500.

    Alvarez told an unidentified co-conspirator that Alvarez charged $4,000 to smuggle an illegal alien into the United States from Mexico through the use of a false green card.

    Defendant Alvarez told an unidentified co-conspirator that Alvarez had a $2,800 option for smuggling illegal aliens into the United States from Mexico, which required the aliens to run for six to ten minutes, as well as a $3,800 option, which required the aliens to run for approximately 30 seconds before being hidden inside a truck, and Alvarez would transport the illegally smuggled aliens as far as the Avenue 34 residence near San Fernando Road and Fletcher Drive in Los Angeles, California.

    Special Rate for Chinese

    The smugglers also had a “special” rate for Chinese aliens who wanted to enter the United States through Mexico:

    Defendant J. Carreon told defendant Alvarez that five illegal aliens from China wanted to be smuggled into the United States over the Mexican border while hidden inside a truck … Alvarez told defendant J. Carreon to charge the illegal aliens from China double the normal smuggling fee.

    Gangster Family Values

    Finally, no comment is really needed on this illumination of gangster family values:

    Defendant Rodriguez told a friend that defendant A. [Aquilina] Alvarez was upset because defendant Alvarez-Estrada [her husband] had taught defendant Alvarez [her son] to sell drugs at age 14 and later taught Alvarez to smuggle illegal aliens, and the friend stated that A. Alvarez was also to blame for Alvarez’ illegal activities.

    Interesting, no?

    Bonus Round

    For our Spanish-speaking readers, here is an excerpt from the October 15 report about this case in La Opinion:

    Caen ocho polleros

    Supuestamente tienen nexos con una pandilla en LA

    La Oficina de Control de Inmigración y Aduanas (ICE) informó ayer que sus agentes arrestaron a ocho personas vinculadas con el tráfico de drogas y de personas, que mantenían contactos estrechos con la clica Drew Street, perteneciente a la trístemente célebre pandilla Avenues del Este de Los Ángeles.

    Se trata de un caso especial en el que un grupo dedicado a transportar personas de manera ilegal desde México a Estados Unidos, especialmente a Los Ángeles, desarrollaron una relación con grupos del hampa organizado, dedicados especialmente al narcotráfico, dijo Kevin Kozak, agente especial encargado de las investigaciones de ICE en esta ciudad.

    EVIL STALKS THE WORLD — NO COUNTRY FOR WEAK MEN OR WOMEN

    In bad manners, Corruption, Crime, Drugs, Guns, Informants and other sophisticated means, Intelligence and Counter-Intelligence, Obama, politics, Terrorism, Terrorism and counter-terrorism, Transnational crime, undercover investigations on October 8, 2009 at 8:35 pm
    "You've been putting it up your whole life, you just didn't know it...You stand to win everything."

    "You've been putting it up your whole life, you just didn't know it...You stand to win everything."

    The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

    The ceremony of innocence is drowned.

    “The Second Coming,” William Butler Yeats.

    The book and film of Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men ought to have scared the hell out of you.

    If it didn’t, with all due respect, you just don’t get it.

    The ruthless evil of the narcotraficantes that this story portrays is not just the fancy convention of an extremely talented writer.  It is as close to real as you might get, short of submerging oneself in the hell of the real thing.

    Cold-blooded killer Anton Chigurh, the role for which Javier Bardem won his Oscar, is as pure a distillation of evil as anything not capped off tightly in a vial behind the wires at Ft. Detrick, MD.

    When you get the Chigurh bug, you’re dead.

    Thailand About to Spring Merchant of Death Viktor Bout -- No Time for U.S. Diplomats to Equivocate

    Thailand About to Spring Merchant of Death Viktor Bout -- No Time for U.S. Diplomats to Equivocate

    The movie’s infamous “call it” scene comes to mind today thinking about another pure distillation of evil, international arms merchant Viktor Bout.

    Bout exploded out of the cold war as a well connected Merchant of Death.  He played a pivotal role in the arming of children as warriors in Africa and the continuing agony of that continent.  He was brought down by a brilliant U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration sting, overseen by  supervisory agent Michael Braun.

    Arrested in Thailand, Bout seemed to have been on the way to justice in the United States.  But our “friends” in Russia leaned on the Thais, who now seem to be close to springing Bout.

    Here is how the Russian news agency Novosti summed up the case last month:

    Former Russian army officer Bout, 42, was arrested in Thailand in March 2008 during a sting operation led by U.S. agents.

    The Bangkok Criminal Court refused in August to extradite Bout to the United States, where he is accused of conspiring with others to sell millions of dollars’ worth of weapons to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), among other illegal arms deals, and “threatening the lives of U.S. citizens.”…

    The Russian Foreign Ministry said it will give Viktor Bout all the support he needs. The ministry said it hoped Thailand would not reverse its initial decision of not extraditing Bout to the United States.

    “All the support he needs” seems to be working.  Thailand is about to unleash this evil upon the world again, Braun warned in today’s The Washington Times newspaper:

    An appellate court in Thailand appears primed to uphold a recent lower court ruling that will unleash Viktor Bout, universally known as the “Merchant of Death,” back on the global community. To say that Bout is upset with the United States after spending more than a year in a Thai prison would be a gross understatement.

    Bout exploded onto the international scene shortly after the breakup of the Soviet Union, when he effectively leveraged his high-level former Soviet military and intelligence contacts and pounced on a capitalistic opportunity to sell a limitless assortment of Soviet arms that had been stockpiled during the Cold War. I’m talking about everything from AK-47 assault rifles by the millions to such advanced heavy weapons as Mi-24 Hind helicopter gunships, tanks and Igla surface-to-air shoulder-fired missiles that can knock down commercial airliners as easily as a sawed-off shotgun could blast ducks in a barrel.

    His clientele were the potpourri of modern-day scum: global terrorists, ruthless dictators, merciless drug kingpins and other transnational organized criminal groups. However, it is the mark that Bout left on Africa that qualifies him as the world’s deadliest “shadow facilitator.”

    Bout flooded the continent with hundreds of thousands of AK-47s and other modern weaponry before his arrest. Those arms replaced machetes and other archaic weapons wielded by heavily exploited and drugged young boys, who made up the ranks of several insurgent groups, and instantly transformed them from random murderers into perverse, mindless killing machines operating with assembly-line efficiencies. A million or more innocent Africans were slaughtered.

    Read the entire article here.

    Braun’s article apparently caused a panic of puckered pants at the State Department.  The Attorney General himself may have been galvanized into action.

    Here’s the point: the Russians have tossed the coin and it’s up to the Obama administration to call it.  Bout is not just some guy who sells guns.  He is part of a chain of evil than spans the world:  drug traffickers, terrorists, ruthless and heartless.

    The question may be this for the Attorney General:  Is letting Viktor Bout back into the world to sell more death and destruction to terrorist groups like the Colombian narcoteroristas FARC less important than getting admitted pervert and child abuser Roman Polanski back on our soil to serve his time?

    When you stand to win everything, you also stand to lose everything.

    "Call it!"

    "Call it!"

    “SNITCH” MANAGEMENT — LOOKING AT INFORMANTS THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS, PART ONE

    In Crime, Drugs, Gangs, Informants and other sophisticated means, Latino gangs, Mexico, RICO, RICO indictments, Transnational crime, undercover investigations on September 18, 2009 at 9:18 pm

    neighborhoodwatchgrafitti

    Confidential informants are like the black hole of the criminal justice system.

    Ellen Yashefsky, Benjamin Cardozo Law School, quoted in Aubrey Fox, “Delving the Murky World of Police Informants,” Gotham Gazette, February 20, 2008.

    It is rarely possible to guess accurately from what corner the informer will emerge.  For this reason, a delicate relationship, little understood by the public, exists between law enforcement officials and individual members of the underworld.  These men we hunt down are always possible allies who may come over to our side for some consideration of sentence, for some promise to protect their wife or family.  My attitude has been to use any means available to cut narcotic violations to a minimum, and where criminals or addicts will cooperate with us to that end I will deal with them…Whether he comes voluntarily or because he is shown that it is his best way out, whether it is a one-time deal or a source of inside information that may continue for months, the informer provides the solution for ninety-five percent not only of narcotic offenses but of all types of crime.

    Harry J. Anslinger and Will Orsler, The Murderers (New York: Avon Books, 1961), pp. 121-122.

    Informants are more than mere witnesses to crime and are less than law enforcement officers.

    John Madinger, Confidential Informant: Law Enforcement’s Most Valuable Tool (Washington, DC: CRC Press, 2000), p. 12.

    “No informant, no case.”

    That aphorism has become almost universally accepted among investigators of racketeering and drug crimes.  But some doubt it.

    Harry J. Anslinger believed in the value of informants, as the quote above demonstrates.

