Monday, July 8, 2013

Ruthless Mexican drug cartel recruiting in the U.S.; Los Zetas looks to prisons, street gangs


Ruthless Mexican drug cartel recruiting in the U.S.; Los Zetas looks

to prisons, street gangs


By Jerry Seper      The Washington Times    Sunday, July 7, 2013


A Mexican drug cartel known for kidnapping random civilians and

beheading its rivals has expanded its operations into the U.S.


The gang known as Los Zetas is recruiting U.S. prison and street

gangs, and non-Mexicans, for its drug trafficking and support

operations in Mexico and the U.S.


An FBI intelligence bulletin notes that “multiple sources” reported

the shift in Los Zetas recruiting. The cartel sought to maintain a

highly disciplined and structured hierarchy by recruiting members with

specialized training, such as former military and law enforcement



“The FBI judges with high confidence that Los Zetas will continue to

increase its recruitment efforts and establish pacts with non-military

trained, nontraditional associates to maintain their drug-trafficking

and support operations, which may increase violence along the

Southwest border posing a threat to U.S. national security,” the

bulletin says.


The expansion of Los Zetas operations across the southwestern border

has long been a concern of U.S. authorities. Trained as an elite band

of Mexican anti-drug commandos, Los Zetas evolved into mercenaries for

the infamous Gulf Cartel, unleashing a wave of brutality in Mexico’s

drug wars.


Bolstered by an influx of assassins, bandits, thieves and thugs, as

well as corrupt federal, state and local police officers, the gang has

evolved into a well-financed and heavily armed drug-smuggling force of

its own.


Known for mounting the severed heads of its rivals on poles or hanging

their dismembered bodies from bridges in cities throughout Mexico, Los

Zetas easily has become the most feared criminal gang in Mexico.


“The Zetas are determined to gain the reputation of being the most

sadistic, cruel and beastly organization that ever existed,” said

George W. Grayson, a professor of government at the College of William

& Mary and a specialist on Mexican drug gangs. “Many of Mexico’s

existing drug cartels will kill their enemies, but not go out of their

way to do it. The Zetas look forward to inflicting fear on their

targets. They won’t just cut off your ear; they’ll cut off your head

and think nothing of it.”


Weapons, cars, horses


The FBI intelligence bulletin quotes what it describes as

“corroborated collaborative” sources “with excellent access” to show

that Los Zetas has increased its effort to recruit and contract with

U.S. gangs for daily drug trafficking activities in the United States.


The bulletin says the FBI had “moderate confidence” that Los Zetas

likely will pose a higher national security threat to the U.S., based

on “demonstrated capabilities for violence, their recent killings of

U.S. citizens, increased kidnappings of U.S. citizens on both sides of

the border, and their continued participation in the U.S. drug trade.”


According to the FBI, Los Zetas:


• Made contact with the Texas Mexican Mafia prison gang and tasked its

members to collect debts, carry out hits and traffic drugs into and

through Laredo, Texas.


• Tried to recruit U.S. gang members in Houston to join Los Zetas’ war

against the Gulf Cartel on both sides of the border.


• Was buying AK-47 semi-automatic assault rifles from the Tango Blast,

a Houston-based street gang.


• Had contacted the McAllen, Texas-based Los Piojos drug gang to

purchase vehicles for Los Zetas members through thefts, carjackings

and auto auctions in Texas.


Some of Los Zetas’ U.S. contacts have involved millions of dollars in

drug profits, including efforts in Austin, Texas, to purchase, train,

breed and race American quarter horses in the U.S. Four men were

convicted in May for their roles in a conspiracy to launder millions

of dollars in Los Zetas drug money. Among the convicted: Texas

resident Jose Trevino Morales, brother of purported Los Zetas leaders

Omar Trevino Morales and Miguel Trevino Morales.


Trial evidence showed that the men used straw purchasers and

transactions in New Mexico, Oklahoma, California and Texas to disguise

the drug money and make the proceeds from the sales of quarter horses

or their race winnings appear legitimate.


U.S. Attorney Robert Pitman in San Antonio said at the time that the

case showed how the corrupting influence of drug cartels had extended

into the U.S., with “cartel bosses using an otherwise legitimate

domestic industry to launder proceeds from drug trafficking and other



‘A wake-up call’


Los Zetas activity has not been limited to the border states.


In November, five reputed Los Zetas members were named in a federal

grand jury indictment in a Chicago-based drug operation that

transported more than $12 million in drug profits between Chicago and

Mexico. FBI agents also seized more than 550 pounds of the gang’s

cocaine in the Chicago area.


U.S. Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald called the indictment the “first

federal prosecution in Chicago of defendants allegedly tied to the

Zetas drug-trafficking cartel.”


FBI Special Agent in Charge Robert D. Grant, who heads the bureau’s

Chicago field office, said the presence of Los Zetas in the Chicago

area “should serve as a wake-up call to law enforcement throughout the



In 2010, federal agents tied a cocaine operation in Baltimore to Los

Zetas. Prosecutors said cocaine and marijuana dealers gave $1.2

million to the Mexican cartel for drugs. Convicted were Wade Coats,

45, and James Bostic, 39, both of Baltimore; and Jose Cavazos, 43, of

Midlothian, Texas.


Investigators seized $610,000 in heat-sealed bricks of cash wrapped in

aluminum foil in two suitcases, and recorded a meeting between Bostic

and Los Zetas members in White Marsh, Md., in which he handed over

$590,000 for marijuana and cocaine.


