“Mexico frees drug lord Caro Quintero after 28 years in prison for killing of U.S. agent”

August 12, 2013

The Washington Post on August 9, 2013 released the following:

“By Associated Press

MEXICO CITY — Infamous drug lord Rafael Caro Quintero walked free Friday after 28 years in prison when a court overturned his 40-year sentence for the 1985 kidnapping and killing of a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agent, a brutal murder that marked a low point in U.S.-Mexico relations.

The U.S. Department of Justice said Friday it was extremely disappointed by the release of the man convicted in the killing of DEA agent Enrique Camarena, calling it “deeply troubling.”

Mexico’s Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam said in a statement that he was “worried” about the court’s decision, adding that his office is analyzing whether there are any charges pending against Caro Quintero.

Caro Quintero, 60, was a founding member of one of Mexico’s earliest and biggest drug cartels. The court ruled Wednesday that he had been improperly tried in a federal court for a crime that should have been treated as a state offense. Prison officials were notified of the ruling on Thursday, and an official at the Jalisco state prosecutors’ office said the drug lord left prison before dawn on Friday. The official was not authorized to speak on the record.

News media were not alerted until hours after the release, and U.S. authorities apparently received no prior notification.

“The Department of Justice and the Drug Enforcement Administration learned today that early this morning Rafael Caro Quintero was released from prison,” said Justice Department spokesman Peter Carr.

The DEA, meanwhile, said it “will vigorously continue its efforts to ensure Caro-Quintero faces charges in the United States for the crimes he committed. “

Caro Quintero still faces charges in the United States, but Mexico’s Attorney General’s Office said it was unclear whether there was a current extradition request.

Apparently, the U.S. had requested his extradition for the Camarena killing — something Caro Quintero can’t be tried twice for — but may not have filed extradition requests for pending U.S. drug charges.

The U.S. Department of Justice said it “has continued to make clear to Mexican authorities the continued interest of the United States in securing Caro Quintero’s extradition so that he might face justice in the United States. “

Caro Quintero helped establish a powerful cartel based in the northwestern Mexican state of Sinaloa that later split into some of Mexico’s largest cartels, including the Sinaloa and Juarez cartels.

He is still listed as one of the DEA’s five top international fugitives, and U.S. authorities believe he continued to control the laundering of drug money from behind bars.

“Caro Quintero continues to launder the proceeds from narcotics trafficking and he maintains an alliance with drug trafficking organizations such as the Sinaloa Cartel, most notably with Esparragoza Moreno’s network,” said Treasury Department spokesman John Sullivan, referring to Juan Jose Esparragoza Moreno, also known as “El Azul,” or “Blue” because of the dark color of his skin, who is allegedly a top leader of the Sinaloa cartel.

In June, the Treasury Department imposed sanctions against 18 people and 15 companies that allegedly moved money for Caro Quintero.

“Caro Quintero has used a network of family members and front persons to invest his fortune into ostensibly legitimate companies and real estate projects in the city of Guadalajara” said Adam Szubin, Director of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control. Caro Quintero has spent almost his entire sentence at a prison on the outskirts of that city, Mexico’s second-largest city.

Mexico’s relations with Washington were badly damaged when Caro Quintero ordered Camarena kidnapped, tortured and killed, purportedly because he was angry about a raid on a 220-acre (89-hectare) marijuana plantation in central Mexico named “Rancho Bufalo” — Buffalo Ranch — that was seized by Mexican authorities at Camarena’s insistence.

Camarena was kidnapped on Feb. 7, 1985, in Guadalajara, a major drug trafficking center. His body and that of his Mexican pilot, both showing signs of torture, were found a month later, buried in shallow graves.

American officials accused their Mexican counterparts of letting Camarena’s killers get away. Caro Quintero was eventually hunted down in Costa Rica.

At one point, U.S. Customs agents almost blocked the U.S. border with Mexico, slowing incoming traffic to a standstill while conducting searches of all Mexicans trying to enter the United States.

Camarena’s fellow DEA agents considered him a hero in the war against drug trafficking and the El Paso Intelligence Center, where U.S. federal agencies collect information about Mexican drug barons, is dedicated to him.

