Organized Crime



Mexico’s Hidden Drug War

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

THE BORDER REPORT

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

THE BORDER REPORT

This story aired on KJZZ, public radio Arizona as part of the Fronteras Desk. For more stories, go to FronterasDesk.org. 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.


3 Accused of Trying to buy Stinger Missiles, Anti-Tank Weapons for Sinaloa Cartel

Mar 24th, 2011 | By Michel Marizco | Category: General News, Organized Crime
TUCSON – Three people are accused of trying to buy anti-tank weapons in Arizona for a drug cartel in Mexico. Federal indictments were recently unsealed  in Phoenix. Court documents show the three also tried to buy a Stinger missile. Click here to download the Indictment. The accused were trying to buy the military weaponry for the Sinaloa Cartel.  Court documents show they used pounds of crystal meth for a down payment on the weapons. The case started in 2009 in Phoenix. One of the accused, David Diaz, approached a confidential informant working for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. They delivered nearly five pounds of crystal meth and $139,000 in cash. Then they brought ten more pounds to finish the arms deal. Robbie Sherwood is the spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Arizona. “These are very serious charges, as the indictment that has been unsealed indicate. We will be proceeding to trial soon and we look forward to presenting our case at that time.” From the indictment: A Dragon Fire Anti-Tank Weapon, a Stinger Missile, (a surface-to-air missile like those used by Afghan fighters in the eighties to defeat the Soviets), two AT-4s, a shoulder-fired light anti-tank rocket, a variety of grenade launchers, two M-60 machine guns and three cases of hand grenades. Court records show that Diaz was trying to buy the weapons for the Yucatan Peninsula. They were destined for druglords Joaquín El Chapo Guzmán and Ismael El Mayo Zambada, the leaders of the Sinaloa Cartel. The cartel is battling not only every other cartel in Mexico, but also the Mexican Army. John Bailey, a Georgetown University professor who worked in Mexico most of his career, says this level of weaponry was likely designed to take on the Mexican government itself. “It’s the kind of weaponry that you’d expect to be used against the Army. These groups are willing to up the ante.” The trial begins in April in Arizona.


Nine Arrested in ICE Agent’s Killing, but Questions of Torture Persist

Feb 25th, 2011 | By Michel Marizco | Category: General News, Organized Crime, Politics
THE BORDER REPORT

The Mexican Army arrested nine suspects in the murder of an American federal agent working in that country. Officials are calling the shooting a case of mistaken identity. The Obama Administration has lauded the Mexican government for its fast work.  But some are suspicious of the arrests. Six of the nine suspects were paraded in front of the media early Thursday. In this photo from El Universal, Jesus Iván Quezada Peña, number three in the lineup, has both eyes swollen shut, his mouth bleeding and bruised. Another's face was splotched in purple and black.



Gunmen Knew They Were Killing a U.S. Agent

Feb 18th, 2011 | By Michel Marizco | Category: General News, Organized Crime

THE BORDER REPORT

This is a story I produced for KJZZ, public radio, Arizona. Note, law enforcement sources I spoke with say police recovered more than 80 shellcasings at the crime scene. New details have emerged in the attack of two US immigration agents working in Mexico. People familiar with the case say the agents identified themselves to the gunmen. But that didn’t stop the shooters from opening fire and killing one of the men. The two Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents had stopped for lunch Tuesday and they were driving south on a busy highway between Monterrey and Mexico City.  What happened next was confirmed by DEA agents who reviewed the reports. A vehicle believed to be driven by members of the Zeta cartel passed the American’s armored SUV. Another, crowded the agents from behind and forced them to a stop. Jaime Zapata, the agent who died in the attack, put the SUV in Park. That unlocked the doors. The attackers opened his door. He managed to close it again. Then one of the agents lowered the window. Texas Republican Representative Michael McCaul was debriefed by senior ICE officials. “The ICE agents said we’re Americans, we’re diplomats. And the response from the Zetas was to open fire on the agents,” he said. Federal law enforcement officials have warned about threats against agents working in Mexico for years, but the belief has persisted that American agents were hands off. Diplomatic security consultant Ron Williams says the agents were properly trained. “People make mistakes. People are human” Williams said. And they probably didn’t think that these guys would in fact open up and try and kill them.” Williams says rolling down the windows and trying to reason with the attackers were the agent’s biggest mistakes.


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