Pubdate: Wed, 13 Jul 2011 Source: San Diego Union Tribune (CA) Copyright: 2011 Union-Tribune Publishing Co. Contact: http://www.signonsandiego.com/ Details: http://www.mapinc.org/media/386 Authors: Morgan Lee and Janine Zuniga HOW BOY FROM SAN DIEGO BECAME ACCUSED CARTEL HITMAN Edgar Jimenez Lugo's Fall Began a Generation Ago, His Youth Fractured by Crack-Addicted Parents and a Backdrop of Drug Cartel Violence Part one The top of the boy's head barely reaches the shoulders of the men at his side as they exit a military pickup shortly before dawn. He is 14 and small for his age -- a thin figure draped in a sweatshirt with a concert tour logo. He has a fat lip, a swollen eye and abrasions on his neck. Mexican soldiers in bulletproof vests and black masks stand the youth against a brick wall on a dark side street outside the federal prosecutor's office in central Mexico. Cameras flash as someone holds a cellphone to the teen's face. His chest heaves and for a moment he looks as if he will cry. "What is your name?" a voice asks. "Edgar Jimenez Lugo." "Where did they capture you?" "At the airport." "Where were you going?" "San Diego." "At what age did you start killing?" Mexican authorities say this is the boy who last year helped a drug cartel behead and mutilate the bodies of a student, a cook at a university, a gas station attendant and a small-business owner. He goes on trial Monday. On our side of the border, we read about the mayhem inflicted by drug cartels. We watch disturbing footage of what has happened to parts of Mexico, near and far. But it often feels as though those problems have little to do with us. How could a middle-school-aged boy, born in San Diego, be mixed up in that world? In some ways, Edgar's story is what you might expect. He is a drug user and a dropout. His parents have criminal records. He was born with cocaine in his system -- touched in a sense by drug traffickers before he left the womb. Look even harder and his life becomes more difficult to comprehend. Four decades ago, Edgar's grandparents led a proud, working-class family and built homes for their children on the fast-growing outskirts of Cuernavaca, a scenic state capital and vacation getaway in central Mexico. Their journey -- from upright and otherwise unremarkable beginnings, through the grips of addiction and onto the front lines of a war against drug cartels -- takes us from the central neighborhoods of San Diego to a once-bucolic Mexican town now upended by violence. Their fates unveil, within a single family, so many of the factors that fuel the drug war -- the social toll of addiction, the effects of spiraling demand in the United States, the breakdown of law and order in Mexico, and the lure of power and money wielded by the cartels. Family background Edgar's paternal grandfather left the urban edges of Mexico City in the mid-1960s to take a job as a supervisor on a Nissan assembly line. David Jimenez Cuellar's workplace was part of a new industrial park carved out of farmland southeast of Cuernavaca. His wife, Carmen Solis Gil, stayed home to raise four boys and two girls and later worked for the family's businesses. Carmen had a household motto: "Leather sandals for all." For her, it meant providing enough for everyone -- including four abandoned children the family took in over the years. In the 1970s, when Nissan laid off workers, David used his savings and severance pay to buy a cantina in Tejalpa, a fast-growing village near the popular weekend destination of Cuernavaca. Everyone, including the older children, pitched in -- cleaning, preparing snacks, running the cash register. "My mom used to say, 'Why pay for waiters when there are all these kids?'" said daughter Teresa Jimenez Solis. "All that taught us to be good, hard-working children." The cantina proved to be a shrewd investment and was followed by the launch of a string of small family shops. David and Carmen bought land in Tejalpa, built a home and tacked on additions as their six children married and began having their own children. By the late 1970s, one of their sons left the family business and set out for the United States. Jesus Jimenez Solis longed to escape small town life and see if he could prosper on his own. He also wanted to get away from the routine government and police corruption that his parents put up with to stay in business -- like having to pay off cops with free drinks at their cantina. Jesus crossed the border illegally and found work as an auto mechanic and later a construction foreman. Several years later, the family's youngest son, David Antonio Jimenez Solis, followed his brother's example and moved to California. In coming to America, David's wanderlust collided with something unfamiliar to his traditional upbringing: a ready supply of cheap, illegal drugs. Immigration surge David was part of a tide of undocumented migrants in the 1980s streaming through a patchwork of fences and open backcountry at the border with San Diego. Hundreds of immigrants surged northward at nightfall from Tijuana, overwhelming U.S. Border Patrol agents. They turned up in residents' backyards and living rooms, asking for food and a ride. David arrived in San Bernardino County, thanks to his brother Jesus, who paid off his $800 fee to a smuggler. Jesus set David up with a car and job after job -- only to watch him get fired for not showing up or doing personal errands on company time. "You have no idea how much I helped my brother, the things that I gave him, the things he took that I didn't give him," Jesus said. The