Times have changed since the low point, and cooperation has strengthened, but Caro Quintero’s release Friday reopened old wounds.

Edward Heath, the former DEA regional director for Mexico at the time of the Camarena killing who was present during the identification of the agent’s body from dental records, said the release reflected a broader lack of cooperation with the U.S. from the new Mexican government, a contrast to the policy of former President Felipe Calderon.

“You had a president that was working very close with our government in a quiet way. These people come in and so, boom, the curtain comes down,” said Heath, now a private security consultant. “It means a disrespect for our government.”

He said he was skeptical of the explanation that there was a justifiable legal rationale for Caro Quintero’s release.

“There’s some collusion going on,” he said. “This guy is a major trafficker. This guy is bad, a mean son of a gun.”

Caro Quintero is said to have pioneered links between Colombian cocaine cartels and the Mexican smugglers who transport their drugs into the United States.

The ruling left many wondering why it took so many years for judges to determine Caro Quintero was tried in the wrong court.

“They were always ‘political’ prisoners serving sentences for as long as the U.S. kept up the pressure,” said a former DEA official who once worked in Mexico. He is not authorized to talk about the case because he still does work in Mexico.

“The bribe money to get them out was always there. Mexican ‘justice’ is always built on very weak foundations. And they seem to like it that way. Sad,” he added.

Raul Benitez, a security expert at Mexico’s National Autonomous University, said the ruling may portend more such procedural rulings following the January freeing of French citizen Florence Cassez, who was convicted in Mexico for being part of a kidnapping ring.

The Frenchwoman served seven years of a 60-year sentence before Mexico’s Supreme Court voted 3-2 to release her in January because of procedural and rights violations during her arrest, including police staging a recreation of her capture for the media.

“What appears to be coming is an avalanche of judicial appeals, with the drug traffickers hiring very good, very expensive lawyers, arguing there were violations of due process,” said Benitez. “The government is going to have problems.”

Mexican courts and prosecutors have long tolerated illicit evidence such as forced confessions and have frequently based cases on questionable testimony or hearsay. Such practices have been banned by recent judicial reforms, but past cases — including those against high-level drug traffickers — are often rife with such legal violations.

“The government has to be prepared to keep an eye on judges so that they don’t fall into the easy argument of due process,” Benitez said, “because there may also be judges who are receiving money” to accept such arguments.”

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Douglas McNabb – McNabb Associates, P.C.’s
Federal Criminal Defense Attorneys Videos:

Federal Crimes – Be Careful

Federal Crimes – Be Proactive

Federal Crimes – Federal Indictment

Federal Crimes – Detention Hearing

————————————————————–

To find additional federal criminal news, please read Federal Criminal Defense Daily.

Douglas McNabb and other members of the U.S. law firm practice and write and/or report extensively on matters involving Federal Criminal Defense, INTERPOL Red Notice Removal, International Extradition Defense, OFAC SDN Sanctions Removal, International Criminal Court Defense, and US Seizure of Non-Resident, Foreign-Owned Assets. Because we have experience dealing with INTERPOL, our firm understands the inter-relationship that INTERPOL’s “Red Notice” brings to this equation.

The author of this blog is Douglas C. McNabb. Please feel free to contact him directly at mcnabb@mcnabbassociates.com or at one of the offices listed above.


FBI Says Cartel Used Bank of America to Launder Money

July 9, 2012

Bloomberg Business Week on July 9, 2012 released the following:

“By Joe Schneider

The brother of the alleged leader of a Mexican cocaine-trafficking cartel used Bank of America Corp. (BAC) accounts to invest the organization’s drug proceeds in U.S. racehorses, a FBI agent said.

Jose Trevino-Morales, one of 14 people indicted by a federal grand jury in Texas on June 12, used a personal account and a business account under the name of Tremor Enterprises LLC to buy and sell horses using money generated from cocaine trafficking, extortion and bribery, Jason Preece, a special agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, said in a June 11 sworn statement filed in federal court in Dallas.

