General News

Records: Feds Have A History Of Gun Walking Programs

Oct 26th, 2011 | By Michel Marizco | Category: General News


TUCSON, Ariz. -- “Operation Fast and Furious” was not the first gun walking program taken up by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) bureau in Arizona. There was another secret federal program that allowed guns to be smuggled into Mexico under the Bush Administration in 2006 and 2007. Read my story here at the Fronteras Desk.

The Drug War At Home: How Cartel Cash Moves Across the Border

May 26th, 2011 | By Michel Marizco | Category: General News


CULIACAN, SINALOA – The cartels make billions of dollars on the drug trade. But they have to work out complicated schemes to get those dollars they make from addicts in the U.S. back into Mexico and convert them into usable pesos. It’s a lot of money. And money can overcome lots of challenges. Read my story here at the Fronteras Desk.

Mexico’s Hidden Drug War

May 3rd, 2011 | By Michel Marizco | Category: General News, Organized Crime


The following story was produced for the Fronteras Desk, public radio, Arizona. Click here for the audio version.

Long known as Arizona's beach town, tourists and business owners in Rocky Point, Mexico, say a recent State Department's travel warning about this place is unfair. Victims say otherwise. They say cartel violence in Mexico has quietly crept in and goes mostly unreported. Last year the chief of police of this quiet resort town on the Sea of Cortez was gunned down. Since then, the stories of violence here are barely mentioned. Business owners and the town's mayor prefer to keep it that way.   But for people like Veronica, the stories of violence are hard to ignore. Veronica is a waitress in a tourist bar here. She doesn't want her last name used; she's afraid she'll be murdered for talking. She says her boyfriend was a Rocky Point cop kidnapped from their home at gunpoint a few weeks ago. "I have to be careful, I saw the people who did it, so did my son," she says. Police found his body the next day. Noone can agree as to why the killers had ripped his fingernails out and shot him one time. The story barely made the Mexican press and it was never mentioned north of the border. There's other stories. Last week, sources gave a Fronteras Desk reporter a video of a Mexican Marine being accosted in his home by the Rocky Point police chief's bodyguards while the chief stood by watching. In the final moments of the video, his face is shown, beaten. He shot the video on his cellphone. He filed a complaint in court. He was beaten last March. Veronica's boyfriend's was killed in early April. Two weeks later, nearly the entire force held a protest, demanding the chief resign. Rocky Point mayor Alejandro Zepeda dismisses these issues. He's speaking through his translator, Mónica Castro. The mayor says his new chief is staying put. "The commander is ex-military, so he's a little bit more stricter so they have to acknowledge that change and maybe some people don't like the changes but it's gotta be done in order to provide better service for everybody." Over 35,000 people have been killed in Mexico's drug wars since 2006. Fewer than three hundred were Americans. Now The State Department's travel warning cautions visitors to Rocky Point. It's Washington's broadest alert yet. It advises people to stay away from entire states in Mexico and includes small towns like Rocky Point it had never mentioned before. Steve Holder's been coming to Rocky Point with his friends for nearly 20 years. "I'm going to Turkey next week and there's a travel warning there too so what can you do," he says as he smokes a cigar and orders another beer on the patio. No American has been killed in Rocky Point as a result of the drug violence in Mexico. But fear has driven the tourists away. On a beautiful day in April, it takes eight hours to find a single American. Rafael Noriega gave up on American tourists. The restaurant owner tried running a swank Italian place in the Old Port. Now he caters to the Mexican crowd with cheap, good red wine and five dollar pizzas. "Only Mexicans now. Mexicans from all over around. There's no Americans, well." Like the mayor, he says the little bit of violence that hit Rocky Point is the kind of sporadic violence that can hit any town in the world. "Nothing special. There's not violence in Puerto Peñasco," he pauses. "Not really." That same afternoon, the Mexican Army storms through downtown.. Fifty-cal rifles are mounted on rotating turrets on the soldiers' Humvee. Those soldiers had just shot a man in a white SUV. This is the problem with reporting on the violence in this town. Two soldiers threatened to arrest me when I tried to photograph the crime scene. The story didn't appear in the town's two major papers the next morning. The Mexican Army never admits publicly to the shooting.