    Harry J. Anslinger

    Harry J. Anslinger

    Anslinger — the other J. Edgar Hoover — was the first Commissioner of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Narcotics.  Although the rap is variously pinned on Richard Nixon or Ronald Reagan, Anslinger was the original architect of the American war on drugs.  Some of his prose on the evils of marijuana is … entertaining … to say the least.  (“Google” him if you are interested.  This is a more or less family-friendly blog.)

    Every street cop, federal agent, and prosecutor battling the toxic corrosion of the illegal drug trade–and its local retailers, street gangs–also knows the value of the informant.

    ‘’The big secret of detective work is that you’ve got to get somebody else to tell you what happened,’’ NYPD Lt. John Cornicello told The New York Times in 2006.

    However, some federal investigators suggest that the brutal discipline, cellular structure, and tightly held core of Mexican drug trafficking organizations has diminished the value of “flipping” lower level criminals and — through them — working the investigation up to the bosses.  These people suggest that the interception of communications — wiretaps and other techniques — has become more important in the law enforcement tool box of “sophisticated techniques of investigation.”

    Here is the central problem of informants against the Mexican DTOS, according to this view:  Lower level members of the Mexican drug trafficking organizations in the United States (i.e., your quiet Latino neighbor in Cleveland, Atlanta, or Conshohocken, whose well-trimmed lawn and unexceptional home is a stash house, packed with dope for redistribution to local gangs and thence up the nose of America’s addicts) typically clam up tightly when busted.  After all, they have family members who can be easily whacked or tortured back in Mexico.  Moreover, they generally are isolated in specialized cells, and know little to nothing about the rest of the organization.  Flipping them is difficult and usually yields little useful information, some seasoned agents say.

    Be that as it may, court records and news reports teach that the use of informants is still central to the investigation of many criminal enterprises, including transnational gangs.  And although communications intercepts may be the key to making cases against the Mexican DTOS, informants here and in Mexico are still important.

    Fairly Civil will wander through this world of informants over a series of posts, beginning with this one.  These posts will examine the value of informants in actual criminal cases, and some of the issues that critics consistently raise.

    The Long History of Informants

    Modern civil libertarians and the criminal defense bar tend to criticize the use of informants as an insidious and relatively new creature of the war on drugs.

    In fact, informants have been used since at least Biblical times.  The transactional equation (“you give me information, I give you special treatment”) is the same now as it was then:

    The House of Joseph, for their part, advanced against Bethel, and the Lord was with them.  While the House of Joseph were scouting at Bethel … their patrols saw a man leaving the town.  They said to him, “Just show us how to get into the town, and we will treat you kindly.”  He showed them how to get into the town; they put the town to the sword, but they let the man and his relatives go free.

    Judges (Shofetim) 1: 22-26, Tanakh (Philadelphia:  The Jewish Publication Society, 1985).

    Recent court filings — e.g., a corruption case involving a senior ICE official, federal racketeering (RICO) cases against MS-13 in Los Angeles and San Francisco, and the pursuit of an injunction by police officers in St. Louis — illustrate the vast range of differences in the uses and abuses of snitch management within the American law enforcement system.

    Given the utility of informants — and the fair assumption that most law enforcement officers and prosecutors want to use informants to fight crime and put criminals in jail — the use of informants raises three classes of interesting issues:

    • Keeping informants alive.
    • Managing informants and their information to ensure that they are reliably transmitting valid information and not wrongfully implicating innocent persons.
    • Law enforcement policy management issues about the impact of informants on the administration of justice, particularly in communities where they are heavily used.

    This post will focus on the problem of keeping informants alive.

    Keeping Informants Alive

    If you decide to embark on a life of crime, there’s one very important thing that you should know, and that thing is everyone is a potential informant against you — your wife, your mother, your brother, your lawyer, anyone you’ve ever worked for or worked with and anyone who has ever worked for you.

    Chris Mather, Crime School: Money Laundering (Buffalo, NY: Firefly Books, 2004), p. 101.

    Gangsters know the value of the informant — an endangered species also known in the underworld as the “rat,” the “stool pigeon,” and the “snitch,” among other epithets.   The thought that one’s homey or carnal may be cooperating with law enforcement is a tiny live wire wound through the brains of the “shot callers” and “big homeys” of every  Latino gang.  That little wire carries a buzzing current of paranoia and suspicion.  “One may smile, and smile, and be a villain,” Prince Hamlet observed upon learning of his own mother’s duplicity.

    Not infrequently, paranoia overcomes reality.  Gangsters innocent of cooperation have nevertheless suffered the misfortune of being whacked without proof, much less probable cause.  Call it intuition gone awry.

    Some who suffer unjust accusation from their fellow gangsters are driven into the  arms of law enforcement.  [I write about several such cases in No Boundaries:  Transnational Latino Gangs and American Law Enforcement (University of Michigan Press 2009).]

    To give the devil his due, however, it is also true that gang leaders often seek what they call “paperwork” — some kind of official evidence — corroborating that a suspected homey has in fact “flipped” before giving a “green light” to have him (or her, as in the case, e.g., of notorious MS-13 informant Brenda Paz) murdered.

    “They usually try and get paperwork on people that they say that they’re snitching or they said something to incriminate somebody,” a member of the Columbia Lil’ Cycos clique of the 18th Street gang explained in testimony during a federal racketeering trial described in No Boundaries. “And once they get the paperwork, they place a green light on the person.”

    One of the better places to find such evidence is in the files of the “discovery” material that our system of justice requires be given to persons accused of crime.  Gangsters and their lawyers comb through this material in search of the identity of informants.

    “The homeboys know the legal system better than most lawyers,” FBI Special Agent Carl Sandford told we when I was researching No Boundaries. “They use the rules of discovery and evidence in criminal cases to get ‘paperwork’ concerning who the rats are.”

    In fact, the murder conspiracy in which Los Angeles anti-gang activist Alex Sanchez is accused of participating as a secret MS-13 shot-caller revolves about the accusation of one gangster — Walter Lacinos —  that another was a rat.  Lacinos provided “paperwork” to document his accusation.  But, according to transcripts of a government wiretap in the case, MS-13 shot-callers submitted the paperwork [apparently some kind of court document] to the Mexican Mafia for the gangster version of forensic analysis.  The decision came down that Lacinos’s “paperwork”  was fake (it included at least one forged page).  This led to considerable intra-gang ill will and Lacinos was eventually whacked in El Salvador.

    A Working Example:  United States v. Cerna

    A current example of how this cat and mouse game of sussing out informants might work is provided in the ongoing RICO case brought against a number of MS-13 gangsters in San Francisco, United States v. Cerna.

    The trial court recently ruled on a number of pre-trial motions.  The following excerpt describes one of the defendant’s attempts to find out the names of certain informants:

    [One of the defendants] argues that defendants have a need for disclosure because the informants were participants in ‘critical events’ at issue in this case.  He lists several ways in which the informants are referenced in discovery or the indictment. Informants 1211 and 1218 provided law enforcement with information about MS-13’s operations, leaders and members. Informants 1211 and 1218 attended MS-13 meetings with defendants which support the RICO conspiracy counts against them. Informant 1211 told the authorities about meetings with [certain] defendants … where various crimes were discussed. Informant 1218 attended meetings with [certain] defendants … [and] also discussed the buying and selling of narcotics with [another] defendant and provided authorities with information about a violent crime allegedly committed by [other] defendants…[etc., etc.]

    “Omnibus Order Re Stage Two Motions,” United States v. Cerna, U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, Docket No. CR 08-0730 WHA, filed September 16, 2009.

    The court ruled that the defendant had shown enough to require the government to come into a closed conference in the court’s chamber [in camera] — without the defendants or their lawyers — as described in this part of the ruling:

    An in camera hearing is therefore justified. The hearing will be held ex parte, with only judicial staff, prosecutors and witnesses present, in order to protect the identity of the informants. A defendant for whom the threshold showing has been made as to a particular informant … may submit written questions regarding that informant to the Court and opposing counsel three days before the hearing.

    The Court orders an in camera evidentiary hearing to determine whether to allow disclosure of the confidential informants’ identities. The government is ORDERED to produce at the hearing one or more witnesses with knowledge of the relevant informant’s identity and role in the investigations of this action.

    This all sounds tidy, secure, and appropriately solicitous of the informants’ well-being.

    Gangsters and cartels have their own ways of doing things, however.  For example, corrupting law enforcement officials who can provide them with the names of informants by accessing law enforcement databases.

