Wednesday, April 27, 2016

The Southlake Murder Conspiracy Trial Begins; Day One One victim in Ohio family murders was shot 9 times; police probe possible Mexican drug cartel connection Panic in Acapulco: Two Hours of Shootouts...

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The Southlake Murder Conspiracy Trial Begins; Day One

Posted: 26 Apr 2016 08:21 PM PDT

Posted by DD Republished from Dallas Morning News and material from NBC News


FORT WORTH — The two men on trial in the contract killing of a Mexican drug cartel lawyer in Southlake didn’t pull the trigger, but prosecutors say they were the big game “hunting guides” who told the assassins when to take their shots.
  
That was how Assistant U.S. Attorney Joshua T. Burgess described the role of two cousins who are on trial in the May 2013 slaying of Juan Jesús Guerrero Chapa.

Jesús Gerardo Ledezma-Cepeda, a private investigator and ex-police officer from Mexico, planned the sophisticated tracking of Guerrero, Burgess said during opening statements Tuesday in a federal courtroom.
  



His son, Jesús Gerardo Ledezma-Campano Jr., has pleaded guilty to helping his father and will testify for the government.



The father's cousin, José Luis Cepeda-Cortes, is accused of helping them by performing public records searches to find the victim at his house in Southlake. He also helped with the spy cameras, authorities said.

‘Big game hunting’

Ledezma-Cepeda and Cepeda-Cortes are both on trial.

“In the world of big game hunting, hunters need a guide,” Burgess said. “It’s the role of the guide to lead the hunter … these two defendants played the role of hunting guides.”

But their prey was human, he said.

The hit on Guerrero was ordered by Rodolfo Villarreal Hernandez, a leader of the Beltran Leyva drug cartel who went by “El Gato,” Burgess said.

The motive was revenge for the murder of his father about a decade earlier, for which he held Guerrero responsible, Burgess said.

The two cousins watched Guerrero Chapa from across a small pond at Southlake Town Square as a white SUV pulled up behind his Range Rover.

The gunman, a hood and scarf covering his face, got out and shot the victim as he sat in the passenger seat.

The shooter and getaway driver are fugitives.

Burgess told the jury that the defense will argue that Guerrero Chapa, a Gulf cartel lawyer, was involved in illegal activity.

“No one deserves to be murdered,” he said.

The plot began in June 2011, he said, around the time Guerrero Chapa purchased a $1.2 million home in Southlake under an assumed name.

“The victim was aware that people were looking for him,” Burgess said.

Ledezma-Cepeda was in constant contact with Gato in the days leading up to the murder, Burgess said. Ledezma-Cepeda even kept a GPS tracker on his own vehicle so that Gato would know his whereabouts.

He said his cousin was in charge of “command and control” for the operation, buying air fare, registering the trackers and identifying
the victim’s home.

“Without their involvement, Mr. Chapa would still be alive,” Burgess said.

No intention to kill

Wes Ball, an attorney for Ledezma-Cepeda, said his client was forced by Gato to take the job. His family lived in Monterrey, unprotected, he said.

“This is not a job offer,” Ball said. “This is a different world. Mr. Ledezma does what he is told. He has no choice.”

The cartel knows where he is at all times because of the GPS tracker on his vehicle, Ball said.
But Ball said his client never intended for anyone to be killed.

Robert Rogers, an attorney for Cepeda-Cortes, said his client knew his cousin as a former police officer and decided to help him as any family member would do.

Rogers said his client was used and manipulated by his cousin and knew nothing about a murder plot.

“He is outside the loop,” he said.


DD;   With both sides having presented their opening statements, testimony should get underway tomorrow.   The prosecution is expected to start testimony with expert testimony by a  Blackberry employee to testify about Blackberry's messaging system, which is known for its encryption, and "records related to the use of Blackberry phones."

An employee of Blackline GPS, a company which rents satellite tracking devices, will testify about the electronic gadgets allegedly used by the defendants and placed on Guerrero's car.  A person only identified as a "cooperating witness" will talk about the "language used among drug dealers."

And of course their star witness, Jesús Gerardo Ledezma-Campano Jr., son of defendent  Jesús Gerardo Ledezma-Cepeda, has pleaded guilty to helping his father and will testify for the government.  

The Govt. had asked for 60 hours to present their case, but the judge granted only 35 hours.

