Pubdate: Mon, 6 Apr 2009
Source: Tucson Citizen (AZ)
Copyright: 2009 Tucson Citizen
Author: David L. Teibel, Tucson Citizen

Forge Alliances With Local Dealers


Presence Linked to More Homicides, Home Invasions

Mexican drug cartels are supplying drug-dealing organizations here 
with marijuana and fueling an increase in drug-related violence 
including homicides, kidnappings and home invasions, authorities say.

"There is a tremendous impact on our crime," said Pima County Sheriff 
Clarence W. Dupnik.

According to a federal report, Mexican drug dealers here have forged 
alliances with two cartels known to be operating in Tucson - the 
Federation and the Juarez Cartel.

The cartels distribute some marijuana here and operate Tucson area 
stash houses, Dupnik said.

While the cartels also ship other drugs, marijuana is the most 
common, said Sheriff's Bureau Chief Richard Kastigar.

"Based on our encounters with the smugglers we come across in the 
southern part of the county, the majority of the items smuggled is marijuana.

"But there is human cargo (illegal immigrants), cocaine, heroin and 
to a lesser extent methamphetamine," Kastigar said. "It is 
proportional to the voracious demands of the (marijuana) users in 
North America."

For the most part, cartel members are here to see that cartel drugs 
are shipped on to other markets across the United States, said 
Ritchie Martinez, a supervisory drug intelligence analyst with the 
Arizona High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area.

HIDTA is a federally funded organization that provides drug 
intelligence and analysis to law enforcement agencies.

"Tucson, Pima County, we are the biggest transportation route in the 
area," said Sgt. Helen Ritz, a drug interdiction specialist with the 
multiagency Counter Narcotics Alliance.

While Martinez said cartels mostly ship through Tucson, Dupnik said 
they do sell some marijuana here, fueling competition for the 
profitable drug and fueling violence that goes along with the trade.

And that means an increasing level of crime such as home invasions, 
and kidnappings and homicides because of failure to pay drug debts 
over the cost of lost loads, Dupnik said. Statistics were not available.

Assistant Tucson police Chief Roberto Villasenor said the increase in 
home invasions because of drug trafficking led to the creation last 
April of a special detective detail to investigate them.

 From the time the unit was formed until March 25 there were 173 home 
invasions in the city, 75 percent of which were determined to be drug 
related, Villasenor said.

"Residential robberies (home invasions) were rare five years ago, now 
they're commonplace," Villasenor said.

The residential robberies and other drug violence in the Tucson area 
often is smuggler on smuggler, said David Denlinger, chief of the 
state Department of Public Safety's Criminal Investigations Division.

"I think it is a continuing problem. Drugs continue to come across 
the border in alarming quantities," said Pennie Gillette-Stroud, DPS 
deputy director.

Gillette-Stroud and Denlinger spoke about the area's drug violence 
problem during a news conference Friday at DPS' Tucson headquarters, 
6401 S. Tucson Blvd.

High Costs

Marijuana here wholesales for $350 to $600 a pound, depending on how 
much is being purchased, Ritz said.

Typically a 300-pound marijuana load, at $400 a pound, wholesales 
here for $120,000, Ritz said.

But Ritz said that same load on the East Coast or in a Midwest city 
such as Chicago can wholesale for as much as $1,500 a pound, or about 
$450,000 total.

The profit makes drug smuggling routes busy.

"Every day there are loads being taken off in the hundreds of pounds" 
by law enforcement officers, Ritz said.

Over the past three years federal and local law enforcement agencies 
in Arizona's four border counties have seized at least 3 million 
pounds of marijuana, according to HIDTA.

Of that amount, HIDTA figures show, close to 1.5 million pounds of 
the drug were seized within Pima County.

National Problem

Marijuana is sent to other cities via cars, vans, commercial trucks, 
commercial shipping companies and by U.S. mail, Ritz said.

How many drug trafficking organizations here have associated 
themselves with violent cartels is not outlined in the report issued 
last year by the National Drug Intelligence Center.