    The Case of Richard Padilla Cramer

    Allegedly Corrupt Law Enforcement Officer -- Not A Mexican, But a Senior U.S. DEA Agent

    Allegedly Corrupt Law Enforcement Officer -- Not A Mexican, But a Senior U.S. DEA Agent

    The affidavit in support of a criminal complaint in the case of United States v. Cramer alleges that a recently retired senior ICE agent stationed in Guadalajara, Mexico was selling lists of informants to Mexican drug traffickers while he was an ICE agent.  It is charged that Cramer also became a major investor in several large shipments of cocaine.  In fact, he was supposedly urged by his DTO pals to retire so as to become an investor in dope.

    According to court documents, erstwhile-Agent Cramer was exposed when a  DTO operative ["CS--2"] “flipped”:

    After being arrested, CS-2 provided the law enforcement officers with copies of printouts of the results of database run in several law enforcement databases, including four DEA database queries, two criminal history queries, one ICE database query, and two State of California law enforcement database queries … CS-2 also stated that these law enforcement inquiries were from a U.S. Federal Agent stationed in Mexico named “Richard.”  CS-2 also stated that the DTO utilizes Richard to make inquiries into members of the DTO to confirm that they (the members of the DTO) are not working as informants for various law enforcement agencies.  Richard was later identified through this investigation as Richard Padilla CRAMER, a former ICE agent stationed in Mexico until his retirement in or about December 2006 or January 2007 … It was later learned that CRAMER utilized his law enforcement position to persuade DEA agents to run DEA database queries under the guise of an active drug investigation.  Further investigation with DEA agents who were stationed in Mexico revealed that CRAMER was stationed in Guadalajara, Mexico and was known to ask to have database checks run on various subjects … CRAMER was responsible for advising the DTO how U.S. Law Enforcement works with warrants and record checks as well as how DEA conducts investigations to include “flipping subjects” and making records checks.

    Affidavit in support of Criminal Complaint in United States v. Cramer, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, Docket No: 09-3178-White, filed August 28, 2009.

    This would be a shocking case if it were not for the fact that it is only the latest in a string of cases in which square-jawed minions of law and order on “our side” of the border have been shown to be just as rotten as all those contemptible “corrupt officials” on the other side.

    It reminds one of the lyrics of the old cowboy music song by Jim Ed Brown: “I was looking back to see if you were looking back to see if I was looking back to see if you were looking back at me.”

    The difference, of course, is that an outed informant is a dead man walking.  And not for long.

    LOS ZETAS COULD BE PLANNING TO MURDER MULTIPLE U.S. LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICERS, DHS WARNS

    In Crime, Intelligence and Counter-Intelligence, Mexico, Transnational crime on September 15, 2009 at 11:44 am

    prefillable-syringes

    According to a Department of Homeland Security intelligence bulletin, the Mexican narco group Los Zetas may be planning to kill U.S. law enforcement officers in some numbers.

    An open question is when and if Mexican drug traffickers will decide to go after U.S. law enforcement personnel — within the United States — in an organized way.  Conventional wisdom is that Mexicans have restrained any attacks because they do not want to spark more intensive U.S. investigations and pressure.  (At least one knowledgeable law enforcement source in the Southwest believes law enforcement has already been targeted.)

    If there is one constant in the world of cartels and gangs it is change.

    “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

    Order No Boundaries from Amazon.com

    People, structures, operational methods, routes, the criminals’ risk assessments, and value judgments are all different now than they were even five years ago.  The following bulletin to law enforcement warns of an obviously serious — although uncorroborated — threat from Los Zetas to murder U.S. law enforcement personnel from a variety of agencies.

    Briefly put, Los Zetas are rogue Mexican special forces soldiers who were first hired as muscle and then transformed into a cartel-like drug trafficking organization.  According to a DEA official quoted by CNN in a piece about Los Zetas, the group are responsible for a great part of the public violence in Mexico:

    “The Zetas have obviously assumed the role of being the No. 1 organization responsible for the majority of the homicides, the narcotic-related homicides, the beheadings, the kidnappings, the extortions that take place in Mexico,” said Ralph Reyes, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency’s chief for Mexico and Central America.

    The following bulletin is genuine.  The open question is whether the original source report was accurate:

    Department of Homeland Security

    Yuma Sector Border Intelligence Center

    Officer Safety Alert

    August 28, 2009

    OSA-09-072

    August 28, 2009

    Yuma Sector Border Intelligence Center received information regarding synchronized attacks on law enforcement officers.

    This information is uncorroborated; intelligence gathering is presently being conducted to verify the validity of this information.

    Information received indicates that Los Zetas are planning a synchronized attack on law enforcement officers in the United States. Los Zetas have been planning to retaliate against American law enforcement personnel for several years. Los Zetas plan to kill American law enforcement officers by using potassium chloride.

    Los Zetas have been targeting specific American law enforcement personnel on the Arizona, New Mexico and Texas borders who they want to kill simultaneously by injecting those individuals with potassium chloride: the third drug used in death penalty lethal injections. The Source learned that a high-ranking Cartel family member (Cartel was not identified) was convicted and sentenced to death by lethal injection in a Texas Court. Therefore, to retaliate for that death, Los Zetas have decided to do the same to American law enforcement officers.

    The exact number of law enforcement officers targeted for the mass attack or who those law enforcement officers are, is unknown. Los Zetas have not provided an exact date for the murders to be conducted but the information received indicates it will be carried out soon.

    According to the information received, Los Zetas have been identifying personnel from the DEA, U.S. Border Patrol, ICE and other federal, state and local agencies. They have been taking photographs, conducting surveillance, and studying specific targets on the Southwestern United States border.

    All personnel and their families should be vigilant of their homes as well as remain cognizant of their surroundings at all times. It is recommended to change the times and routes of travel coming and going to and from your residence and place of employment. Agents should be alert for suspicious activity and if possible obtain license plate numbers and descriptions of suspicious persons or suspicious vehicles.

    It would, of course, be foolish to ignore such a warning.  As noted above, some law enforcement officials already see increased engagement north of the border.  A reported instruction by the Sinaloa cartel’s Joaquin “Chapo” Guzman to fight back with force against U.S. law enforcement set off a flurry of such reporting, exemplified by these quotes from an article in the Los Angeles Times, “Sinaloa cartel may resort to deadly force in U.S.,” by reporter Josh Meyer (May 6, 2009):

    The reputed head of Mexico’s Sinaloa drug cartel is threatening a more aggressive stance against competitors and law enforcement north of the border, instructing associates to use deadly force, if needed, to protect increasingly contested trafficking operations, authorities said.

    Such a move by Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, Mexico’s most-wanted fugitive, would mark a turn from the cartel’s previous position of largely avoiding violent confrontations in the U.S. — either with law enforcement officers or rival traffickers.

    But near the Mexico-Arizona border, Robert W. Gilbert, chief patrol agent for the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Tucson sector, said confrontations between law enforcement and suspected traffickers — and among traffickers themselves — had grown more violent.

    On the other hand, the lack of a named cartel death penalty “victim” undermines the supposed rationale for the supposed plan.  A quick search of Mexicans executed in the United States in recent years did not reveal a likely candidate.  It is possible that the original informant has conflated the Guzman story.

    The alleged operational plan also seems odd, as it would require the perpetrators to kidnap their targets or get close enough to overwhelm them and do the injection.  Armed attacks would seem on the face of it to be simpler and cleaner.  On the other hand, the perversity of the narco mentality is difficult to overstate.

    THE MEXICAN MAFIA — NATIONAL AND TRANSNATIONAL POWER, PART TWO

    In Crime, Drugs, Gangs, Guns, Latino gangs, Mexico, RICO, RICO indictments, Transnational crime on August 30, 2009 at 9:28 pm
    Cartels and Drug Routes Depicted in 2008 by Stratfor, Private Intelligence Service

    Cartels and Drug Routes Depicted in 2008 by Stratfor, Private Intelligence Service

    This three part series posting excerpts from federal court cases on the Mexican Mafia (“Eme” or “La Eme”) continues with a look at the powerful prison gang’s trans-border connections.  (The first posting, here, provided an overview of Eme’s organization and its operations).

    U.S. government reports about drugs and gangs often discuss the links among U.S. prison and street gangs, drug trafficking, and the Mexican drug trafficking organizations (DTOs), or cartels.

    But these reports are more often than not maddening in their generality.  They lack what some call fine detail or “granularity.”  Empty calories come to mind.

    A recent federal RICO case brought against members of the Mexican Mafia in San Diego provides some interesting detail to fill in some of the blanks, at least in one major racketeering case.

    First, the generalities.