lives of the two brothers eventually diverged. Jesus went on to raise a family and buy a two-story home in Fontana. He became a U.S. citizen. David sent for his hometown sweetheart, Yolanda Lugo Jimenez, and their two daughters, and moved them to a mobile home park in Ontario. In spring 1990, another daughter was born. The promise of a landscaping job drew the family south to San Diego, where they had two more children. David worked sporadically. For years, he drank a six-pack of beer a day. He beat Yolanda, his common-law wife, and twice went to jail for abusing her. Shoes and clothing for the family were in short supply, although David and Yolanda received public assistance for their children. "My parents did not have enough for us to eat," said 21-year-old Olivia Jimenez Lugo, the family's third child, who lives near Cuernavaca. "We would rent a house and at the end of the month we would leave for another." The family's case history with county welfare officials suggests years of parental neglect: a 3-year-old's broken leg, lice infestations and excessive absences from school. In interviews this year, David called the descriptions "very exaggerated," though he acknowledged that he and Yolanda were both to blame for how the family's lives turned out. "I think it was all because we lost our heads," he said. "We were immature." Jesus said they were a "bad combination." "You put TNT and you put a match together," he said. Cocaine pipeline During the 1980s, Mexico steadily became the principal thoroughfare for illicit drugs coming into the United States. Pioneering Mexican smugglers became international kingpins as U.S. cocaine use soared. A successful crackdown on Caribbean supply routes pushed smuggling west -- firmly into Mexican territory and along its coasts. Then in 1985, U.S. cooperation with Mexican authorities suffered a major setback with the torture and killing of Drug Enforcement Administration Agent Enrique Camarena by traffickers. Enraged American officials blamed the death on corruption in Mexico. At the time, Mexico's own appetite for illegal drugs was negligible, held in check by social taboos and the reality of limited disposable income under an economy hit by crisis after crisis. A dozen miles north of the border, David and Yolanda moved into San Diego neighborhoods where crack cocaine was readily available for as little as $10 a hit. Longtime residents, community activists and police officers remember the streets lost to drug dealers and violence. Crack was seemingly everywhere -- from San Ysidro, at the world's busiest land border crossing, to La Jolla, an enclave of beachfront mansions and trendy restaurants. "The thing that was so unique about crack cocaine was it didn't discriminate," said Larry Malone, 55, a recovering cocaine addict and a drug counselor in central San Diego. "Grandparents were getting addicted." Mothers bought drugs with food stamps, Malone said. Dealers openly worked street corners, alerting drivers with a confident wave. Users lost their jobs and homes -- and kept on using, some in plain view. Over time, David and Yolanda became crack cocaine users at the Southern California end of a multibillion-dollar smuggling pipeline that stretched from South America. Jesus said he didn't realize his brother and Yolanda were using drugs until the truth became obvious during a late-night visit to their home. "I've never done drugs, but I could tell they were on something," Jesus said. "They were just tweaking." In January 1995, the couple surrendered a baby girl to adoption when she tested positive for cocaine. Home in crisis Their next child -- Edgar -- was born May 6, 1996, in an orange Volkswagen Rabbit during a dash for the hospital. The following day at Paradise Valley Hospital in National City, a social worker broke the news to Edgar's mother through a Spanish interpreter: The boy wouldn't be going home. He, too, tested positive for cocaine and would be placed in foster care. Yolanda showed little emotion. "But she says she understands. She says she will tell her husband but that she doesn't know how he will react," according to the social worker's psychological assessment. When David and Yolanda came home, they had to explain to their other five children, ages 2 to 10, what had happened to the baby. "They told us that there were so many of us already that they had given up Edgar," said the family's oldest child, Myrna Jimenez Lugo, now 25. "I remember my mother was crying and crying." Edgar never saw his mother again. By June, authorities intervened to protect Edgar's brother and four sisters. Social workers appeared at Sherman Elementary School to escort 10-year-old Myrna home, where they gathered her siblings and drove them away. Their mother broke down, but neither parent resisted. Once under the protection of social workers, three of the children tested positive for trace amounts of cocaine, suggesting they had been in close contact with drug users. Edgar's parents squandered chances to regain custody of their children. They abandoned drug treatment and parenting programs -- and were jailed, one after the other, on charges of possessing crack cocaine. Neglect and exposure to drugs before birth may have set Edgar back as a child. He showed difficulties speaking clearly and displayed impulsive and disruptive behavior. The long arm of the drug trade had reached out to Edgar as an infant. A dozen years later it again found Edgar, by then an elementary school dropout in a land besieged by feuding cartels. - --- MAP posted-by: Richard R Smith Jr.