“The ultimate goal of this money laundering operation was to provide Jose Trevino with apparent legitimate assets purchased and maintained by illegally obtained money,” Preece said. Bank of America isn’t accused of any wrongdoing in the agent’s statement.

Details of the transactions were revealed in a probe of the Los Zetas drug cartel, which according to the filing, funnels thousands of kilograms of cocaine into the U.S. each year. Los Zetas is the biggest drug cartel in Mexico, in geographical presence, and controls 11 states in the country, generating millions of dollars of revenue, Preece said in the statement filed in a bid to gain a search warrant for Trevino’s property.

Strong Procedures
“We have strong anti-money-laundering procedures and work closely with the authorities when suspicious activity is discovered,” Larry Di Rita, a spokesman at Charlotte, North Carolina-based Bank of America, said in a phone interview today.

The bank doesn’t comment on any specific legal and customer cases, he said.

Preece filed the statement to support his request for court permission to search Trevino’s property in Balch Springs, Texas, a Dallas suburb, where he said investigators were likely to find horse ownership records, bank statements and cellular phones used to communicate with Los Zetas.

Trevino, who earned $29,000 in 2009 from Texas Stone and Tile LLC, had expenses of $200,000 a month the following year to support his horses, according to an FBI informant who isn’t named in the filing. The drug cartel had bought at least $4.2 million worth of quarter horses, which are used in short- distance races, over a four-year period, according to the indictment.

The two most well-known horses Trevino had were Tempting Dash and Mr. Piloto, according to the filing.

Mr. Piloto won the All American Futurity race in 2010 at Ruidoso Downs Race Track, with Tremor Enterprises’ bank account being credited with $968,440 as a result, Preece said.

Miguel Angel Trevino Morales, 38, leader of the Los Zetas drug cartel, and his brother Oscar Omar Trevino Morales were also indicted by the grand jury.

The defendants are charged in the May 30 indictment with conspiracy to launder monetary instruments. The crime carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.

The criminal case is U.S. v. Morales, A-12-cr-210-SS, U.S. District Court, Western District of Texas (San Antonio). The application and affidavit for search warrant is 3:12-mj-255, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Texas (Dallas.)”

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Douglas McNabb – McNabb Associates, P.C.’s
Federal Criminal Defense Attorneys Videos:

Federal Crimes – Be Careful

Federal Crimes – Be Proactive

Federal Crimes – Federal Indictment

Federal Crimes – Detention Hearing

————————————————————–

To find additional federal criminal news, please read Federal Criminal Defense Daily.

Douglas McNabb and other members of the U.S. law firm practice and write and/or report extensively on matters involving Federal Criminal Defense, INTERPOL Red Notice Removal, International Extradition Defense, OFAC SDN Sanctions Removal, International Criminal Court Defense, and US Seizure of Non-Resident, Foreign-Owned Assets. Because we have experience dealing with INTERPOL, our firm understands the inter-relationship that INTERPOL’s “Red Notice” brings to this equation.

The author of this blog is Douglas C. McNabb. Please feel free to contact him directly at mcnabb@mcnabbassociates.com or at one of the offices listed above.


Judge approves release on bail for Texas horse trainer in alleged Zetas plot

June 19, 2012

The Washington Post on June 18, 2012 released the following:

“By Associated Press, Published: June 18

AUSTIN, Texas — A federal judge ruled Monday that a Texas horse trainer charged with conspiring to launder money for Mexico’s powerful Zetas drug cartel should be released on bail, rejecting the prosecution’s argument that the threat of cartel reprisals against him was so severe it could harm the surrounding community.

Eusevio Maldonado-Huitron remained in custody because federal prosecutors said they will appeal the decision. Hours later, however, federal prosecutors filed a motion to withdraw their appeal, clearing the way for Maldonado-Huitron’s release soon.

Maldonado-Huitron ran a horse farm in Bastrop County southeast of Austin and is among 15 people charged with helping the Zetas launder millions of dollars through quarter horse operations in Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico and California.

After listening to a string of witnesses in a bail hearing that stretched over two days, U.S. Magistrate Judge Andrew Austin said he was setting conditions for Maldonado-Huitron’s release, but he didn’t immediately make them public.

Prosecutors conceded that they had no evidence Maldonado-Huitron was violent but said there was a risk he could flee to Mexico and disappear given his family ties in that country. However, the greater danger in releasing him from federal custody, they argued, was the threat posed by the Zetas targeting him and his family — and by extension, the community at large.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Michelle Fernald said she was limited on what she could say in open court prior to trial. But she argued that Maldonado-Huitron should remain in custody given the “nature and seriousness of the danger to any member of the community,” due to both “the nature of this organization and the seriousness of the potential retaliation, not just to him but to his family members and anyone else.”

That argument was based on testimony Friday from FBI agent Haskell Wilkins, who said the defendant was a serious flight risk due to the possibility he could be targeted by the Zetas.

But Maldonado-Huitron’s attorney, assistant federal Public Defender Jose Gonzalez-Falla, countered Monday that “we haven’t heard anything to indicate” his client’s guilt. He said prosecutors’ arguments of “’trust us, it’s in the indictment’” is not enough.

Gonzalez-Falla said Maldonado-Huitron is an illiterate horse trainer who poses no threat to the Zetas. An associate of Maldonado-Huitron’s from El Paso testified Monday that the trainer was actually dismissed weeks before his arrest because his horses were underperforming, which the defense attorney said meant his client was now even less important in the eyes of the cartel.

“Why on earth would they hit my client?” he asked. “What has he done? He’s a horse trainer.”

Also testifying Monday was Maldonado-Huitron’s brother, Jesus, who when asked if he knew what the Zetas were answered through an interpreter, “just what you hear on TV.”

“From what they say, they killed a lot of people in Mexico and then they toss the bodies out,” the elder Maldonado-Huitron testified.

Gonzalez-Falla said his client had a right to get paid for his services no matter who hired him, adding that the government’s arguments were based only on “a bunch of rumors about receiving some money.” He said prosecutors feared the ferociousness of any possible reprisals, “just because they’re the Zetas and they’re bad and they kill people and take their heads off.”

“What does that have to do with my client?” he asked.

Austin sided with the defense, saying Maldonado-Huitron’s family might be targeted, but that the threat was no less acute if the defendant was in prison. He said the only risk to the lager community he could see might be “someone’s horse might get beat in a race if Mr. Huitron trains the horse.”

Austin also said he appreciated the flight risk but couldn’t imagine the defendant fleeing to Mexico given how powerful the Zetas are there.

Maldonado-Huitron is “frankly, a lot better off in the United States than in Mexico, which is the only place I can see he’d flee to,” the judge said.”

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Douglas McNabb – McNabb Associates, P.C.’s
Federal Criminal Defense Attorneys Videos:

Federal Crimes – Be Careful

Federal Crimes – Be Proactive

Federal Crimes – Federal Indictment

Federal Crimes – Detention Hearing

————————————————————–

To find additional federal criminal news, please read Federal Criminal Defense Daily.

Douglas McNabb and other members of the U.S. law firm practice and write and/or report extensively on matters involving Federal Criminal Defense, INTERPOL Red Notice Removal, International Extradition Defense, OFAC SDN Sanctions Removal, International Criminal Court Defense, and US Seizure of Non-Resident, Foreign-Owned Assets. Because we have experience dealing with INTERPOL, our firm understands the inter-relationship that INTERPOL’s “Red Notice” brings to this equation.

The author of this blog is Douglas C. McNabb. Please feel free to contact him directly at mcnabb@mcnabbassociates.com or at one of the offices listed above.


US prosecutors: Ex-Mexican governor’s Texas properties bought with bribes from drug cartels

May 23, 2012

The Washington Post on May 22, 2012 released the following:

“By Associated Press

McALLEN, Texas — Federal prosecutors allege the former governor of a Mexican state bordering Texas accepted millions of dollars in bribes from drug cartels and invested the money in Texas real estate.