    The Mexican Side — The Drug Trafficking Organizations

    Probably every sentient being in the United States gets it by now that the Mexican DTOs are the wholesale source of most illicit drugs trafficked in the United States.  To set the stage, however, here is an excerpt describing the nature and role of the DTOs from the National Drug Threat Assessment 2009, published by National Drug Intelligence Center (December 2008).  The excerpt touches on the relationships between U.S. gangs and the DTOs, but only in the most general way:

    Mexican DTOs are the greatest drug trafficking threat to the United States; they control most of the U.S. drug market and have established varied transportation routes, advanced communications capabilities, and strong affiliations with gangs in the United States. Mexican DTOs control a greater portion of drug production, transportation, and distribution than any other criminal group or DTO. Their extensive drug trafficking activities in the United States generate billions of dollars in illicit proceeds annually. Law enforcement reporting indicates that Mexican DTOs maintain drug distribution networks or supply drugs to distributors in at least 230 U.S. cities. Mexican drug traffickers transport multiton quantities of drugs from Mexico into the United States annually using overland, maritime, and air conveyances. The use of varied conveyances enables Mexican drug traffickers to consistently deliver illicit drugs from Mexico to warehouse locations in the United States for subsequent distribution.

    Mexico- and U.S.-based Mexican drug traffickers employ advanced communication technology and techniques to coordinate their illicit drug trafficking activities. Law enforcement reporting indicates that several Mexican DTOs maintain cross-border communication centers in Mexico near the U.S.-Mexico border to facilitate coordinated cross-border smuggling operations. These centers are staffed by DTO members who use an array of communication methods, such as Voice over Internet Protocol, satellite technology (broadband satellite instant messaging), encrypted messaging, cell phone technology, two-way radios, scanner devices, and text messaging, to communicate with members. In some cases DTO members use high-frequency radios with encryption and rolling codes to communicate during cross-border operations.

    Mexican DTOs continue to strengthen their relationships with U.S-based street gangs, prison gangs, and OMGs for the purpose of expanding their influence over domestic drug distribution. Although gangs do not appear to be part of any formal Mexican DTO structure, several Mexican DTOs use U.S.-based gangs to smuggle and distribute drugs, collect drug proceeds, and act as enforcers. Mexican DTOs’ use of gang members for these illegal activities insulates DTO cell members from law enforcement detection. Members of most Mexican Cartels–Sinaloa, Gulf, Juárez, and Tijuana –maintain working relationships with many street gangs and OMGs.

    The U.S. Side — The Prison and Street Gangs

    The National Gang Threat Assessment 2009 (National Gang Intelligence Center, January 2009) discusses — again in a general way with a few lame “examples” — the interfaces of U.S.-side gangs with the Mexican DTOs and other criminal organizations:

    Gang Relationships With DTOs and Other Criminal Organizations

    Some larger gangs have developed regular working relationships with DTOs and other criminal organizations in Mexico, Central America, and Canada to develop sources of supply for wholesale quantities of illicit drugs and to facilitate other criminal activities. According to law enforcement information, gang members provide Mexican DTOs with support, such as smuggling, transportation, and security. Specific examples include:

    Some prison gangs are capable of directly controlling or infuencing the smuggling of multihundred kilograms of cocaine and methamphetamine weekly into the United States.

    Cross-Border Gang Activity

    U.S.-based gang members are increasingly involved in cross-border criminal activities, particularly in areas of Texas and California along the U.S.-Mexico border. Much of this activity involves the trafficking of drugs and illegal aliens from Mexico into the United States and considerably adds to gang revenues. Further, gangs are increasingly smuggling weapons from the United States into Mexico as payment for drugs or to sell for a significant profit. Examples of such cross border activities include:

    Street and prison gang members have established networks that work closely with Mexican DTOs in trafficking cocaine and marijuana from Mexico into the United States for distribution.

    Some Mexican DTOs contract with gangs in the Southwest Region to smuggle weapons from the United States to Mexico, according to open source information.

    A Case In Point

    This is where specific facts alleged in an actual case help fill in the picture.

    The following excerpt from an affidavit filed in support of a criminal complaint in the pending case of United States V. Mauricio Mendez (U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California, Docket No. 3:09-mj-00473-RBB, filed Feb. 13, 2009) alleges in some detail how the drug trade is actually working on the ground between at least this Mexican Mafia crew and a Mexican DTO:

    Beginning in early 2008, a drug trafficking group associated with the Arellano-Felix drug trafficking organization began to interact with, and pay “taxes” to, the Mexican Mafia.  The Arellano-Felix group paid its “taxes” to the Mexican Mafia primarily by providing representatives of the Mexican Mafia with drugs.

    In early September 2008, agents recorded a meeting between the leader of the Arellano-Felix group and defendants [Mauricio] Mendez and [Ruben] Gonzalez.  The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the Arellano-Felix group’s aiding another Mexican drug trafficking group associated with the Mexican Mafia.  One of the leaders of the other drug trafficking group was defendant Jorge Lerma-Duenas.  Lerma-Duenas’ group claimed to have a means of smuggling bulk shipments of marijuana and other drugs through the international ports of entry by using commercial trucking from Mexico.  However, Lerma-Duenas’ group claimed that a switch in the drivers of the commercial trucks had interfered with their smuggling scheme.  Mendez stated that he and other gang members intended to travel to Mexico in order to disable the uncooperative driver so that the other, co-opted driver could retake the route — it was Mendez’s stated intent to break both of the uncooperative driver’s legs.  Mendez sought the Arellano-Felix group’s aid in providing additional security for Mendez for the trip to Mexico.  The leader of the Arellano-Felix group agreed to provide security for Mendez but also sought to form a larger relationship with Lerma-Duenas’ drug trafficking group in order to use Lerma-Duenas’ trucking route to smuggle marijuana for the Arellano-Felix group.  Over the next weeks, agents recorded more meetings in which these topics were discussed between the leader of the Arellano-Felix group, Mendez and Lerma-Duenas.  Mendez also brought members of his crew to these meetings…

    Cross-border relations apparently are not limited to the business of drugs.  The affidavit also describes a 2008 kidnapping and attempted murder in San Diego that was commissioned from Mexico:

    The next series of events arises out of the armed kidnapping and subsequent attempted murder of a male victim by defendant Mendez’s crew.  In a recorded meeting, Mendez admitted that the kidnapping was committed on behalf of individuals in Mexico.  The kidnapping was foiled when the victim succeeded in fleeing his kidnappers.  At the time, one of the kidnappers…attempted to shoot the victim but missed.  Officers recovered a .40 caliber shell casing at the scene of the shooting.

    The affidavit and a subsequent indictment detail many other violent criminal acts committed by this Eme crew.  But these paragraphs speak directly to the relationship of at least this crew and the Mexican side of the violent drug trade.

    “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

    Order No Boundaries from Amazon.com

    THE MEXICAN MAFIA — NATIONAL AND TRANSNATIONAL POWER, PART ONE

    In Crime, Drugs, Gangs, Latino gangs, Mexico, RICO, RICO indictments, Transnational crime on August 30, 2009 at 6:50 pm
    Aztec Number 13
    Aztec Number 13

    Rene Enriquez warns that La Eme is “spreading like an incurable cancer.”  While incarcerated at the U.S. Penitentiary in Marion [Illinois], La Eme’s Ralph “Perico” Rocha in 2001 wrote to Rene Enriquez at Pelican Bay [California] — using code words — that he was “trying to get involved in the NAFTA

    [/code]

    to expand negocios [business] overseas y [and] borders…the family [Eme] is looking to open a few more restaurants [legitimate businesses] in Colorado, Texas, Chicago, etc.”

    Chris Blatchford, The Black Hand:  The Bloody Rise and Redemption of “Boxer” Enriquez, A Mexican Mob Killer (New York:  William Morrow, 2008), p. 297.

    So, just how scary is the Mexican Mafia?

    Bloody scary.

    With a core of only about 200 “made” members — but remorseless command over tens of thousands of Latino street gangster “soldiers” through a network of “associates” and “facilitators” —  the Mexican Mafia (“Eme” or “La Eme,” for “M,” the 13th letter of the alphabet) is no longer the “California prison gang” many think.  It has gone federal, national, and transnational.

    One good place to start studying this phenomenon is Chris Blatchford’s compelling biography of Rene “Boxer” Enriquez, a surrealistically bloody former killer for the Mexican Mafia prison.   The book at once attracts and repels.

    It attracts not only because its bona fides are well attested by people who know — experts Bruce Riordan and Al Valdez endorsed the book, for example and retired LASD Sgt. Richard “Super Val” Valdemar personally recommended it to me — but because it has what literate critics used to call “verisimilitude” ( a word from the Latin that is as out of fashion as that excellent language’s study in today’s world of tweeting and texting teeny tiny thoughts).  There is nothing forced or sparse about the impasto of blood, gore, and paranoid treachery lathered onto Blatchford’s canvas.