Sinaloa Cartel Challenges the U.S.

Apr 7th, 2011 | By Michel Marizco | Category: General News, Organized Crime, Politics


This story aired on KJZZ, public radio Arizona as part of the Fronteras Desk. For more stories, go to An accused Mexican drug lord being held on charges in the U.S. has filed a unusual motion in federal court. He's challenging the United States, saying he'd been working with its own federal agents in Mexico. Jesus Vicente Zambada Niebla is one of the most senior drug trafficking figures in U.S. custody. He's accused of working for the Sinaloa Cartel, a powerful drug trafficking organization in Mexico. In fact, he's the eldest son of one of its leaders. Zambada was arrested in Mexico City in 2009 and extradited to Illinois, accused of trafficking nearly $6 billion in cocaine. He's contracted some of the highest profile criminal defense lawyers in the country. In 2003, the United States indicted him in a massive anti-drug operation that stretched from Colombia to Mexico to Tucson, Los Angeles, Phoenix, New York, Virginia and Rhode Island. Nearly 250 people were arrested and it was among the first indictments filed against Zambada's father, Ismael "El Mayo" Zambada, now one of the  leaders of the Sinaloa Cartel. Last month his attorneys filed a simple but explosive one page motion in federal court. They say the FBI, the DEA and various Homeland Security agents in Mexico were actually working with Zambada for more than five years. (Click to enlarge.) Peter Henning is a law professor at Wayne State University Law School. He says the public authority assertion made by Zambada's legal team is nearly unheard of in organized crime cases. "Essentially, this is the type of claim by a defendant that puts the government on trial; saying that the government sponsored illegal activity," Henning said. Neither the Justice Department nor Zambada's lawyers would comment on the  record for this story because of the sensitivity of the case. But the motion names several DEA and FBI agents who have actively worked in Mexico, claiming they authorized Zambada's activities. One that was named, Eduardo Martinez, was the DEA's attaché in Hermosillo, Sonora, Mexico until 2008. His name frequently surfaced in federal court warrants as the investigating agent in cross-border trafficking cases. "Given what's going on with the Mexican drug cartels, the last thing the United States can handle is any kind of finding that it in fact sponsored one of the drug cartels," Henning said. A date has not been set for the Chicago trial. When that trial concludes, Zambada will stand trial in Washington for the Operation Trifecta case.

Los Numeros de Phoenix

Mar 31st, 2011 | By Michel Marizco | Category: General News, Politics
THE BORDER REPORT No, no, not those numeros. I'm talking about the official numeros de secuestros and home invasion rip-offs in Phoenix. The statistics seem to have turned into a hen-pecking party with allegations against the recently demoted former chief, Jack Harris for $2.4 million in federal funding. Here's the latest: an independent panel has been reviewing the police department's statistics and found that of 358 reported kidnappings in 2008, only 222 met the criteria for kidnapping and 136 did not. My Fronteras Desk colleague does a nice job of summarizing the breakdown of the numbers. There are still 376 home invasion reports to tally up from that year. If they're found to include cases of illegal immigrants held against their will by bajadores, the number of kidnappings in the city could actually skyrocket well past the alleged 358. Keep your eye on it, it's going to be a fascinating case-study in the realities of border politicking. (Pictures out of a Phoenix kidnapping report). These are some cellphone self-portraits taken by a Phoenix rip-off crew, February 2009. According to the initial police reports, an anonymous caller had told a dispatcher that he had escaped the house when the bajadores came in but that there were others being held. By the time police arrived, everyone was gone. Maybe it didn't happen ...

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