The allegations were levied in two property forfeiture cases filed Tuesday against Tomas Yarrington, who served as governor of Tamaulipas state from 1999 to 2004. No criminal charges have been filed.

Yarrington’s attorney says he’s reviewing the documents.

Yarrington was named earlier this year in the federal indictment of a man charged with money laundering in San Antonio. That indictment alleged leaders of the Gulf and Zetas cartels paid millions to Institutional Revolutionary Party members, including Yarrington.

In the forfeiture cases, U.S. authorities are trying to confiscate a condominium in South Padre Island and a 46-acre property in San Antonio.”

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Douglas McNabb – McNabb Associates, P.C.’s
Federal Criminal Defense Attorneys Videos:

Federal Crimes – Be Careful

Federal Crimes – Be Proactive

Federal Crimes – Federal Indictment

————————————————————–

To find additional federal criminal news, please read Federal Criminal Defense Daily.

Douglas McNabb and other members of the U.S. law firm practice and write and/or report extensively on matters involving Federal Criminal Defense, INTERPOL Red Notice Removal, International Extradition Defense, OFAC SDN Sanctions Removal, International Criminal Court Defense, and US Seizure of Non-Resident, Foreign-Owned Assets. Because we have experience dealing with INTERPOL, our firm understands the inter-relationship that INTERPOL’s “Red Notice” brings to this equation.

The author of this blog is Douglas C. McNabb. Please feel free to contact him directly at mcnabb@mcnabbassociates.com or at one of the offices listed above.


Man charged in fatal ICE ambush

December 22, 2011

El Paso Times on December 22, 2011 released the following:

“By Diana Washington Valdez \ El Paso Times

A man accused of taking part in the Feb. 11 slaying of an Immigration and Customs Enforcement special agent that also left a second ICE agent wounded was charged on Wednesday in Washington, D.C., after Mexico extradited him to the United States.

Julian “Piolin” Zapata Espinoza faces charges for his alleged role in the murder of ICE Special Agent Jaime Zapata of Brownsville, and the attempted murder of ICE Special Agent Victor Avila of El Paso.

“The extradition and charges filed against Zapata Espinoza is an important step in bringing Jaime and Victor’s alleged shooters to justice,” ICE Director John Morton said. “All of us at ICE are encouraged by today’s action and appreciate the unwavering work and support of all our law enforcement partners in this case.”

“The indictment unsealed today and the successful extradition of ‘Piolin’ to the United States reflect the Justice Department’s vigorous and determined efforts to seek justice for Agents Zapata and Avila,” said Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer. “We will continue to work closely with our law enforcement partners in Mexico to hold violent criminals accountable.”

On April 19, a federal grand jury in the District of Columbia returned a four-count indictment against Zapata Espinoza, charging him with one count of murder of an officer or employee of the United States, for the murder of Jaime Zapata; one count of attempted murder of an officer or employee of the United States; and one count of attempted murder of an internationally protected person, both for the attempted murder of Avila; and one count of using, carrying, brandishing and discharging a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence causing death.

Zapata Espinoza, who is being held without bond, appeared in U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth’s court and pleaded not guilty. His next appearance in court is scheduled for Jan. 25.

In a statement, the Mexican National Defense Secretariat said Mexican soldiers captured Zapata Espinoza on Feb. 23, along with other alleged members of the Zetas drug cartel.

Military officials said Zapata Espinoza “stated he was in charge of the group of gunmen that shot the U.S. agent, (and that) he said that this event was a mistake because they thought that the people in the (U.S. agents’) vehicle were members of an antagonistic (rival) group.”

U.S. officials said the two U.S. agents were traveling from a meeting in San Luis Potosi to Mexico City the day they were ambushed by a group of armed men.

Zapata, who began his law enforcement career with the Border Patrol, was assigned to the U.S. Embassy in Mexico.

Avila, the ICE agent who was shot twice in the leg, recovered from his wounds.

One of the charges is that Zapata Espinoza participated in the attempted murder of an “internationally protected person,” according to the indictment against him.

“He was apparently a U.S. federal agent that pursuant to international law had special protection,” said Douglas C. McNabb, a lawyer and senior principal with McNabb Associates PC, a global criminal defense firm with a website at www.mcnabbassociates.com.