    Rene "Boxer" Enriquez in His Gangster Days:  Black Hand Tattoo Symbolizes Meixan Mafia, "Arta" Was His Local Gang
    Rene “Boxer” Enriquez in His Gangster Days: Black Hand Tattoo Symbolizes Mexican Mafia, “Arta” Was His Local Gang

    Yet the very density of The Black Hand’s crimson carnage casts a sort of claustrophobia over the reader.  The matter-of-fact recitation of so many bloody murders and assaults brings to mind the lyric from Jimi Hendrix’s All Along the Watchtower:  “There must be some kind of way out here, said the joker to the thief.”  For the reader, the way out is to close the book for a while and breathe free air.  For the carnales of Eme, there is no exit — save for the few, like Enriquez, who in a life-changing moment of redemptive perception decide to drop out and cooperate with law enforcement.  Such an act, of course, flies directly into the face of the powerful prison gang’s (indeed, all Latino street gang’s) most fervently held rules — “blood in, blood out,” and no cooperating ever with law enforcement.  Such drop-outs and cooperators are marked with death for life.

    However chaotic the gory and seemingly endless scrum of murders, counter-murders, assaults, and gratuitous whack jobs recounted in The Black Hand may seem, the story of the rise and redemption of Rene Enriquez  directly pinches the very sensitive nerve that worries U.S. federal law enforcement officials.  After having slept through the years of the American Mafia’s consolidation and growth to power in the early 20th Century, the Department of Justice is determined that no Latino “super mafia” be allowed to rise to power in the United States.

    Some observers would argue that the race is a close thing.

    “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

    Order No Boundaries from Amazon.com

    In this three part series, Fairly Civil will post material about Eme from federal court documents.  The first part, this post, includes a description of the prison gang’s structure and operations.  The second part (here) posts information about Eme’s apparently growing links with Mexican cartels  The final post will feature a case that illustrates Eme’s reach across the United States to cities geographically far removed from California.

    EME’s Structure and Operations

    There are, of course, other books and treatises about Eme, but the following material from a criminal complaint filed by an FBI agent in the pending case of United States V. Mauricio Mendez in San Diego is a compact and thorough primer. (U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California, Docket No. 3:09-mj-00473-RBB, filed Feb. 13, 2009):

    3.  The Mexican Mafia is the largest and most established prison gang in the United States.  The Mexican Mafia was initially formed in the California state penal system and has been in existence for over thirty years.  As of the present date [February 2009], the Mexican Mafia operates both in the California state prison system (as well as in other states) and in the federal Bureau of Prisons.  The Mexican Mafia operates under a hierarchical system with three basic levels – members, associates, and soldiers.  The EME is further governed by a basic set of rules and operating procedures which are enforced through internal discipline, including acts of violence.
    4.  The Mexican Mafia conducts and controls illegal activities not only in penal facilities but also on the street.  The Mexican Mafia’s primary illegal activities are drug trafficking, extortion, internal prison discipline, and violent crimes.  Although most Mexican Mafia members are incarcerated, members and their associates control large, violent criminal gangs that operate outside of the federal and state penal systems under the general authority of the Mexican Mafia.  The Mexican Mafia exerts significant control over most Southern California Hispanic street gangs – also known as “Sureño” gangs.
    5. Through a variety of means, incarcerated Mexican Mafia members and their associates communicate with their subordinates out of custody, who carry out various criminal activities on behalf of the respective Mexican Mafia member or associate.
    6.  A percentage of the profits of these illegal activities outside of the federal and state penal systems is then transferred to the respective Mexican Mafia member or associate, or to other designated individuals, such as family members – these monetary transfers are accomplished in a variety of ways, including the use of money orders.  Money generated from illegal activities (primarily extortion and drug trafficking) taking place inside penal facilities is transferred in the same ways.

    8.  The highest level of authority in the Mexican Mafia is membership (members may also be known as “Brother” or “Carnal” or “Tío”).  The Mexican Mafia does not have a single individual who runs the entire organization.  Rather, under the rules of the gang, members are considered to have equal authority and power within the organization; there are approximately 200 members of the Mexican Mafia, according to intelligence gathered by state and federal investigators.  New members are elected into the gang through a vote of existing members…
    9.  To carry out the illegal activities of the gang, Mexican Mafia members utilize high-level associates (also known within the gang as “camaradas”).  Members invest these high-level associates with authority to oversee Mexican Mafia operations in specific areas, both in penal facilities and on the street.
    10.  The delegation of authority to control a specific area on behalf of the Mexican Mafia is known within the gang as giving “the keys” to the individual. Thus, a “key-holder,” (also called a “llavero” or “shot-caller”) is an individual who has been placed in charge of a gang, neighborhood, prison, or prison yard for the purpose of overseeing the Mexican Mafia’s illegal operations.  As an example, an associate can be given “the keys” to run a specific yard in a prison.  These associates are able to order Sureño gang members to carry out illegal activities in the area over which the associates have authority.
    11.  The associates are responsible for ensuring that Mexican Mafia operations (including extortion and drug trafficking) run smoothly, that Mexican Mafia rules and authorities are enforced, and that the proceeds of illegal activities are properly distributed.  For example, a “llavero” would be responsible for ensuring that part of the proceeds from the illegal activities in his area of control are sent to the Mexican Mafia member(s) for whom the associate works.
    12.  The Mexican Mafia also uses a command system known as the “mesa” – the table.  A “mesa” is a group of “camaradas” and soldiers who are responsible for overseeing different areas under Mexican Mafia control – in essence, a governing council.  For example, in a prison setting, a “mesa” would consist of individuals responsible for overseeing various neighborhoods in a city.
    13.  The largest subgroup of the Mexican Mafia are the soldiers – i.e., Sureño gang members.  These soldiers are responsible for carrying out the orders of the Mexican Mafia and for enforcing the authority of the Mexican Mafia, both inside penal facilities and on the street.  As a result, soldiers are tasked with helping collect “taxes” (extortion payments) with drug trafficking activities or with the commission of violence.

    DEATH AND TREACHERY IN LOS ANGELES: MARA SALVATRUCHA (MS-13) INDICTMENT IS A PORTENT FOR THE FUTURE

    In Corruption, Crime, Drugs, Gangs, Guns, Informants and other sophisticated means, Latino gangs, Mexico, RICO, RICO indictments, Transnational crime, undercover investigations on July 14, 2009 at 3:21 pm

    MS-13 Gangsters Flash Devil's Horns

    MS-13 Gangsters Flash Devil's Horns

    Since the early 1980s when they were a fledgling gang, to this very day, MS-13 has been a blight on every street where they exist.  Whether house to house, street to street, or city to city, MS-13 has spread like a cancer.  These indictments, arrests and warrants represent one success in an ongoing effort to rid the community of an element that lacks a single redeeming quality.

    Chief William Bratton, Los Angeles Police Department, June 24, 2009

    Gangbuster:  LAPD Chief William Bratton

    Gangbuster: LAPD Chief William Bratton

    A 16-count federal indictment unsealed June 24, 2009 in Los Angeles contained two shocking allegations — a plot to kill a well known cop, and a double life lived by a prominent anti-gang activist.  The pleadings also provided a handy window into the history and unrelenting violence of Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13.  I wrote at length about the genesis and depredations of this transnational Latino gang in my recently released book, No Boundaries: Transnational Latino Gangs and American Law Enforcement.

    As Chief Bratton was careful to note in his statement quoted above, the strike against the gang is “one success” in what will be a long, bitter struggle to excise this cancer.  The case is in fact only the latest in a series of federal RICO (anti-racketeering) cases against street gangs that began with the successful 2002 prosecution of members of the Mexican Mafia and the Columbia Little Cycos, an 18th Street gang clique, detailed in No Boundaries. More cases are certain to unfold, and not just in Los Angeles.  The federal government, working with state and local authorities, has brought enormous resources to bear on these gangs, using “sophisticated techniques” of investigation such as informants, domestic and international wiretaps, and possibly undercover agents. The U.S. Department of Justice is determined that no Latino gang morph into another Mafia.

    Gangbuster: U.S. Attorney Thomas O'Brien, Central District of California

    Gangbuster: U.S. Attorney Thomas O'Brien, Central District of California

    That said, the indictment is a portent:  it represents the maturity of an intensive joint federal and local effort, not only in Southern California, but all over the United States.   The U.S. Attorney in Los Angeles, Thomas O’Brien, has set his teeth into these gangs, reeling out a string of indictments against several notorious cliques.

    The back story of sources, methods, and accumulated evidence here is yet to be revealed.  You can be sure the governments involved did not bring this case lightly, and they will have a truckload of evidence to present, if and when it goes to trial.  But for now, the public is dealing with a skeletal public record:  The 66-page indictment, statements of officials at a press conference, the media’s reports of background interviews, and a number of documents filed by defense counsel. Anyone who has delved into such cases in detail — including defense counsel — knows that this is the tip of an iceberg.  Prosecutors say the case has been open for three years.  Since the  case builds on earlier investigations, that is plenty of time to accumulate a mountain of detail.

    Do not be surprised if further indictments spin off from this and related cases, possibly including charges based on federal public corruption statutes.  One aspect only hinted at in public is that the investigation is being aided by a person or persons — i.e., a well-placed “rat,””informant,””cooperating witness,””asset,” etc. — with long-term and intimate knowledge of MS-13 players and activities.

    MS-13 and The Mexican Mafia (La Eme)–Joined at the Hip in Southern California

    The indictment in this case (U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, Docket No. CR09-00466), and a long filing by defense counsel seeking the anti-gang activist’s release on bail are well worth reading.  They each lay out the long, painful history of Mara Salvatrucha’s ascent into the grisly transnational criminal consortium it has become.

    Here are selected paragraph’s from the indictment.  They describe a key relationship  between MS-13 and the dominant prison gang in California, the Mexican Mafia (also known as La Eme):

    14.  In Los Angeles, each clique contributes a portion of its profits towards a tax paid by MS-13 to the Mexican Mafia.  Like all gangs associated with the Mexican Mafia, MS-13 is required to pay a specified sum of money on a regular basis to a member of the Mexican Mafia.  Members of the Mexican Mafia are commonly referred to as “big homies,” “tios” (Spanish for “uncles”), “carnals” [sic] (Spanish slang for “brothers”), and/or “senors” ( a Spanish title of respect for a man).  In return for the tax payments, the Mexican Mafia provides protection to all MS-13 members incarcerated in county, state, and federal prisons and jails in California.  Failure to pay the tax will result in a “green light” being placed on MS-13, that is, a general order from the Mexican Mafia to assault or kill any incarcerated MS-13 member in any facility controlled by the Mexican Mafia.  Also in return for these tax payments, the Mexican Mafia ensures that no other gang operates in MS-13’s territory or otherwise interferes with the criminal activities of MS-13.

    15.  Since the mid-1990s, when MS-13 became associated with the Mexican Mafia, a single powerful MS-13 member in Los Angeles has been appointed to act as MS-13’s representative to the Mexican Mafia (“the EME representative”).  The EME representative works as a “soldier” for the Mexican Mafia and is responsible for, among other things, ensuring that MS-13 pays its tax; setting policies to manage and discipline MS-13 members and associates; organizing and conducting meetings among MS-13 shot callers on a regular basis; resolving disputes between MS-13 cliques and members; organizing MS-13 cliques to generate money through, among other things, narcotics trafficking; and providing support to, and requesting assistance from, MS-13 leaders in El Salvador.

    16.  In addition to the tax paid to the Mexican Mafia, MS-13 utilizes the profits obtained through its illegal activities by sending money to MS-13 members in prison in El Salvador, purchasing weapons and narcotics, paying attorney’s fees for gang members who have been charged with committing crimes, contributing to funeral costs for gang members who have been killed, and putting money on [sic] the prison accounts of MS-13 members incarcerated in the United States.

    I wrote in No Boundaries about a little known but extraordinarily powerful and complex man, who likely was the first “EME representative,” Nelson Comandari.  The U.S. media completely missed the boat on Comandari, and his full story is yet to be told, but I have a good part of it in the book.

    The Plot to Whack a Cop

    Los Angeles Police Department Detective Frank Flores is a nationally-recognized expert on MS-13.  No Boundaries tells Flores’s life story as an example of the conundrum of gang recruitment. Why are the gangs irresistible to a minority of Latino youth, while other kids from the same barrio climb out of adversity to become part of the great American dream? Flores grew up in Boyle Heights, a gang-infested neighborhood, the child of a single parent. His uncles belonged to White Fence, one of the oldest gangs in L.A.

    Yet all Frank Flores can remember ever wanting to be was to be an LAPD cop, even though as a child he had on occasion felt the LAPD’s famous “muscle.”

    I first interviewed Flores in March 2007, and talked to him or communicated by email several times since. I had no idea that just months before I met him he had been the target of an assassination plot by MS-13. I learned of the scheme only when it became public after the indictment was unsealed. The government charges that in December 2006 “shot-callers” (leaders) of the gang’s Hollywood “clique” set in motion a plan to whack Flores, designating a hit-man and even providing a handgun to do the job.

    Here, for the record, are the allegations in the indictment, which give the bare outlines of the plot:

    (138) On or about December 21, 2006, defendants LOPEZ and MELGAR had a phone conversation with each other and with other MS-13 members during which LOPEZ, MELGAR, and others discussed a plot to kill LAPD Detective Frank Flores.

    (139) On or about December 23, 2006, defendants LOPEZ and MELGAR had a phone conversation during which they discussed a plot to kill LAPD Detective Frank Flores.

    (140) In or about late December 2006, defendants CUENTAS and MELGAR ordered another MS-13 member to follow through with defendant LOPEZ’S orders to kill LAPD Detective Frank Flores.

    (141)  In or about late December 2006, defendants MORALES and SALAZAR showed another MS-13 member a handgun that the MS-13 member was ordered to use to kill LAPD Detective Frank Flores.

    The plot to murder Frank Flores was derailed. But the story epitomizes the stakes in the ongoing struggle against Latino gangs like MS-13.

    The Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde of the Latino Gang World?

    Alex Sanchez--Subject of a Grossly Mistake Charge or Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde of the Gang World?

    Alex Sanchez--Subject of a Grossly Mistaken Charge or the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde of the Gang World?

    The indictment contains another shock that has rocked circles concerned with gangs like a 7th magnitude earthquake.

    Among 24 defendants is Alexander (Alex) Sanchez, probably the most well-known anti-gang activist in the Latino gang world. Federal officials claim Sanchez, executive director of Homies Unidos – a group dedicated to saving kids from the gang life— led a double life. They allege that he has been a secret shot-caller posing as an anti-gang activist. The indictment charges that Sanchez conspired in May 2006 to murder an MS-13 member (who was executed weeks later in El Salvador). Here are relevant excerpts:

    (108) “On or about May 6 and 7, 2006, defendants CENDEJAS, FUENTES, PINEDA, and SANCHEZ had a series of phone conversations with each other and with other members of MS-13, during which they conspired to kill Walter Lacinos, aka “Cameron.”

    (109) On or about May 15, 2006, an MS-13 member shot and killed Walter Lacinos, aka “Cameron,” in La Libertad, El Salvador.

    Scores of prominent figures have filed letters with the court attesting to Sanchez’s character and good works. All are convinced that Sanchez could not have faked his anti-gang efforts while operating as a shot-caller.

    But he is held without bond at this writing.

    “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

    Order No Boundaries from Amazon.com


    BARRIO AZTECA–BORDER BAD BOYS LINKED TO MEXICAN DRUG TRAFFICKING ORGANIZATIONS — PART THREE

    In Crime, Gangs, Latino gangs, Mexico, Transnational crime on April 17, 2009 at 1:08 pm
    Peaceful View of Violence-Wracked Ciudad Juarez, Mexico

    Peaceful View of Violence-Wracked Ciudad Juarez, Mexico

    As the aerial map below demonstrates, El Paso, Texas and Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico lie cheek to jowl along the border.  The Barrio Azteca prison gang had its roots among offenders in the Texas prison system from El Paso.  BA is now firmly planted on both sides of the border.

    The U.S. Gang Intelligence Center describes the role of border gangs generally in Mexican drug trafficking:

    Some larger gangs have developed regular working relationships with DTOs and other criminal organizations in Mexico, Central America, and Canada to develop sources of supply for wholesale quantities of illicit drugs and to facilitate other criminal activities. According to law enforcement information, gang members provide Mexican DTOs with support, such as smuggling, transportation, and security.

    Barrio Azteca is one of those gangs, according to the U.S. Department of Justice Gang Unit:

    The Barrio Azteca is one of the most violent prison gangs operating within the U.S…primarily in federal, state and local correctional facilities in Texas, as well as on the outside in communities located in Southwestern Texas and Southeastern New Mexico. Barrio Azteca’s main source of income is derived from the smuggling of heroin, powdered cocaine and marijuana from Mexico into the U.S. for distribution both inside and outside the prison systems. Members of the Barrio Azteca often transport illicit drugs across the U.S.-Mexico border on behalf of DTOs.

    Parts One and Two of this series have described the BA’s organization and provided an overview of its operations.

    “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

    Order No Boundaries from Amazon.com

    This Problem of Border Control Is Apparent From This Aerial View Of The El Paso-Juarez Area

    This Problem of Border Control Is Apparent From This Aerial View Of The El Paso-Juarez Area

    But, how exactly are drugs smuggled into the United States from Mexico — whether by BA or another gang? This is a vague area of public knowledge.  It is revealed through serial anecdotes and often treated in summary description.