 As I said in a previous story, the defenses only strategy is to "convict" the victim., to make him into such a bad guy that the jury will vote on their emotions rather than the facts presented in this case.

The government may try to soften any impact of any evidence the defense may present to vilify the victim, Guerrero Chapa  In a recent filing by the prosecution,  gave notice of intent that it "may" use email and tracking device evidence to show the defendants have been involved in up to 12 other murders..

The  Govt. wants to be prepared to show these defendants were not exactly choir boys who got involved in the Chapa murder by happenstance or circumstance thinking their only job as private detectives  was to locate Chapa without having any knowledge of the planned murder.  

According to U.S. prosecutors, the defendants were involved in the following murders both before and after the Southlake attack:
  • Luis Cortes Ochoa, the former undersecretary of security in the Monterrey suburb of San Pedro Garza. He was gunned down in his pickup on Feb. 24, 2010. Ledezma-Campano and Ledezma-Cepeda had placed a tracking device on his vehicle, prosecutors said.
  • Dionicio Cantu Rendon, he was reported missing on Feb. 3, 2012, and is presumed dead. Ledezma-Cepeda's emails link him to the slaying, prosecutors said. Cantu is not identified further and no other details were mentioned in the court document.
  • Eliseo Martinez Elizondo, who was murdered almost exactly a month before Guerrero. All three suspects followed him using the same tracking device they used to follow Guerrero, prosecutors said. Elizondo also was a U.S. informant and, like Guerrero, was involved with Mexican casinos, according to the Monterrey newspaper Reporte Indigo.
  • Felipe Cantu Lozano, found murdered on Sept. 30, 2013.
  • Juan Cantu Cuellar, killed the same day. Investigators found the victims' names in Ledezma-Cepeda's emails. The content of the emails was not disclosed and no other details of the murders were released.
  • Hector Javier Alvarez Reyna, 47, was gunned down in Monterrey the following month. He was killed near his mother's business where he worked. According to Mexican news reports, Alvarez was an ex-con who had served time for drug-related crimes. Prosecutors reported finding Alvarez's name in Ledezma-Cepeda's emails.
  • Rolando Caballero Diaz. The Ledezmas tracked him in August 2014 and he was "subsequently kidnapped and presumed dead," prosecutors say.
  • Artemio Gonzales-Wong, a top police official in the Monterrey suburb of Guadalupe, and three others. The four were gunned down in a vehicle while driving down a Monterrey street on Oct. 27, 2014. The leader of a political organization, Humberto Reyes Martinez, was gravely wounded in the attack and died nine months later.
  • Moises Tijerina de la Garza, Guerrero's brother-in-law and former municipal treasurer in a Monterrey suburb. On Feb. 23, 2016, he was shot six times with a 9-millimeter pistol when he walked out of a Monterrey bakery, according to Mexican news reports. His name also was found in the men's previous emails, prosecutors said.
At the time of their arrests in September 2014, Ledezma-Cepeda and Ledezma-Campano were still searching for two other men, including Guerrero's brother, Armando Guerrero-Chapa, according to the court document.

According to prosecutors, the father and son Ledezmas continued participating in other cartel activities in the U.S. in the months after Guerrero's murder, helping an accused drug dealer named Casimiro Bautista flee. An indictment in October 2013 accused Bautista of running a large-scale marijuana smuggling operation.

The Ledezmas picked him up near the U.S.-Mexico border "at the time of his flight," prosecutors say.

Bautista was rearrested and in January agreed to a plea agreement, admitting he had transported more than 1,000 kilograms of marijuana from Mexico, through the Rio Grande Valley, and to regional distributors in Tennessee and Florida in hidden compartments in semi-trucks and campers.

Bautista, also known as "Vecino" or "Sasquatch," agreed to forfeit $1.5 million. He has not yet been sentenced.

DEFENSE TO ASK ABOUT VICTIM'S "ILLEGAL ACTIVITIES" WHILE U.S. INFORMANT 

Attorneys for one defendant, Cepeda-Cortes, filed a list of potential witnesses 57 names long. They include 19 FBI agents, 11 DEA agents and assorted other investigators and experts.

The defendant's attorney said the witnesses would testify about the information Guerrero provided to federal agents about Mexican drug cartels that led to the U.S. seizure of cartels' "assets."

