Deadly Pinal County shooting tied to pot plot, sheriff says
by Nicole Klauss - Apr. 18, 2011 10:03 AM
The Arizona Republic-12 News Breaking News Team
The deadly shooting last Thursday near Interstate 8 in the Vekol
Valley stemmed from one group's attempt to rob another group of
marijuana, the Pinal County Sheriff's Office said Monday.
The sheriff's office said it has booked six men allegedly involved on
suspicion of transporting marijuana.
Last Thursday, an Arizona Department of Public Safety officer
responded to a 911 call around 2:15 a.m. at a rest stop on Interstate
8, west of Casa Grande near mile post 150, and found a 35-year-old
man with a gunshot wound in his stomach. The victim, believed to be
an undocumented immigrant from Mexico, told authorities he ran to the
rest stop after being shot and called his daughter in Phoenix, who
called the sheriff's office, authorities said.
The man was taken to a local hospital by helicopter, and is still
being treated for his injuries. Investigators have not been able to
determine the victim's name.
The victim told deputies he was traveling through the desert with 14
other people, also believed to be undocumented immigrants. He said
they stopped to rest and were later approached by a second group of
individuals who opened fire on them.
Authorities later found the body of another victim, about a half mile
south of Interstate 8.
During the investigation, law-enforcement officers located six people
at a home in Stanfield on Thursday afternoon that they believed were
involved in the shooting.
At the home, officers found Luis Grajada-Carillo, 33, Edgar Soto-
Lopez, 30, Jesus Antonio Sanchez, 35, Jose Moroyoqui-Jocobi, 28,
Arturo Mange, 21, and Raul Servin-Madro, 22, all from Mexico.
The men initially denied involvement, but officers later learned
through evidence and admissions that all six men had been carrying
backpacks of marijuana from Mexico when they were approached by three
or four other people who told them to drop the marijuana, officials
The second group of people is believed to be a "pip crew," a drug-
smuggling crew that takes cash and drugs from other smugglers by
force, according to Pinal County deputies.
The dead man is believed to have been the smugglers' guide and fired
a handgun before he was fatally wounded.
The marijuana has not been located. Authorities were not able to find
the other people involved in the shooting.
All six men were booked into the Pinal County Adult Detention Center
in Florence, according to the sheriff's office.
Note: expected as cartels continue to develop their vertical
business models, which includes significant local corruption.
Mexican cartels setting up shop across U.S.
Frediberto Pineda, a member of the Sinaloa cartel, was sentenced to
20 years in prison for heading a cocaine operation in South
Carolina's capital. Similar outposts have popped up in Seattle,
Anchorage and Minneapolis.
Federal officers found Frediberto Pineda with 10 kilos of cocaine
worth $350,000 in his possession. (Lexington County Sheriff)
By Richard A. Serrano, Washington Bureau
April 17, 2011, 7:59 p.m.
Reporting from Columbia, S.C.— The house on Knightner Road is small,
blue and white, with a stone front porch and a string of Christmas
lights still hanging. Here, crack cocaine was sold to drive-up
customers a few miles from the state Capitol in Columbia.
The one on Pound Road in rural Gaston, just south of Columbia, is a
brown-and-white trailer, with a gravel driveway and woods out back.
Here, federal law enforcement officers surprised Frediberto Pineda,
who had 10 kilos of cocaine worth $350,000 in his possession.
Six months went by between the first FBI inquiries into cocaine
trafficking at the house on Knightner Road and Pineda's arrest. But
for the bureau, he was a prize worth waiting for. A member of
Mexico's Sinaloa cartel, he had quietly settled in central South
Carolina, put down roots and began managing one of the gang's new
outposts in the United States.
As the cartels expand up and out from the Southwest border, they are
sending waves of men like Pineda, many of them trained in Mexico, to
run their U.S. operations. In the last few years, they have
established a prosperous retail industry, with cartels staking out
"market territories," lining up smuggling routes, and renting storage
bins and drug houses.
Twice deported after less serious convictions, Pineda looked more
like a successful businessman than a drug dealer. He drove a Ford
Explorer and wore a shiny watch with red and white jewels.
"He didn't dress like a construction worker," lead FBI Agent Michael
E. Stansbury said. "He was clean and well-groomed. No dirt under his
The look of prosperity corresponded with a booming business. Earlier
this month, FBI Director Robert S. Mueller told Congress that upwards
of $39 billion a year in drug profits from north of the border is
making it back to Mexico and the cartels.
Atlanta has become a major cartel hub, where cocaine is stored in
lockers, storefronts and homes, then trucked to cities such as
Columbia, according to federal officials. The Tijuana cartel has set
up shop in Seattle and Anchorage, they added. Elements of the Juarez
cartel have been busy in four dozen cities, including Minneapolis.
The Gulf cartel has reached into Buffalo, N.Y.
When the FBI started looking into the South Carolina drug trade,
agents never imagined the investigation would lead them to a Mexican
cartel. In all, the effort here has led to charges against 116 people
in eight separate indictments, 33 firearms seized, four vehicles
impounded, 27 wiretaps approved, and $600,000 in cash and well over
$1 million in drugs confiscated. So far, 111 of the defendants have
been convicted, while one suspect awaits trail and four fugitives are
on the loose.
No one believes Columbia has become drug free, but the city is the
first in the nation to have successfully disrupted a cartel that was
so deeply ingrained in a U.S. community. The success is being hailed
by law enforcement officials as a major victory. "We've been standing
at a dam and putting our fingers in the holes," said lead prosecutor
Asst. U.S. Atty. Stacey D. Haynes.
In September 2008, the FBI decided to find a way inside the crack
house on Knightner Road, after they had heard complaints of drug
dealing. So they provided an informant with $100 to pay off a debt to
a dealer, and that got the FBI onto the front porch.
Agents soon learned that the main dealer was a character named "G-
Money," and that he sold $100 crack "cookies" off the porch. In fact,
business was brisk. "They were selling crack all day, every day,"
Agent Stansbury said.
Agents went to court and obtained permission to start wiretapping
cellphones and a land-line inside the house. They monitored calls
from "Little Wheel" and "Big Wheel," and eventually expanded the
wiretap and picked up on calls from suppliers. One turned out to be
"Calero," one of many nicknames for Pineda.
The conversations were largely in Spanish, in a crude street code.
Many of the calls were directly to and from Mexico, many by Pineda
and a score of fellow Mexicans working with him. Often the calls were
to air complaints about shipments, or to make sure the money was
making it home to Mexico. Pineda emerged as the main target.
"We suddenly had a new case with good cartel connections," said FBI
Agent Robert Waizenhofer.
To learn more about him, agents asked state troopers to stop Pineda
in his truck. They found $150,000 hidden in a microwave still in the
box from Wal-Mart.
But they did not start the arrests until March 2009, and Pineda and
his crew were the first to be rounded up — a departure from the FBI's
tactic of normally working a case up the chain. "This time," said
Stansbury, "we took the head off the snake first."
When they burst inside the Pound Road trailer, they found Pineda
hunched over a large Rubbermaid tub, counting packets that added up
to 10 kilos of cocaine.
He pleaded guilty to drug conspiracy, but refused to cooperate with
authorities for fear the cartel would harm his children in Mexico. He
was sentenced to 20 years.
Stansbury said the FBI tried to draw Pineda out in an interview to
learn more about the cartel, but the discussion went nowhere. In the
back of a car heading from the FBI office to jail, Pineda resisted.
"You know what happens in Mexico if I start talking," he said. "You
know what they will do."