The Midwest and the Northeast aren’t the only spots targeted by Los

Zetas for its drug trafficking operations. The Department of Homeland

Security has said Mexican drug cartels, including Los Zetas, have

infiltrated 276 U.S. cities and represent the nation’s most serious

organized-crime threat.


The National Drug Intelligence Center said the influence of Mexican

drug gangs is “still expanding” and that Los Zatas is more deeply

entrenched than any other drug trafficking organization and operates

coast to coast.


Mr. Grayson has noted that Los Zetas members “pose a more serious

threat to citizens on both sides of the border.” He said many of the

gang’s members have homes north of the Rio Grande, where they seek

havens and attempt to lure young Americans into their clutches.


Mr. Grayson, the specialist in Mexican drug cartels, said Los Zetas’

distribution routes run through the U.S., which means the gang has no

respect for international boundaries. He said the gang considers

Dallas a key point for transporting and distributing drugs and,

according to the FBI, has gained control over U.S. gangs such as the

Mexican Mafia, the Texas Syndicate, MS-13 and the Hermanos Pistoleros



A trail of body parts


Violence is Los Zetas’ trademark. What the gang is capable of was

never clearer than the carnage it left in December 2009 on a squalid

back street in the border town of Reynosa, Mexico, across the Rio

Grande from McAllen, Texas. The bodies no longer looked like those of

humans, torsos scarred by deep lacerations and punctures, with badly

beaten severed heads. Butchered limbs lay scattered across a

blood-stained tarmac.


“See. Hear. Shut up, if you want to stay alive,” read a note written

like so many others in block letters on blood-splattered poster board.


Anyone is a potential victim — men, women and children.


Mexican authorities unearthed more than 150 bodies from mass graves in

April 2011 in the northeastern state of Tamaulipas, which is across

the border from Brownsville, Texas. Many of the victims were kidnapped

off buses and killed when they refused to work for the gang.


The victims were Mexicans and Central and South American migrants who

authorities think were targeted to work for Los Zetas as gunmen or

drug mules. Others were thought to have been killed when they refused

ransom demands.


Los Zetas has used beheadings and dismemberments to punish rivals or

betrayers, establish turf, terrorize citizens against testifying and

press political leaders to collaborate. But random killings also have

become the gang’s trademark — a demonstration that no one is beyond

their reach, that they can kidnap, torture and kill anyone they



Many of the gang’s targets have been Mexican military and police

personnel, but U.S. law enforcement authorities also have come under



As early as 2008, the FBI warned U.S. authorities that Los Zetas was

attempting to gain control of drug routes into America and had ordered

its members to use violence against U.S. law enforcement officers to

protect their operations.


Armed and dangerous


According to an FBI intelligence bulletin, the gang stockpiled weapons

in safe houses in the U.S. in response to crackdowns in the U.S. and

Mexico against drug traffickers. The bulletin said Jaime Gonzalez

Duran, head of Zetas operations for the McAllen, Texas, region, or

“plaza,” had ordered gang members to “regain control and engage law

enforcement officers if confronted.” It said the gang members were

armed with “assault rifles, bullet proof vests and grenades.”


When Gonzalez Duran was arrested in November 2008 in Reynosa by

Mexican Federal Police and the Mexican army, police and military

officials took custody of what was then the largest weapons seizure in

Mexico’s history — 540 rifles including 288 assault rifles and

.50-caliber sniper rifles, 287 hand grenades, two M-72 anti-tank

weapons, 500,000 rounds of ammunition, 67 ballistic vests and 14

sticks of dynamite.


In September 2010, David Hartley, 30, was fatally shot as he and his

wife, Tiffany, 29, were riding personal watercraft on Falcon Lake

along the U.S.-Mexico border in Zapata, Texas. Mrs. Hartley managed to

escape, and U.S. authorities said the shooters were members of Los

Zetas. Shortly after the attack, the lead investigator on the case in

Mexico was decapitated.


It also was a Los Zetas hit squad that killed U.S. Immigration and

Customs Enforcement Agent Jaime Zapata in a Feb. 15, 2011, ambush on a

major Mexican highway 250 miles north of Mexico City. Attacked with

AK-47 assault rifles, Zapata was shot five times in the chest and his

partner, Victor Avila Jr., was wounded twice in the leg after being

forced off the highway and attacked — despite identifying themselves

as Americans and being in a vehicle with diplomatic plates.


Guatemalan officials said Los Zetas has established bases in several

jungle areas and formed alliances with Central American gangs to take

control of cocaine shipments from Guatemala to Mexico. Other links

have been forged between Los Zetas and the Ndrangheta, one of Italy’s

most powerful crime syndicates that specializes in cocaine

distribution and arms trafficking.


Los Zetas also has pushed its way into legal and illegal businesses by

killing, kidnapping or extorting those in control, a scheme known as

“plata o plomo,” Spanish for “money or lead.” According to U.S. law

enforcement and intelligence reports, gang members use their massive

supply of weapons and high-tech equipment to instill fear to take over



Seeking to grab a larger portion of the $25 billion cocaine, heroin

and marijuana market in the United States, Los Zetas is estimated to

have between 1,000 and 3,000 hard-core members and 10,000 loyalists

across Mexico, Central America and the United States. Authorities said

the gang has organized a sophisticated supply and distribution network

through its established territories.


“The Zetas are quite diversified and they are good bookkeepers,” said

Mr. Grayson, the College of William & Mary professor. “They will go

where they can make money and will do what they have to do to make it



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