The attorney said the information "ultimately resulted in the kidnapping and release of [Guerrero's] family based on the agreement that those organizations would no longer be targeted by [Guerrero]."

It did not specify when the kidnapping happened or whether it occurred in Southlake or somewhere else.

The attorneys also said their witnesses "will testify regarding the investigation into the illegal activities of [Guerrero] while [Guerrero]was a [U.S.] informant" and "the means used specifically by his drug operation to avoid interference from law enforcement."

Government Motion to Use Evidence




One victim in Ohio family murders was shot 9 times; police probe possible Mexican drug cartel connection

Posted: 26 Apr 2016 06:08 PM PDT

All but one of the eight family members slain on isolated Ohio farms last week died from multiple gunshot wounds, and one victim was shot nine times, according to autopsy results released Tuesday.

The gruesome findings emerged as investigators reportedly examined a potential Mexican drug cartel connection for the executions on properties used for marijuana growing operations.

Local station 10TV, citing anonymous law enforcement sources, said authorities are examining whether a cartel turf war or family feud sparked the slaughter of eight members of the Rhoden family.

The victims — seven adults and a 16-year-old — had gunshot wounds to their heads, torsos and other parts of their bodies, according to autopsy results. With one exception, each victim suffered at least two gunshot wounds, and one was shot nine times. Some bodies also were bruised from apparent beatings.


The autopsy results did not identify any of the victims.

Police have not made any arrests or identified any suspects for the massacre, which authorities called “pre-planned executions.”

Mounting evidence shows a massive drug ring, and possibly other illegal activities, operating out of the family’s isolated farms near Piketon.

Three of the four crimes scenes held several hundred marijuana plants, prosecutors said.

"It wasn't just somebody sitting pots in the window," Pike County Prosecutor Rob Junk told the Columbus Dispatch.

(L-R) Christopher Rhoden Jr., Christopher Rhoden Sr., Dana Rhoden, Kenneth Rhoden, Gary Rhoden, Hanna May Rhoden, Frankie Rhoden and Hannah Hazel Gilley were victims of the April 22nd shooting.

Authorities also said there was evidence of cockfighting found on the farms, though it’s unclear if that has any connection to the killings.

The eight victims were Christopher Rhoden Sr., 40; Christopher Rhoden Jr., 16; Gary Rhoden, 38; Kenneth Rhoden, 44; Dana Rhoden, 37; Clarence Rhoden, 20; Hannah Gilley, 20; and Hanna Rhoden, 19.

Two children, and an infant sleeping with one victim, were unharmed and are now under the care of extended family member.

In 2012, authorities seized more than 1,200 marijuana plants, with suspected ties to a Mexican drug cartel, in Waverly, a town about five miles away from the Rhoden farms.

Source Daily News

Panic in Acapulco: Two Hours of Shootouts

Posted: 25 Apr 2016 08:47 PM PDT


Mexican soldiers secure a tourist area after gunmen attacked a hotel where federal police stay in Acapulco on April 24, 2016
(Pedro Pardo / AFP/Getty Images)


By: Ezequiel Flores Contreras | Translated by Valor for Borderland Beat

At least two armed attacks were reported on Sunday night in a similar manner against a hotel where federal agents stay and towards the offices of the federal police (PF).  They unleashed a wave of shootouts in different parts of the port of Acapulco that caused panic and terror amongst citizens.

The shootouts lasted for more than two hours along the main tourist route, along Avenida Costera Miguel Alemán (Coastal Avenue Miguel Alemán), where dozens of people were trapped in shopping centers, stores, and restaurants.

However, the federal police, through its official Twitter account, downplayed the events when they informed at 23:10 hours: “In #Acapulco an incident left an alleged suspect dead.  Situation under control and without danger to citizens”.

Nevertheless, official reports indicate that around 21:53 hours, an armed attack occurred against Hotel Alba Suites, located in the division Las Playas in the traditional area of the port where the federal police is staying.

Then, the uniformed repelled the attack, taking down an alleged suspect and beginning a chase that lasted throughout several streets.

In a similar manner, another armed group attacked the offices of the federal police base located in a building marked with the numbers 125 along the coastal avenue in the golden area of Acapulco.

In both attacks, only one agent was reported with minor injuries and one alleged suspect dead, official reports indicate.