Maps included in the Intelligence Center's "situation report" show 
the cartel affiliations of drug trafficking organizations in Tucson.

Threat assessments issued by the Intelligence Center say Mexican drug 
trafficking organizations have moved into 230 U.S. cities and drug 
trafficking organizations in at least 129 of those cities have forged 
ties with one or more of four major Mexican drug cartels.

There are two other major cartels, the Gulf Coast Cartel and the 
Tijuana Cartel, operating in the U.S.  besides the Federation and 
Juarez cartels.

Drug trafficking organizations have formed ties with the Gulf Coast 
Cartel in 17 other states, from Texas to New York, and trafficking 
organizations have formed alliances with the Tijuana Cartel in 10 
other states, mostly in the Midwest and Northeast, the situation 
reports' maps show.

Law enforcement authorities here agree that none of the cartels has 
set up operations with cartel leadership based in the Tucson area and 
cartels are unlikely to launch attacks against U.S. "assets," such as 
state, local or federal officers or buildings, as they have in Mexico.

Dupnik said he expects cartels will not launch violent attacks here 
because of the "deadly" response it would elicit from the U.S.

But drug violence in northern Mexico has skyrocketed, with more than 
6,000 homicides since January 2008.

Villasenor agrees Tucson won't see the same problems.

"The corruption that Mexican law enforcement experiences doesn't 
exist here and that's what the cartels need to operate," Villasenor said.

Dupnik credits Mexico President Felipe Calderon with doing all he can 
to fight the drug cartels, many of which are heavily armed with 
military-style weaponry shipped to them from the United States.

On Wednesday Mexican authorities detained one of the country's most 
wanted drug suspects, Vicente Carrillo Leyva, 32, who allegedly was 
the second in command of the powerful Juarez cartel, the Mexican 
federal Attorney General's Office said.

The Next Step

Meanwhile, as cartel operations develop here, the Obama 
administration said it would send more than 100 federal agents to the 
border as well as high-tech surveillance gear and drug-sniffing dogs 
to keep Mexican drug violence from spilling over into the United 
States and to stop the flow of firearms south into Mexico.

The administration also will send money and equipment to Mexico to 
battle the cartels, including five helicopters for the Mexican Army 
and Air Force and a surveillance aircraft for the Mexican Navy, 
according to a Drug Enforcement Administration announcement.

The aircraft are being supplied under $700 million in funding to 
Mexico approved by Congress as part of the Merida Initiative to help 
combat drug cartels.

Administration efforts also include adding 16 DEA special agents to 
the Southwest border area, as well as 100 personnel from the Bureau 
of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives who will be tasked with 
helping to stem the flow of firearms from the United States to 
Mexico, according to the DEA.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano on Tuesday told the 
Gannett Washington Bureau that now is the time to strike at the cartels.

"We have a unique opportunity now in time because of the priority 
this has taken with the president of Mexico to break up these 
cartels," said Napolitano, a former Arizona governor and federal prosecutor.

The chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs 
Committee, Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., and the panel's top 
Republican, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, introduced legislation 
Tuesday to provide an additional $550 million to fight drug violence 
along the border.

Their budget amendment includes $260 million for Customs and Border 
Protection to hire, equip, train and deploy 1,600 officers and 400 
canine teams to the border to increase the number of inspections of 
vehicles heading south into Mexico.

Inspections would aim to stop cartels from smuggling weapons and drug 
money out of the United States.

The legislation also would provide $130 million to Immigration and 
Customs Enforcement for 350 investigators to target weapons smuggling 
and money laundering.

Dupnik and Villasenor said they do not yet know how much federal 
money or other resources their agencies will get out of the 
administration's border violence initiative.

"No one knows what anyone will get out of this," Villasenor said.



What: Border violence summit hosted by Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz.

When: 4 p.m. Tuesday, open to the public. Closed meeting held before. 
Those at the closed summit will discuss ways to combat the rise in 
border violence caused by Mexican drug cartels, according to a news 
statement from Giffords' office.

Where: Evo A. DeConcini U.S. Courthouse, 405 W. Congress St.

Details: 881-3588. 
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake