Sunday, September 30, 2012



Note: A short, basic look at the cartel business. BTW, the
acquisition of the immigrant smuggling business left quite a few
bodies on both sides of the AZMEX border. A major factor left out
is the part pervasive corruption plays in all this.

Drug crime at the border achieves corporate status

Osiel Cardenas Guillen's masterstroke was creating the Zetas. This
"changed the whole panorama of drug trafficking and organized crime
in the hemisphere," says one expert.
Associated Press

BROWNSVILLE, Texas - When a regional manager for Mexico's Gulf Cartel
moved his operation to a more lucrative territory on the border, he
took along not only his armored trucks and personal army, but also
his department heads and a team of accountants.

In the grotesque violence that has enveloped Mexico, it's easy to
lose sight of the fact that, ultimately, these criminal groups are
complex businesses that rely on careful accounting as much as assault
rifles. The structures underlying the most successful criminal
organizations are stable in a way that means capturing or killing the
man at the top may only be a temporary setback, and pinching one
revenue stream will only drive a search for others.

Rafael Cardenas Vela, a Gulf Cartel member who ran three important
"plazas," or territories, testified in detail last week about the
organization's structure and operations.

When prosecutors asked Cardenas to walk jurors through a decade of
moves in the cartel's command and control structure, he turned to a
giant organizational chart that would be recognizable to anyone in
the corporate world except for spaces at the bottom for those
"arrested" and "deceased."

Cardenas explained that in his plaza he had managers in charge of
each revenue stream, including marijuana, cocaine and "cuota," or
extortion payments demanded of legal and illegal businesses.

Each department had an accountant. An additional accountant tracked
the "piso," or tax that was charged on any drug loads moving through
his territory. Another accountant supervised them all.

"I can't do everything myself," Cardenas said. "That's why we have
someone in charge of every department."

That structure means simply removing the head is often not enough.

"You have to keep attacking the command and control elements again
and again," said Will Glaspy, who oversees the Drug Enforcement
Administration's operations in Texas' Rio Grande Valley, across the
border from Gulf Cartel territory.

Drug cases build

Since Osiel Cardenas Guillen, Rafael Cardenas' uncle, was extradited
to the U.S. in 2007, the cases have been building on themselves.

The man who took over for Osiel Cardenas was captured this month.
Osiel Cardenas' brother was killed by Mexican marines in 2010. Most
recently, a third brother was arrested in Mexico this month. Juan
Roberto Rincon-Rincon, the plaza boss convicted Friday in
Brownsville, is one of three Gulf Cartel plaza bosses arrested in the
U.S. last year. And Mexican authorities captured another alleged boss
this week.

"It's the government of Mexico that has had such tremendous success
targeting the Gulf Cartel over the last five or six years," Glaspy
said. "They're the ones who have continued to attack and focus on the
command and control of the Gulf Cartel."

"(The Gulf Cartel's) corporate structure doesn't exactly look like a
Fortune 500 company, but it's probably not far off," he said.

The structure reflects diversified interests. The cartel is still
known primarily as a drug-trafficking organization, but it receives
important revenue from smuggling immigrants and its extortion rackets.

The U.S. Border Patrol sector that covers much of the Gulf Cartel's
territory seized just over 1 million pounds of marijuana in 2011 and
apprehended nearly 60,000 illegal immigrants. The cartel receives a
cut for every kilogram of drugs and every illegal immigrant passing
through its territory.

Creating the zetas

Guadalupe Correa- Cabrera, chairwoman of the government department at
the University of Texas-Brownsville, says Osiel Cardenas led the
cartel's structural evolution. She said his nephew's testimony
revealed the similarities between today's drug-trafficking
organization and a legitimate corporation with transnational networks
and diversified interests.

Osiel Cardenas' biggest move was creating the Zetas, former special
forces troops, as a new department to handle the cartel's security
and enforcement, she said.

"When (Osiel Cardenas) introduced the Zetas he changed the whole
panorama of drug trafficking and organized crime in the hemisphere,"
she said. Their expansion into other criminal enterprises beyond drug
trafficking served as a lesson for their longtime patrons and other
criminal organizations.

The Zetas split from the cartel in 2010 and became an independent
criminal organization.

Without the critical smuggling corridors controlled by the Gulf
Cartel or its supply lines, the Zetas initially couldn't count on
drug-trafficking revenue, so they diversified to piracy and
extortion, Glaspy said.

"It's all about the money, and if they're not making the money from
drugs they will seek out other criminal activity to reinforce or find
other revenue streams," he said.

The younger Cardenas is cooperating with U.S. authorities in other
cartel cases with the hope of receiving a shorter sentence.

Details of drug smuggling through Valley emerge at Gulf Cartel trial
Posted: Saturday, September 29, 2012 10:00 pm | Updated: 10:32 pm,
Sat Sep 29, 2012.
Mark Reagan/The Brownsville Herald

BROWNSVILLE — Border Patrol field agents who spend their days playing
an intense game of cat-and-mouse with smugglers for the Gulf Cartel
revealed this past week what it ' s like to track down and chase drug
smugglers, who spend as much time watching the Border Patrol as the
agents spend watching the smugglers.
Field agents made 32 marijuana seizures across from the Rio Bravo
plaza in September and October of 2011, but only 14 of those seizures
were entered into evidence in the narcotics trafficking trial of Juan
Roberto " Commandante " Rincon Rincon, 41, according to testimony.
Rincon was found guilty Friday of multiple federal drug conspiracy
charges from January 2002 until his capture on Oct. 26, 2011.
Those 14 seizures entered into evidence totaled more than 11,000
pounds of marijuana, Luis Flores, the Homeland Security Investigation
case agent for Rincon, testified.
The men who testified were all personal witnesses and participants in
the 14 seizures across the Rio Grande from the Rio Bravo Plaza in
Mexico where Rincon was plaza boss for the two-month period. Rafael "
El Junior " Cardenas Vela testified during the trial that September
and October are a peak time of the year for the Gulf Cartel ' s
marijuana importation activities.
On Sept. 10, 2011, Border Patrol Field Agent Jose Treviño was hiding
in brush in a swampy area near the river when he saw five people,
with what looked like bundles of marijuana, walk into a sugar cane
field. After calling his partner, they searched the ground and found
four people with five bundles of marijuana that weighed just under
300 pounds.
After the people were detained, he said the marijuana was loaded into
a service vehicle and Treviño and the other agents who responded
formed a convoy and went to process the drugs and people at the
Harlingen Border Patrol Station.
During the trial, prosecutors entered a map of the Rio Bravo plaza
and the land across from it in the United States into evidence. After
each Border Patrol agent testified about the seizures they
participated in, the prosecution had them place a red sticker on the
map designating where the bust happened.
Cardenas Vela testified that during his time as Rio Bravo plaza boss
from 2009 to 2011, he only allowed marijuana to be crossed on the
eastern half of his territory. The majority of the 14 seizures the
field agents testified about were on the eastern half of the United
States, across from the Rio Bravo plaza.
About five days later, Treviño was again hiding in the brush when he
observed a blue minivan traveling south, toward the river, at a high
rate of speed and then heading north a short time later at about 60
mph on a caliche road nestled between sugar cane fields.
He used a cell phone to call his partner, because the Gulf Cartel is
known to listen to scanner traffic, who intercepted the van between
the river levee and Highway 281. Treviño said there was more than 800
pounds of marijuana in the van that ultimately crashed into an
irrigation canal.
Many of the agents who testified told the court that they were either
hiding in the brush or patrolling just north of Highway 281, which is
where the smugglers want to get to.
Elias Lee Gonzalez, a Drug Enforcement Administration agent based in
Mexico, who interviewed Rincon on Oct. 27, 2011, testified that
Rincon told him a smuggler paid to move more than 1,000 pounds of
marijuana a week. Rincon mentioned that he has someone who
coordinated about 15 smugglers for him, Elias Lee Gonzalez testified.
Border Patrol Field Agent Albert Gonzalez told the court that he came
into contact with marijuana about once a week.
On Oct. 3, 2011, he observed a truck traveling north at 50 mph toward
Highway 281. Since he didn ' t recognize the vehicle as one belonging
to someone who owns land or works out there, Albert Gonzalez said he
went to check out the truck, which had plywood in its bed.
Albert Gonzalez testified that plywood is a common indicator that
someone is trying to conceal something, at least in areas so close to
the river.
When he activated his emergency lights, the driver of the truck sped
up and a routine chase with a possible drug smuggler began when the
vehicle veered off into a field in an attempt to outmaneuver Albert
Gonzalez. He said he stayed on the field road and was working to head
the truck off at the pass when it crashed into 5 feet of mud in a
ditch. The driver, who was apprehended, also found himself stuck in
the mud, he testified.
Albert Gonzalez said agents seized more than 500 pounds of marijuana
from the truck.
Border Patrol Field Agent John Brown, who works near the Santa Ana
Wildlife Refuge, a popular attraction for outdoor-loving locals and
tourists, said the area is notorious for having narcotics come through.
On Oct. 15, 2011, he was working near the refuge when he drove up
into a face-to-face confrontation with a smuggler on a caliche road
south of Highway 281.
Brown said he came right up on a van and looked directly through its
windshield and observed the driver, whose eyes widened, and bundles
of marijuana stacked so tightly in the van, which didn ' t have any
back seats, that the bundles were nearly falling over the driver.
The man immediately threw the van into reverse and drove backwards at
a high rate of speed toward the river levee where he made a hard
right and sped at a high rate of speed in an easterly direction on
top of the levee, kicking up an enormous amount of dust and rocks.
Several agents testified that kicking up dirt and rocks is a common
tactic used to evade American law enforcement, because the smugglers
know that Border Patrol agents will back off if visibility is reduced
and because agents know that some smugglers have been known to slam
on the brakes and bail, causing a chance for a bad accident.
On this day, the smuggler sped down the levee and then turned north
of a dirt road and made it to Highway 281. He drove at a high rate of
speed right into the Santa Ana Wildlife Refuge, which was crowded
with birders and joggers that day, Brown testified.
The man eventually came to a stop once he cornered himself at a
barricade. Brown said Border Patrol seized more than 1,500 pounds of
marijuana from inside the van.
And the stories go on and on as agents testified to multi-hundred-
pound marijuana seizures during September and October of 2011.
Much of the testimony was the same. An agent hiding in the brush
spots a vehicle traveling south then north at a high rate of speed.
Then the driver tries to get to Highway 281 and out-maneuver Border
Patrol. And according to testimony from agents during the trial,
smugglers do get away by crashing the cars into or near the river and
then swimming across the Rio Grande, and back into Mexico.
After the verdict Friday, United States Attorney Jody Young said the
government will continue to pursue members of the Gulf Cartel and
other individuals who try to smuggle drugs into the United States.

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