 The shootouts generated by the persecution against the gunmen were reported along the coast which closed traffic at various points, in neighborhoods such as Bocamar, La Laja and Progreso, all located in the heart of the urban area of Acapulco.

The attacks against the federal police and the shootouts registered last night, occur after the arrest of the alleged leader of a faction of the Cártel Independiente de Acapulco (CIDA) (Independent Cartel of Acapulco), Fredy Del Valle Berdel, aka “El Burro”, who was captured Saturday in Los Cabos, Baja California Sur.


So far, no state and municipal authorities have set a position on this events that show the failure of the security strategy to try to reverse the effects of drug violence in the main tourist destination of the state.

In contrast, the PRI governor Héctor Astudillo, who had first asked reporters to take a pact of silence in regards to drug violence, and then stated that the closing of shops in Acapulco is due to them providing bad service, announced that he would be present this morning at the Tianguis Turístico Internacional (International Tourism Expo) that was held at Guadalajara, Jalisco.


Source: Proceso

ISIS foreigners down by 90%; New US-China flashpoint; Fighter pilot tapped to lead USAF; What’s wrong with Obama’s NSC; How US troops got hooked on Rip It; and a bit more...

The D Brief
April 27, 2016   
 
 

The number of foreigners fighting with the Islamic State has declined by 90 percent, Air Force Maj. Gen. Peter Gersten, deputy commander for operations and intelligence in the U.S.-led coalition against ISIS, said Tuesday. Attacks on ISIS finances—with damages to oil infrastructure and cash storage sites estimated to run as high as $800 million—and strikes on the group's personnel have reduced the number of foreign fighters joining ISIS from 1,500 to 2,000 per month a year ago to 200 per month today, Gersten said.

"We're actually seeing an increase in now the desertion rates in these fighters," he said. "We're seeing a fracture in their morale. We're seeing their inability to pay. We're watching them try to leave Daesh."

Gersten's "statement was reinforced by newly obtained internal ISIS documents," some of which are dated as recently as last month. "The cache shows the group struggling for funds—some of which are used to pay for sex slaves—and calling on fighters to use less electricity and stop driving official cars for personal use," CNN adds. "The fighters, meanwhile, seem to be suffering low morale, in some case seeking doctors' notes to avoid serving on the frontlines." Not that experts experts envision a widespread revolt against the group. Read the rest, here.

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The U.S. military is using an Israeli tactic to reduce civilian casualties in its airstrikes against ISIS, but it's not always working as planned, Gersten said. It's called "roof knocking": air-bursting a missile above a compound "to give residents time to flee before the real strike," Reuters reported. "The Israeli military used such 'roof knocks' in the 2014 Gaza war, but a United Nations commission found in 2015 that the tactic was not effective, because it often caused confusion and did not give residents enough time to escape." On April 5 near Mosul, the U.S. detonated a Hellfire over a compound believed to house as much as $150 million in cash to avoid killing a woman, "who initially did leave the targeted building—but then ran back inside [and] was killed," Gersten said.

The general said it was "very difficult for us to watch and it was within the final seconds of the actual impact."

 

Iraqi security forces are pressing on toward Mosul from the southeast, recapturing a village near Makhmour behind "heavy" coalition airstrikes, Voice of America reports this morning from Irbil. Also, more than a dozen Iraqi Kurds, "including nine children, two men and two women," were able to escape Mosul and reach Peshmerga troops nearby, Kurdish officials said this morning.

In Syria, ISIS has taken another "five villages from Syrian rebels close to the Turkish border Wednesday, further weakening the rebels' foothold in the Aleppo area," in Aleppo governorate's Azaz district, where more than 100,000 people are believed to be trapped between warring factions, the Associated Press reports. "Those in Azaz are now squeezed between IS to the east and the SDF to the west and south, while Turkey tightly restricts the flow of goods and people through the border." More here.

Meanwhile, Russia says the next round of Syrian peace talks will begin May 10. The UN, however, says not so much.

 

A new U.S.-China flashpoint in Scarborough Shoal. The U.S. military "observed Chinese ships conducting survey work around a clump of rocks, sandbars and coral reefs known as the Scarborough Shoal…possibly in response to a ruling on its territorial claims by an arbitration panel in The Hague, expected this summer," The Wall Street Journal reports.

In response, "the U.S. flew three different air patrols near Scarborough in recent days, including on April 19 and 21, according to U.S. defense officials...Beijing on Monday condemned the U.S. flights, saying the shoal, which it calls Huangyan Island, is China's 'inherent territory.'"

The underlying tension: "Any such work would come close to a red line for the U.S. and the Philippines, given the proximity to the country and to Philippine military bases where U.S. forces were redeployed this month," the WSJ writes. "Washington and its allies also would consider it a major escalation. Beijing seized control of the shoal from Manila in 2012, whereas the artificial islands in the Spratlys were built on rocks and reefs already controlled by China."

Now the U.S. and its allies are mulling "stronger actions," which could include "a buildup of military assets in the area, or taking a more overt position on the legal status of land features in the South China Sea. Another option is to rescind China's invitation to the U.S.-led Rim of the Pacific, or Rimpac, joint naval drills in Hawaii in the summer. Disinviting China from the exercise, some U.S. officials and others believe, would amount to a public shaming that would resonate in Beijing." For a look into possible Chinese reactions, read on here.

 
 
 
 
D  From Defense One

What's wrong with Obama's National Security Council? An insider sorts the solid critiques from the amnesiac complaints. Derek Chollet, who served as a member of the 2008 NSC transition team and held positions at the State Department, Pentagon, and White House, writes, "Is Obama's NSC perfect? No. But critics should complain with a little historical humility." Read on, here.

Welcome to the Wednesday edition of The D Brief, by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. On this day in 1805, U.S. Marines (and Berber mercenaries) launch an attack on the shores of Tripoli. Send your friends this link: http://get.defenseone.com/d-brief/. And let us know your news: the-d-brief@defenseone.com.

 
 

Taliban-turned-ISIS fighters in eastern Afghanistan are now fleeing their new group's brutal tactics, CNN reports after chatting with two defectors in Jalalabad. "The two men are part of a program [run by Afghan intelligence service NDS] called the Popular Uprising Program, intended to harness local militants to fight ISIS. While the program has seen success in many areas, Zaitoun and Arabistan say their village, in Nangahar province, has not benefited, as they have not got adequate protection or financing from the government. In fact, they say, most of the fight against ISIS is now being done by American drones." More here.

Russia wants to help in Afghanistan peace talks with the Taliban—but not the peace talks you're thinking of, Russian envoy on Afganistan Zamir Kabulov this morning. According to Reuters' account of Kabulov's remarks: "Russia considers inefficient the current format of the talks, sponsored by the four-power group of Pakistan, Afghanistan, the United States and China, and does not plan to join in, although Moscow is ready to create a new format." That, here.

To the north in Kunduz, "Afghan army commandos have carried out at least 10 operations against [the Taliban] around the city since mid-March, and more are planned" as "part of a new strategy to go after the enemy rather than wait for militants to strike first," Reuters reports on location. But the same concerns about the durability of new clearance operations continue to plague Kabul's security forces, not just in and around Kunduz.

In the southwestern Taliban stronghold of Helmand, fighting has closed nearly 130 schools as insurgents move in, turning some into checkpoints and supply depots, Afghanistan's Pajhwok News reported.

Obama's nomination to lead the U.S. Air Force is a "decorated fighter pilot who was once shot down" over Serbia, the Washington Post reported Tuesday of Gen. David L. Goldfein. "The move continues a swift ascent for Goldfein, who was promoted to four-star general and became the Air Force's No. 2 officer in August. He previously served from August 2013 to August 2015 as director of the Joint Staff and from August 2011 to August 2013 as commander of Air Forces Central Command, which oversees operations in the Middle East." Much more on Goldfein and the harrowing "night a surface-to-air missile exploded near his fighter jet over Belgrade," here.

Speaking of pilots, here's some pretty cool footage of an F-22 flying at low altitude through the UK's famous "Mach loop."

Some of America's four-star generals may be on the chopping block. Military Times reports on the proposal "in the House Armed Services Committee draft of the annual defense authorization bill, unveiled Monday." Just one of many personnel reforms being pitched, the measure "includes a requirement to dump at least five of the 38 four-star posts across the armed services in coming years—the Coast Guard commandant would not be included in the list—and ensure that subordinate commanders within combatant commands serve at a grade no higher than three stars."