    The private intelligence service Stratfor issued an excellent report and analysis this week going into much-needed detail about this process.  “Drug smuggling,” Stratfor reports, “is one of the most accessible ways for a gang member to make money when he is released from prison.”  The full report can be read here, but here are a few excerpts to provide a background for a look into a Texas appeals court’s description of one smuggling attempt involving a Barrio Azteca member that went awry:

    As products move through the supply chain, they require more specific handling and detailed knowledge of an area, which requires more manpower. The same, more or less, can be said for drug shipments. This can be seen in interdiction reports. When narcotics are intercepted traversing South America into Mexico, they can be measured in tons; as they cross the border into the United States, seizures are reported in kilograms; and by the time products are picked up on the streets of U.S. cities, the narcotics have been divided into packages measured in grams. To reflect this difference, we will refer to the movement of drugs south of the border as trafficking and the movement of drugs north of the border as distributing.
    ….
    The only certainties are that drugs and people will move from south to north, and that money and weapons will move from north to south. But the specific nature and corridors of those movements are constantly in flux as traffickers innovate in their attempts to stay ahead of the police in a very Darwinian environment. The traffickers employ all forms of movement imaginable, including:

    * Tunneling under border fences into safe houses on the U.S. side.
    * Traversing the desert on foot with 50-pound packs of narcotics. (Dirt bikes, ATVs and pack mules are also used.)
    * Driving across the border by fording the Rio Grande, using ramps to get over fences, cutting through fences or driving through open areas.
    * Using densely vegetated portions of the riverbank as dead drops.
    * Floating narcotics across isolated stretches of the river.
    * Flying small aircraft near the ground to avoid radar.
    * Concealing narcotics in private vehicles, personal possessions and in or on the bodies of persons who are crossing legally at ports of entry.
    * Bribing border officials in order to pass through checkpoints.
    * Hiding narcotics on cross-border trains.
    * Hiding narcotics in tractor trailers carrying otherwise legitimate loads.
    * Using boats along the Gulf coast.
    * Using human “mules” to smuggle narcotics aboard commercial aircraft in their luggage or bodies.
    * Shipping narcotics via mail or parcel service.

    These methods are not mutually exclusive, and organizations may use any combination at the same time. New ways to move the product are constantly emerging.

    What A "Kilo" -- 1 Kilogram = 2.2 Pounds -- Of Cocaine Looks Like.  This Was Smuggled Into Montreal In A Bucket Of Frozen Mango Puree.  Yummee!

    What A "Kilo" -- 1 Kilogram = 2.2 Pounds -- Of Cocaine Looks Like. This Was Smuggled Into Montreal In A Bucket Of Frozen Mango Puree. Yummee!

    A 2004 Texas appellate court decision, Ojeda vs. Texas, contains a nitty-gritty description of the reality of the cross-border pipeline in a particular kind of transport — the use of the body cavities of human “mules.”  Stratfor reports that “a large part of the process simply involves saturating the system with massive numbers of expendable, low-skilled smugglers who are desperate for the money.”

    The story unfolds as Alejandro Ojeda and his female passenger attempted to cross the border into the United States.  They seem to be their own worst enemies — but, remember that these are not masterminds, just the lowest level of fodder, workers in the modern sweat shops of gang criminal enterprise:

    At approximately 8 p.m. on November 3, 1999, [Ojeda] driving a gray 1991 Chrysler Caravan, approached the U.S. Customs inspection booth at the Paso Del Norte Bridge. Martha Guerra was sitting in the front passenger seat.

    During routine questioning, Customs Inspector Armando San Roman asked [Ojeda]for his citizenship, his purpose for traveling to Mexico, and inquired about the vehicle’s ownership. [Ojeda] responded that he was a U.S. citizen, and that he had bought the vehicle about thirty days prior in Mexico. As he was conducting the questioning, Inspector San Roman noticed [Ojeda] “moving around and sitting upright and getting nervous.”

    Noticing that the vehicle did not have a front license plate, Inspector San Roman asked [Ojeda] and Ms. Guerra for identification and proceeded to the back of the vehicle.  Inspector San Roman testified at trial that [Ojeda's] demeanor by this time was unusual; [Ojeda] was talking loud, getting tense, and then he sat upright and appeared to be getting anxious. According to Inspector San Roman, [Ojeda's] nervous behavior was out of the ordinary.

    In addition, Ms. Guerra, with the exception of declaring her citizenship, did not utter a word, although Inspector San Roman testified that he directed some questions towards her.  Inspector San Roman testified that she was sitting at the edge of her seat, just looking at him; she appeared to be nervous and anxious. Inspector San Roman testified that [Ojeda's] behavior and Ms. Guerra’s silence made him get suspicious.

    Inspector San Roman walked to the back of the vehicle and saw that the vehicle’s plates were from Kansas. He returned back to the driver’s side and proceeded to ask the same questions he had asked before to verify that the answers were the same. This time, [Ojeda]stated that he had been in Juarez for about two to three hours and that the reason for his trip was to take Ms. Guerra’s cousin to Mexico. Inspector San Roman then noticed that the names on [Ojeda's] and Ms. Guerra’s ID’s matched the names provided on a “be on the lookout” bulletin. Inspector San Roman sent the vehicle to the secondary inspection station.

    At this point, Ojeda and Guerra are fixed like a bug on an entomologist’s needle.  It’s all over but the details for them.  But keep in mind that at most busy border crossings, time is not standing still.  Other vehicles with other mules or concealed packages are getting through.  The next bit of the story describes the quotidian work of winkling out the dope:

    Inspector John Maxwell, trained as a canine enforcement officer, was asked to screen [Ojeda] and Ms. Guerra with the canine. He testified that the canine is trained to alert to marijuana, hash, cocaine, heroin, and crystal meth, and that he is what is called a passive alerter. This means that if the canine gets the odor of narcotics, he changes his behavior by wagging his tail, his ears come up, his breathing gets heavier, and then he sits next to where the odor is detected. On this occasion, Inspector Maxwell testified that the canine alerted to both the Appellant and Ms. Guerra, who were standing about a foot apart. The canine then went over to the open door of the vehicle, sniffed the passenger seat and alerted to it as well.

    [Senior Inspection Officer Maria Elena] Frazier testified that she saw Ms. Guerra walking funny, as if she was holding something between her legs, but that she had not suspected she was hiding contraband, until the heroin was found. Inspector Criss-man testified that Ms. Guerra was taking very small steps, as if she was having a hard time walking.

    Frazier placed Ms. Guerra in a holding cell and then requested the assistance of Inspector Dianne Crissman in conducting a pat-down of Ms. Guerra. Inspector Frazier asked Ms. Guerra to stand, put her hands against the wall, and spread her legs. Initially, Ms. Guerra did not want to comply and had to be asked several times before Inspector Frazier had to push open her legs. In conducting a pat-down of Ms. Guerra, Inspector Frazier felt a foreign substance in Ms. Guerra’s groin area. Inspector Frazier asked Ms. Guerra to remove the object, but it was not until she asked Ms. Guerra if she needed medical assistance in removing the object that Ms. Guerra complied. Ms. Guerra removed from her vaginal cavity a condom containing about four to five golf size balls of a black tar like substance which were wrapped in another condom. The two condoms combined formed a cylinder like shape. The substance field tested positive as heroin. Further laboratory testing con-firmed that the substance was in fact pure heroin containing some adulterants and dilutants, and that it weighed 125.19 grams.

    Upon searching Ms. Guerra’s purse, Inspector Crissman testified that she found among other things, a condom. A search of vehicle uncovered an open plastic bag sitting in between the driver’s seat and the passenger’s seat that contained an unopened box of condoms, an open box of condoms, two open condom wrappers, and lubricants, one container which was open. The condom in Ms. Guerra’s purse matched the brand on the condom wrappers and both boxes.

    Cocaine pellets confiscated from detained body packers in Jamaica. Left: Multiple=

    Cocaine pellets confiscated from detained body packers in Jamaica. Left: Multiple pellets spontaneously evacuated. Right: Surgically extracted pellets from the stomach of an offender.

    Note that this incident happened ten years ago, so procedures of gang and law enforcement alike could have changed.  For an engaging and counter-trend analysis of drug trafficking and terrorist networks, and how they learn, read Michael Kenney’s From Pablo to Osama: Trafficking and Terrorist Networks, Government Bureaucracies, and Competitive Adaptation.
    In fact, a recent study of similar smuggling attempts through Jamaica found that the drug traffickers have indeed changed their methods in response to law enforcement’s having developed a profile of their old method.  Here is the abstract from “The Changing Demographics of Cocaine Body Packers in Jamaica” in The Internet Journal of Forensic Science (2009):

    Cocaine trafficking by body packers has become epidemic in Jamaica. In 1999 the Jamaican government created a specialized anti-drug task force aimed at intercepting body packers at international airports. An important method used to identify these packers is passenger profiling. International experience suggests that the majority of body packers are single females from under-privileged backgrounds with multiple dependents. This retrospective study describes the demographics of Cocaine body packers detained at the largest international airport in Jamaica between January 2002 and December 2006.