Sheldon Snook, a deputy court clerk in the U.S. District Court of Washington, D.C., said the U.S. Attorneys Manual defines “internationally protected persons” based on U.S. legislation and United Nations conventions, including the Vienna Convention.

Such persons can include heads of state, diplomats and others that in this case the U.S. State Department has determined holds the status.”

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Douglas McNabb – McNabb Associates, P.C.’s
Federal Criminal Defense Attorneys Videos:

Federal Crimes – Be Careful

Federal Crimes – Be Proactive

Federal Crimes – Federal Indictment

Federal Crimes – Detention Hearing

————————————————————–

To find additional federal criminal news, please read Federal Crimes Watch Daily.

Douglas McNabb and other members of the U.S. law firm practice and write and/or report extensively on matters involving Federal Criminal Defense, INTERPOL Red Notice Removal, International Extradition and OFAC SDN Sanctions Removal.

The author of this blog is Douglas McNabb. Please feel free to contact him directly at mcnabb@mcnabbassociates.com or at one of the offices listed above.


U.S. Agents Launder Mexican Profits of Drug Cartels

December 5, 2011
Drug Cartels
Josue Gonzalez/Reuters
“A crime scene in Monterrey, Mexico, last week. Drug-related violence has claimed the lives of more than 40,000 people since late 2006, Mexican officials say.”

The New York Times on December 3, 2011 released the following:

“By GINGER THOMPSON

WASHINGTON — Undercover American narcotics agents have laundered or smuggled millions of dollars in drug proceeds as part of Washington’s expanding role in Mexico’s fight against drug cartels, according to current and former federal law enforcement officials.

The agents, primarily with the Drug Enforcement Administration, have handled shipments of hundreds of thousands of dollars in illegal cash across borders, those officials said, to identify how criminal organizations move their money, where they keep their assets and, most important, who their leaders are.

They said agents had deposited the drug proceeds in accounts designated by traffickers, or in shell accounts set up by agents.

The officials said that while the D.E.A. conducted such operations in other countries, it began doing so in Mexico only in the past few years. The high-risk activities raise delicate questions about the agency’s effectiveness in bringing down drug kingpins, underscore diplomatic concerns about Mexican sovereignty, and blur the line between surveillance and facilitating crime. As it launders drug money, the agency often allows cartels to continue their operations over months or even years before making seizures or arrests.

Agency officials declined to publicly discuss details of their work, citing concerns about compromising their investigations. But Michael S. Vigil, a former senior agency official who is currently working for a private contracting company called Mission Essential Personnel, said, “We tried to make sure there was always close supervision of these operations so that we were accomplishing our objectives, and agents weren’t laundering money for the sake of laundering money.”

Another former agency official, who asked not to be identified speaking publicly about delicate operations, said, “My rule was that if we are going to launder money, we better show results. Otherwise, the D.E.A. could wind up being the largest money launderer in the business, and that money results in violence and deaths.”

Those are precisely the kinds of concerns members of Congress have raised about a gun-smuggling operation known as Fast and Furious, in which agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives allowed people suspected of being low-level smugglers to buy and transport guns across the border in the hope that they would lead to higher-level operatives working for Mexican cartels. After the agency lost track of hundreds of weapons, some later turned up in Mexico; two were found on the United States side of the border where an American Border Patrol agent had been shot to death.

Former D.E.A. officials rejected comparisons between letting guns and money walk away. Money, they said, poses far less of a threat to public safety. And unlike guns, it can lead more directly to the top ranks of criminal organizations.

“These are not the people whose faces are known on the street,” said Robert Mazur, a former D.E.A. agent and the author of a book about his years as an undercover agent inside the Medellín cartel in Colombia. “They are super-insulated. And the only way to get to them is to follow their money.”