For what it's worth: "The move appears specifically aimed at situations like the Defense Department's Pacific Command," Shane writes, "which in addition Adm. Harry Harris Jr., the unified command's leader, boasts three other four-star officers who fill service-specific posts." More here.

Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain wants to see that price tag for the Air Force's new bomberBloomberg reports. "Taxpayers have the right to know what a weapons system they are acquiring with their dollars is going to cost," McCain said in response to the USAF's decision to withhold the dollar figure on the grounds that releasing it would empower America's enemies—a charge McCain called "unbelievable." Get your incredulity fix, here.

Before we leave the Hill, here are 12 amendments to watch out for in this year's defense authorization fight, from Heritage's Justin Johnson.

Trump stumps with policy dump. The Donald, whose campaign is working hard to get their man to look a bit more presidential, will deliver a speech tonight at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C. "It's going to be some of my views on foreign policy and defense and lots of other things, and part of it is economics," he told reporters last night.

Lastly today: Read up on the short history of the U.S. military's quiet love affair with an energy drink your extended family has probably never heard of: Rip It. Any deployed Joe knows the stuff and probably has a favorite flavor (one of your D Brief-ers favored Orange while in Kandahar, since Grape had a way of mysteriously rarely making it into the chow hall). Said one soldier: "It's paramount to survival, not only for yourself, but for your peers." That bit of fringe military history, here.

Monday, April 25, 2016

A video posted to the YouTube channel WarLeaks on April 22 shows Colombian special forces conducting a raid in Chocó, Colombia, which led to the capture of the wanted narco gang leader Édgar Gutierrez Arenas...

Borderland Beat

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After decades at ‘supermax,’ Mexican cartel capo gets transfer

Posted: 24 Apr 2016 08:26 PM PDT

Serving life in prison just got a little easier for Gulf Cartel godfather Juan Garcia Abrego.

After nearly 20 years in the so-called federal “supermax,” where some of the nation’s most notorious inmates are kept, Garcia Abrego was recently transferred to a high-security penitentiary, according to federal records.

“It is like dying and going to heaven,” said Jack T. Donson, a consultant who retired from U.S. Bureau of Prisons. “It is definitely a positive thing” for an inmate.

Garcia Abrego, 71, who was the first cartel leader to make the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list, was convicted in 1996 by a federal jury in Houston.

U.S. District Judge Ewing Werlein Jr. gave him 11 life sentences in 1997 and fined him $128 million.

The high-security penitentiary is housed on the same sprawling complex in Colorado as the supermax but affords privileges and a new lifestyle that the supermax does not, according to a Bureau of Prisons handbook for inmates.

The former drug boss, who a generation ago took his cartel to the top of Mexico’s underworld, will now be able to interact with other prisoners.


He faces the possibility of a bunk bed and a cell mate, instead of what amounted to solitary confinement.

He will also be able to walk around the prison without wearing shackles and without having a guard escort, to mix with the prison’s general population, and to have access to places such as a chapel and gymnasium.



Meals will be taken at a dining hall rather than a cell.


Until the transfer, the capo once known for wearing baseball caps and Rolex watches did all his time in the prison nicknamed “supermax” for its tough security. It is home to the Unabomber Theodore Kaczynski, Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and former FBI agent Robert Hanssen, who was convicted of espionage.

Garcia Abrego’s Texas lawyers and the Bureau of Prisons declined to comment on the transfer.

The adjustment after so many years alone can be intense for an inmate, but Garcia Abrego should do fine, Donson said.


“This is a criminal subculture,” said Donson, who worked in the federal prison system for 23 years. “He is a high-level cartel guy; he will gravitate to whatever gang has a previously established relationship with his cartel, and my guess is he’ll be a rock star.”

Unlike many of today’s captured drug cartel leaders, Garcia Abrego was bound by old-school codes and did not pursue any deals at the time of his arrest that would have brought him leniency in exchange for sharing his secrets.

Source San Antonio Express News

Deadly deal: Osio Cardenas' Plea Deal Cuased Zeta/CDG Split and Years of Bloodshed Reaching All The Way to Southlake

Posted: 24 Apr 2016 09:01 PM PDT

Posted by DD  Republished from Dallas Morning News

By Alfredo Corchado and Kevin Krause


A plea agreement between a Mexican drug kingpin and the U.S. government helped generate a violent split between two drug cartels that led to the deaths of thousands of people in Mexico and along the Texas border, a Dallas Morning News investigation has found.

