HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Mexican Zetas Extending Violence Into Dallas
Pubdate: Sat, 19 Feb 2005
Source: Dallas Morning News (TX)
Copyright: 2005 The Dallas Morning News
Author: Alfredo Corchado, The Dallas Morning News
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MEXICO CITY - A team of rogue Mexican commandos blamed for dozens of
killings along the U.S.-Mexico border has carried out at least three
drug-related slayings in Dallas, a sign that the group is extending
its deadly operations into U.S. cities, two American law enforcement
officials say. The men are known as the Zetas, former members of the
Mexican army who defected to Mexico's so-called Gulf drug cartel in
the late 1990s, other officials say.

"These guys run like a military," said Arturo A. Fontes, an FBI
special investigator for border violence based in Laredo, in South
Texas. "They have their hands in everything and they have eyes and
ears everywhere. I've seen how they work, and they're good at what
they do. They're an impressive bunch of ruthless criminals."

Dallas and federal officials said that since late 2003 eight to 10
members of the Zetas have been operating in North Texas, maintaining a
"shadowy existence" and sometimes hiring Texas criminal gangs,
including the Mexican Mafia and Texas Syndicate, for contract
killings. The Texas Syndicate is a prison gang that authorities blame
for several murders statewide. The Zetas' activities in North Texas
were described in interviews with two U.S. federal law enforcement
agents, two former Drug Enforcement Administration officials, a former
Dallas undercover narcotics officer and two undercover informants.

"We're aware of the Zetas' threat to U.S. cities, and we consider it a
growing threat," said Johnny Santana, a criminal investigator for the
Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Office of the Inspector General.
"We're conducting investigations into several cases statewide to
establish evidence. We still don't have those links yet, but the
telltale signs are there, and they point to the Zetas."

The Zetas' presence in Dallas represents a sharp departure from
standard practice for Mexican cartels, which traditionally have kept a
low profile on U.S. soil and have sought to avoid confrontations with
U.S. law enforcement. The Zetas, who are accused of carrying out
killings and acting as drug couriers for the cartel, are regarded by
U.S. law enforcement officials as expert assassins who are especially
worrisome because of their elite military training and penchant for
using AR-15 and AK-47 assault rifles. "The Zetas are bold, ruthless
and won't think twice about pulling the trigger on a cop or anyone
else who gets in their way," said the former Dallas narcotics officer,
who asked not to be identified. "And they like to take care of
business themselves or, when forced to, hire their own assassin."

Gil Cerda, a spokesman for the Dallas Police Department narcotics
division, said he had personally not heard of the group and could not
comment. Mexican authorities have downplayed the threat posed by the
Zetas, saying that a major government crackdown has left the group
leaderless and on the run. Jose Luis Santiago Vasconcelos, the
country's deputy attorney general for organized crime, suggested that
many of the crimes attributed to the group may have been committed by
outsiders emulating the group's violent tactics. "There are many Zetas
wannabes," he said.

Still, Fontes of the FBI and other U.S. law enforcement officials said
the former commandos are both a potent threat and are bolder and more
ambitious than their predecessors.

They are extending their reach - and violence - beyond the Nuevo
Laredo-to-Matamoros border area into Dallas, Houston and San Antonio,
where they blend into burgeoning Mexican immigrant communities, state
and federal officials said.

Commandos are cartel's muscle The group may have ventured
as far as Nashville, Tenn., and Atlanta, Ga., the officials said.
"These guys are anything but wannabes," said Fontes. "They're the real
thing, and they're a threat to law enforcement officers on both sides
of the border." Dallas and federal law enforcement officials have
linked murders and drug violence in Dallas during the past 18 months
to cocaine and marijuana trafficking in Laredo and Nuevo Laredo, a
base of operations for the Zetas. Dallas and federal investigators
have blamed at least three Dallas killings on the Zetas, and some
officials said that more than a dozen violent incidents can be
attributed to the group.

Federal and Dallas authorities have blamed the following incidents on the

At 1:20 a.m. on Dec. 5, a gunman stepped out of a red sports car with a
semi-automatic weapon and opened fire on three suspected drug traffickers as
they played pool in the open garage of a home in the 5100 block of Mimi
Court in Oak Cliff. Christian Alejandro Meza, 26, alias Juan Antonio Ortega,
a parolee from Wichita, Kan., who was wanted on weapons charges, died of
multiple wounds to the abdomen. Two other men were severely wounded and are
being held on drug charges.

Law enforcement officials said the men were attacked because they
allegedly worked for a rival drug lord, Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, who
escaped from the maximum-security Puente Grande prison in Jalisco
state in January 2001, hidden in a laundry truck.

Guzman is reputed to be a leader of the Juarez cartel, a rival of the
Zetas' employer, the Gulf cartel, and is wanted in the United States,
said Fontes, the FBI agent.

Dallas police seized 45 kilos of cocaine - said to have been smuggled
from Monterrey, Mexico - with a street value of $2.5 million and about
$300,000 in cash from the Oak Cliff home and one next to it.

"The hit was a message to Chapo Guzman, and the killer is believed to
have been a Zetas member," said the former Dallas narcotics officer.
"The gunman was very meticulous, didn't shoot a lot because he didn't
have to." The case is under investigation, and the gunman remains at
large. On Sept. 28, police found the bodies of Mathew Frank Geisler
and Brandon Gallegos, both 19 and from Laredo, in a burning 1996
Chevrolet Tahoe in a field near the corner of Morrell Avenue and
Sargent Road, in the Cadillac Heights area of Oak Cliff. Both men had
been shot, and the case probably involved drugs, according to police

A federal investigator said that "without a doubt" both incidents were
carried out by the Zetas.

"We're seeing an alarming number of incidents involving the same type
of violence that's become all too common in Mexico, right here in
Dallas," said the former Dallas narcotics officer. "We're seeing
execution-style murders, burned bodies and outright mayhem. It's like
the battles being waged in Mexico for turf have reached Dallas."

The Zetas are in North Texas because the area has become an important
hub of drug activity, law enforcement officials say. An estimated $10
million in drug transactions, including money laundering, takes place
in the area daily, according to the federal and local officials.
Transportation links such as Interstate 35, Dallas/Fort Worth
International Airport and dozens of smaller airports in the region
have contributed to the growth in drug activity, the officials said.

"We're victims of our geography," the former Dallas narcotics officer
said, "and an insatiable appetite for dope and coke."

Concern over the Zetas' activities in Dallas comes at a time of
increased violence along the border and a crackdown on drug cartels by
Mexico that President Vicente Fox has dubbed "the mother of all
battles." In the first seven weeks of this year, about 135 people have
been killed in drug violence in Mexico, mostly in northern states,
including Tamaulipas and Chihuahua - which border Texas -and Sonora
and Sinaloa.

In Nuevo Laredo, in Tamaulipas state, about 300 people have been
reported missing in recent months, including 27 Americans, some of
whom are believed to have been victims of the Zetas-sponsored drug
violence. The Americans included two abducted this week and released
Thursday after a ransom was paid, a U.S. law enforcement official said.

Last month, the U.S. government warned Americans about increasing
violence and crime in Mexican border cities.
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