Another former drug agency official offered this explanation for the laundering operations: “Building up the evidence to connect the cash to drugs, and connect the first cash pickup to a cartel’s command and control, is a very time consuming process. These people aren’t running a drugstore in downtown L.A. that we can go and lock the doors and place a seizure sticker on the window. These are sophisticated, international operations that practice very tight security. And as far as the Mexican cartels go, they operate in a corrupt country, from cities that the cops can’t even go into.”

The laundering operations that the United States conducts elsewhere — about 50 so-called Attorney General Exempt Operations are under way around the world — had been forbidden in Mexico after American customs agents conducted a cross-border sting without notifying Mexican authorities in 1998, which was how most American undercover work was conducted there up to that point.

But that changed in recent years after President Felipe Calderón declared war against the country’s drug cartels and enlisted the United States to play a leading role in fighting them because of concerns that his security forces had little experience and long histories of corruption.

Today, in operations supervised by the Justice Department and orchestrated to get around sovereignty restrictions, the United States is running numerous undercover laundering investigations against Mexico’s most powerful cartels. One D.E.A. official said it was not unusual for American agents to pick up two or three loads of Mexican drug money each week. A second official said that as Mexican cartels extended their operations from Latin America to Africa, Europe and the Middle East, the reach of the operations had grown as well. When asked how much money had been laundered as a part of the operations, the official would only say, “A lot.”

“If you’re going to get into the business of laundering money,” the official added, “then you have to be able to launder money.”

Former counternarcotics officials, who also would speak only on the condition of anonymity about clandestine operations, offered a clearer glimpse of their scale and how they worked. In some cases, the officials said, Mexican agents, posing as smugglers and accompanied by American authorities, pick up traffickers’ cash in Mexico. American agents transport the cash on government flights to the United States, where it is deposited into traffickers’ accounts, and then wired to companies that provide goods and services to the cartel.

In other cases, D.E.A. agents, posing as launderers, pick up drug proceeds in the United States, deposit them in banks in this country and then wire them to the traffickers in Mexico.

The former officials said that the drug agency tried to seize as much money as it laundered — partly in the fees the operatives charged traffickers for their services and another part in carefully choreographed arrests at pickup points identified by their undercover operatives.

And the former officials said that federal law enforcement agencies had to seek Justice Department approval to launder amounts greater than $10 million in any single operation. But they said that the cap was treated more as a guideline than a rule, and that it had been waived on many occasions to attract the interest of high-value targets.

“They tell you they’re bringing you $250,000, and they bring you a million,” one former agent said of the traffickers. “What’s the agent supposed to do then, tell them no, he can’t do it? They’ll kill him.”

It is not clear whether such operations are worth the risks. So far there are few signs that following the money has disrupted the cartels’ operations, and little evidence that Mexican drug traffickers are feeling any serious financial pain. Last year, the D.E.A. seized about $1 billion in cash and drug assets, while Mexico seized an estimated $26 million in money laundering investigations, a tiny fraction of the estimated $18 billion to $39 billion in drug money that flows between the countries each year.

Mexico has tightened restrictions on large cash purchases and on bank deposits in dollars in the past five years. But a proposed overhaul of the Mexican attorney general’s office has stalled, its architects said, as have proposed laws that would crack down on money laundered through big corporations and retail chains.

“Mexico still thinks the best way to seize dirty money is to arrest a trafficker, then turn him upside down to see how much change falls out of his pockets,” said Sergio Ferragut, a professor at the Autonomous Technological Institute of Mexico and the author of a book on money laundering, which he said was “still a sensitive subject for Mexican authorities.”

Mr. Calderón boasts that his government’s efforts — deploying the military across the country — have fractured many of the country’s powerful cartels and led to the arrests of about two dozen high-level and midlevel traffickers.

But there has been no significant dip in the volume of drugs moving across the country. Reports of human rights violations by police officers and soldiers have soared. And drug-related violence has left more than 40,000 people dead since Mr. Calderón took office in December 2006.

The death toll is greater than in any period since Mexico’s revolution a century ago, and the policy of close cooperation with Washington may not survive.

“We need to concentrate all our efforts on combating violence and crime that affects people, instead of concentrating on the drug issue,” said a former foreign minister, Jorge G. Castañeda, at a conference hosted last month by the Cato Institute in Washington. “It makes absolutely no sense for us to put up 50,000 body bags to stop drugs from entering the United States.””