The News’ investigation of the deal between Gulf cartel leader Osiel Cárdenas Guillén and the U.S. is based on hundreds of confidential government records, interviews with U.S. and Mexico law enforcement officials, confidential informants and former members of the Gulf cartel and the Zetas, its former enforcement and paramilitary arm.   It provides a rare view of the strategy and tactics used in the drug war on both sides of the border, as well as the operations and shifting dynamics within cartels.
  
In July 2009, Cárdenas agreed to plead guilty in federal court to drug dealing, money launderingand attempted murder of U.S. agents. As part of the deal, which was sealed at the time, he promised to turn over $50 million. He received a relatively light prison sentence of 25 years in early 2010.

Details of the forfeiture have not been reported until now. The News’ key findings:

 




**A longtime attorney and confidant of Cárdenas oversaw the collection and transfer of assets. Juan Jesús Guerrero Chapa also provided a wealth of intelligence to the U.S. government on behalf of Cárdenas over several years while allegedly continuing his involvement in the drug trade. Guerrero Chapa was tracked down and murdered in 2013 by a masked gunman as he shopped with his wife in the quiet Dallas suburb of Southlake, where he owned a home.

**A trial for two of three men allegedly involved in his killing is set for April 25. A defense attorney for one of the defendants claimed in court papers filed recently that Guerrero Chapa was the “de facto head” of the Gulf cartel who continued his “association with criminal enterprises” until his death.
The forfeited $50 million involved not only cash, but also ranches and aircraft. Much of the cash was extracted from underground bunkers in Mexico and carried across the border in the trunk of a car in 2008 and 2009.

** The Zetas thought that the transfers would win Cárdenas an early release. Cárdenas had created the Zetas from former members of an elite unit of the Mexican military. Tensions had escalated between the Gulf cartel and the Zetas after Cárdenas’ arrest, and the Zetas had developed into a full-fledged cartel by the time of his sentencing. When the group discovered that he had been providing intelligence to the U.S., they declared war against the Gulf cartel over the betrayal.


The war triggered an explosion of drug-related violence in parts of Mexico and along the Texas border, according to U.S. officials with knowledge of the deal.

“The Zetas split is really the first of a series of schisms and fractures in the major cartels’ organizations that leads to the incredibly prolific violence that we see from 2008 to 2011,” said David Shirk, principal investigator at the University of San Diego’s Justice in Mexico Project. “It’s really the beginning of the cartel wars. … The last decade has been Mexico’s Vietnam, only it’s happening at home, right down the street, rather than televised from across an ocean.”

Through a spokesman, the U.S. Department of Justice declined to answer several emailed questions from The News regarding the deal and Guerrero Chapa’s involvement. The U.S. attorneys in Dallas and Houston also declined.

Estimates of the number of people killed in drug violence nationwide range from 80,000, according to the Justice in Mexico Project, to 150,000, according to the Brookings Institution, during the 2006-12 administration of Mexican President Felipe Calderón. The Mexican government has also reported that more than 26,000 people disappeared, but some independent estimates are much higher. Some of the worst violence was along the Texas border.


Innocents were regularly caught in the spreading chaos:




**In August 2010, 72 people, mostly Central American immigrants, were abducted from a bus and massacred in Tamaulipas state.
 
 **More than 300 residents in Coahuila state disappeared in early 2011, an incident blamed on the Zetas.
 
**A casino fire set by the Zetas killed 52 people, including women and elderly, in Monterrey in August 2011.

U.S. law enforcement officials are deeply divided about their role in the Cárdenas case. On the one hand, some say, the plea deal provided a vast amount of intelligence, which weakened both the Gulf cartel and the Zetas. Others express regret about the unintended effect that U.S. intervention had on ordinary Mexicans.

“We all thought we were doing the right thing, but truth is we didn’t fully anticipate the violence, and that’s on us,” said a federal agent who was not authorized to speak publicly. “We didn’t understand the dynamics on the ground ... and many people died, including innocents.”

The dead included U.S. federal agent Jaime Zapata, who was ambushed by the Zetas a year after the Cárdenas plea deal. While he and his partner, Víctor Avila, were on a covert mission in central Mexico, their armored SUV with diplomatic plates was forced off the road. Zapata, shot six times, bled to death. Avila was shot twice but survived.