    There were 189 body packers identified, with a marked preponderance of male offenders (81% vs 19%). There were 153 males, with a mean age of 34.3 +/- 9.5 years (Range 17 to 57; Median 33; Mode 38). Only 35 offenders were female, with a mean age of 29.9 +/- 10.4 years (Range 17 to 55; Median 27; Mode 27). The demographics of the Cocaine body packer in Jamaica have changed. The typical body packers are now young males. The anti drug task forces must be aware of these trends in order to effectively identify and detain offenders.

    Gangster life sells itself to its young recruits as a font of family, respect, and glamor.  It reality, it is a sordid, dangerous, and poisonous tool of exploitation, as these cases illustrate at the grittiest level.  While the drug lords live lives of flashy opulence, the desperate and the poor pack poison into their bodies, gram by gram.

    JACK BE NIMBLE — TERRORIST AND DRUG TRAFFICKING ORGANIZATIONS DEFY STEREOTYPES

    In Crime, Gangs, Latino gangs, Mexico, Terrorism, Terrorism and counter-terrorism, Transnational crime on April 6, 2009 at 10:17 am

    Instead of being run by a handful of massive, price-fixing ‘cartels’, the Colombian drug trade, then and now, was characterized by a fluid social system where flexible exchange networks expanded and retracted according to market opportunities and regulatory constraints.

    Abstract, “The Architecture of Drug Trafficking: Network Forms of Organisation in the Colombian Cocaine Trade,” in journal Global Crime, by Pennsylvania State University professor Michael Kenney,  author of From Pablo to Osama: Trafficking and Terrorist Networks, Government Bureaucracies, and Competitive Adaptation.

    American officials attributed the delays to cumbersome U.S. government contracting requirements, negotiations over exactly what equipment is needed, and the challenges of creating an infrastructure to deliver an aid package that spans four dozen programs and several U.S. agencies.

    “U.S. Aid Delays in Drug War Criticized; Mexicans Seek ‘True Solidarity’,” Washington Post, April 5, 2009.

    Look at almost any law enforcement organization — from local police to the U.S. Department of Justice — and you will see a classic bureaucratic structure not overly different from that of the Social Security Administration, the Postal Service, or the Boy Scouts.  Responsibility, authority, and funds flow downward through a series of boxes.  The bureaucracy’s being branches from the head of the agency or department at the top of a vertical pyramid down to the unit or squad at the bottom.

    Add in the invisible external forces of the executive (president, governor, mayor) and legislative (council, legislature, Congress) decision-making process and you have a cumbersome beast.  That beast then has to coordinate what it does with the other beasts thrashing around in the law enforcement underbrush, all of whom have historically been reluctant to share their turf.

    U.S. Census Bureau

    U.S. Census Bureau

    U.S. Department of Justice

    U.S. Department of Justice

    A case in point is the implementation of the Merida Initiative, under which the United States is supposed to be helping Mexico fight its drug trafficking organizations (DTOs) to the two countries’ mutual benefit.

    Last June, Congress appropriated $400 million.  According to the Washington Post (April 5, 2009), the State Department announced in December 2008 that $197 million of that funding had been “released.” But the paper’s close examination “shows that just two small projects under Merida — the delivery of high-speed computer servers in December and an arms-trafficking workshop attended by senior U.S. officials at a Mexican resort last week — have been completed.”

    Here’s one bureaucrat’s explanation quoted by the Post:

    “We are moving as fast as we can, but we also have to do this right,” said Roberta S. Jacobson, who, as deputy assistant secretary for Western Hemisphere affairs, helped negotiate the Merida Initiative. “We are creating a $1 billion program essentially from scratch, and if we try and move faster than our own procedures — and those of Mexico — can manage, we risk the careful oversight and monitoring that we and Congress expect.”

    Agility and speed are not strong points of such bureaucracies.

    “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

    Order No Boundaries from Amazon.com

    Drug Traffickers Cash and GunsSeized by DEA and Mexican Police in 2007

    Drug Traffickers Cash and Guns Seized by DEA and Mexican Police in 2007

    Contrast the speed and agility with which the DTOs operate.  These guys move this kind of money — and more — around in suitcases.  The $400 million Congress appropriated is chump change to drug barons.  A former senior official of a federal law enforcement agency told me last week about a case in which the agency seized a suitcase with $250 million in cash.  Monitoring of drug bosses’ conversation later revealed that they didn’t blink an eye–they took it as just a cost of doing a much bigger business.

    Part of the difference between transnational criminals and bureaucracies is ruthlessness.  Any DTO underling who took this long to deliver the proceeds would get a terminal headache — from a couple of bullets in the back of the head.

    But the more important difference in the view of many experts is the way drug trafficking organizations — and many other transnational criminal organizations — are…well, organized.

    West Texas High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA)

    West Texas High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA)

    Here, for example, is a description of drug trafficking organizations in the El Paso/Ciudad Juarez plaza, “a principal smuggling corridor and staging area for drug transportation to markets throughout the United States,” according to the April 2007 West Texas High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Drug Market Analysis, published by the National Drug Intelligence Center:

    Over the past few years, the structure of Mexican DTOs operating in the El Paso/Juárez plaza has changed from traditional hierarchical organizations to much more efficient organizations composed of decentralized networks of interdependent, task-oriented cells. For example, one cell may be responsible for transporting drug shipments across the U.S.-Mexico border, another for transporting drugs to U.S. markets, and another for laundering drug funds. The variety of relationships that these individual cells can have with one another as well as their insular nature, particularly for organizational heads, renders these DTOs more difficult for law enforcement to dismantle than DTOs with a traditional hierarchical structure. In addition, if the head of the DTO or cell leaders are identified and arrested, the decentralized, interdependent nature of these DTOs ensures that they can continue to operate unimpeded.

    Bureaucratic Model Slower Than Bullet-to-the-Head Model (Model from Ariel Zellman's Wordpess blog)

    Bureaucratic Model Slower Than Bullet-to-the-Head Model (Model from Ariel Zellman's WordPress blog)

    This segmented but integrated network is “flat,” compared to the Christmas tree bureaucratic structure.  Yet, it still lends itself to the severely authoritarian rule of the narco bosses.  “The leaders of these organizations…give the orders and expect them to be followed.” (Gregory D. Lee, Global Drug Enforcement: Practical Investigative Techniques, p. 288.)   It’s like a giant, global LEGO factory set — the pieces can be custom designed, moved around, plugged in, and shifted to different shapes to meet different needs and respond to law enforcement pressures, all the while preserving operational security.

    Here is how Michael A. Braun — former assistant administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) — described it in his March 12, 2009 statement before the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs, Committee on Oversight and Government Reform:

    The Mexican cartels’ ‘corporate’ headquarters are set up South of our border, and thanks to  corruption, cartel leaders often times carry out their work in palatial surroundings. The cartel leaders manage and direct the daily activities of ‘command and control cells’ that are typically located just across the border in our Country. Those command and control cells manage and direct the daily activities of ‘distribution, transportation and money laundering cells’ all across our Nation.

    The cartels operate just like terrorist organizations, with extremely complex organizational structures, consisting of highly compartmentalized cells: distribution cells, transportation cells, money laundering cells, and in some cases assassination cells or ‘hit squads.’ Many experts believe Mexican and Colombian drug trafficking organizations are far more sophisticated, operationally and structurally, then Middle Eastern terrorist organizations. In fact, some experts   believe that Middle Eastern terrorist organizations actually copied the drug trafficking cartels’ sophisticated organizational model for their advantage. This sophisticated organizational model continues to thwart law enforcement and security services around the globe. Cell members are so compartmentalized that they possess little, if any knowledge of the greater organizational model that encircles and supports their nodes; therefore, they can share little of value when apprehended.

    The DEA has long noted the intersection of terrorist organizations and drug trafficking:

    For many years the…DEA special agents have recognized that terrorist organizations rely on drug traffickers as a straightforward, easy source of income to finance their political agendas.  Drug traffickers, in turn, rely on terrorists to provide protection for their laboratory and drug distribution endeavors.  Through protection rackets, extortion, or “taxation” of drug traffickers, terrorists receive the funds necessary to carry out their violent acts.  (Lee, p. 287)

    Nimble, quick, deadly — and aimed at you.

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