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Douglas McNabb – McNabb Associates, P.C.’s
Federal Criminal Defense Attorneys Videos:

Federal Crimes – Be Careful

Federal Crimes – Be Proactive

Federal Crimes – Federal Indictment

Federal Crimes – Detention Hearing

————————————————————–

To find additional federal criminal news, please read Federal Crimes Watch Daily.

Douglas McNabb and other members of the U.S. law firm practice and write and/or report extensively on matters involving Federal Criminal Defense, INTERPOL Red Notice Removal, International Extradition and OFAC SDN Sanctions Removal.

The author of this blog is Douglas McNabb. Please feel free to contact him directly at mcnabb@mcnabbassociates.com or at one of the offices listed above.


76 Arrested as Officials Break Up Mexico-to-Arizona Drug-Smuggling Ring

November 1, 2011
Guns and Drugs Seized from Mexican Drug Cartel

The New York Times on October 31, 2011 released the following:

“By MARC LACEY

PHOENIX — Law enforcement officials on Monday announced the breakup of a large drug-smuggling ring that used lookouts on hilltops in southern Arizona to move huge quantities of marijuana and other drugs across the Mexican border to users throughout the United States.

Over the last month and a half, federal, state and local officials have arrested 76 people, from organizational bosses to stash-house guards to those who transported the drugs in backpacks and in vehicles, the authorities said. All were linked to the Sinaloa cartel run by Joaquín Guzmán, Mexico’s richest and most wanted outlaw, who goes by the nickname El Chapo, officials said.

Speaking at a news conference on Monday, Arizona officials estimated that the ring had been in operation for at least five years and had generated more than $2 billion in profits by smuggling more than three million pounds of marijuana, 20,000 pounds of cocaine and 10,000 pounds of heroin into the United States. Such large smuggling rings usually use tractor-trailers to get their contraband across, the authorities said, but this operation relied mostly on migrants on foot straining under their loads.

The authorities acknowledged that the huge smuggling ring operated under their noses, in rugged terrain that is difficult to patrol. The drugs would be carried across the border in relatively small quantities and then transported north to a network of stash houses in the Phoenix area. From there, the contraband would be sold to distributors nationwide.

The route was through the most desolate desert areas of southern Arizona, from Yuma to just east of the border community of Sells, including the sprawling Tohono O’odham Indian reservation. Spotters with radios or cellphones were used to point out the presence of law enforcement and divert loads, the authorities said.

The investigation began in June of last year with a traffic stop in Pinal County of a suspect who later provided details of the operation, said Sheriff Paul Babeu. Sheriff Babeu, who is considering a run for Congress, cited the arrests to buttress his argument that the border remains porous, despite the Obama administration’s insistence that it was more secure than ever. About half of those arrested were illegal immigrants and the other half were American citizens or holders of valid visas, officials said.

While calling the arrests a blow to the smugglers, the authorities were cautious in declaring victory.

“I expect there will be a shift,” said Matthew Allen, special agent in charge of Arizona for Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations. “One investigation is not going to put them out of business. We have to continually adapt.”

Last month, the authorities were reminded of how challenging the drug war had become when they arrested a Homeland Security official stationed at the border, charging him with leading the police on a chase through the desert during which he hurled packages of marijuana from his government vehicle.

Last week, a federal grand jury in Tucson handed up an indictment charging a Border Patrol agent with accepting a bribe to let a truck that he believed was smuggling drugs and migrants past a checkpoint in southern Arizona, federal officials said. When the agent asked the driver if he was a United States citizen, the driver responded “buenos dias” and was waved through, officials said.

Mr. Guzman has made buying off the Mexican authorities his trademark, which has frustrated efforts to capture him from the mountain hamlets where he operates. President Felipe Calderón of Mexico, who has been criticized for not catching the country’s No. 1 drug lord, recently said he suspected that Mr. Guzman may be hiding in the United States. American officials said they had no evidence to back up that claim.”

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