Four defendants have pleaded guilty to charges of murder and attempted murder and are awaiting sentencing.

Avila and his lawyer believe that because they pleaded guilty and are possibly cooperating with the U.S., they will likely not face the maximum prison sentence.

“It is disgusting,” said Avila, who retired in 2015 after 16 years as a federal agent. “You don’t cut deals with murderers, especially with those who threatened or in this case killed a U.S. federal agent.”
Avila acknowledges the value of plea agreements, but hasn’t come to terms with their price.

“There was some positive impact in the sense that some Zetas are in jail, others killed,” Avila said. “The organizations have been disrupted or half-disrupted, the violence appears to have fallen, but at what price? So many innocents killed, and at the price of a U.S. federal agent’s life?”
Former U.S. agent Victor Avila recalls encounter with Zetas gunmen who killed his partner

 
Video: Angela Kocherga

The imprisoned kingpin

Cárdenas’ path to brutal drug kingpin had humble beginnings. A onetime car mechanic and policeman, he rose through the ranks of the Gulf cartel by helping the organization’s boss, Juan García Ábrego. After García Ábrego was arrested in 1996, Cárdenas eventually took control of the cartel. His ascent to power included killing a friend, which earned him the nickname “El Mata Amigos” or The Friend Killer.

In May 1999, Cárdenas threatened to kill a Cameron County sheriff’s deputy working undercover. That same year, a Drug Enforcement Administration agent and an FBI agent who crossed into Mexico to talk to an informant were threatened at gunpoint by Cárdenas and his gang.

Cárdenas wanted them to hand over the informant. They reminded Cárdenas that the last time a U.S agent was killed in Mexico — DEA agent Enrique Camarena in 1985 — the U.S. government pursued the case until most of those involved were arrested or killed. Cárdenas relented but warned the agents not to return.

After the standoff, he hid at Guerrero Chapa’s private ranch in Nuevo León, according to a former top Cárdenas lieutenant. But the U.S. pressure was relentless.

In 2003, Cárdenas was arrested by the Mexican military in Matamoros, his hometown. At the time, the U.S. government considered Cárdenas one of the most notorious and violent drug traffickers in the world. His criminal organization was responsible for what U.S. agents have called bloodbaths along the Mexican border in which thousands were killed.

From a Mexican prison, Cárdenas ran his drug empire largely through Guerrero Chapa. He also provided limited operational secrets to the U.S. government about Gulf cartel members and rival cartel figures. The scope of those secrets would widen.

In 2007, just weeks after Calderón was sworn into office as president, Cárdenas was extradited to the United States, a move hailed as a sign of exemplary binational cooperation.

Osiel Cárdenas Guillén, head of the Gulf cartel, was extradited to the U.S. in 2007. He considered fighting drug and conspiracy charges, but his attorneys advised him to cooperate — and he did, agreeing to turn over $50 million and giving agents the names of numerous smugglers. (Office of the Attorney General of Mexico)
Initially, Cárdenas considered fighting the U.S. drug and conspiracy charges, according to two former associates. But his legal team reminded him that the last Mexican capo to do so, his predecessor, García Ábrego, lost the court battle and was imprisoned for 11 consecutive life terms and forced to turn over millions in illegal proceeds. The best strategy was to cooperate, they counseled.

Two of the four Cárdenas attorneys, Roberto J. Yzaguirre and Chip Lewis, declined to comment for this story. The other two, Crispin Quintanilla and Michael Ramsey, did not return calls seeking comment.

Once in U.S. custody, Cárdenas began cooperating more freely with U.S. agents, a senior U.S. official said. He gave up operational details, including the names of smugglers who oversaw the movement of drugs from Colombia to Mexico and into South Texas, Houston, Dallas and Atlanta.


An informant’s value

Guerrero Chapa hailed from the town of China in Nuevo León, but little is known about his early life. He came to the attention of U.S. agents around 2000, according to federal investigative documents obtained by The News.

By 2001, U.S. intelligence reports described Guerrero Chapa as a “key individual” in the Gulf cartel and cited an informant who speculated that his recent trips to Mexico City were to bribe government officials there. The reports refer to Guerrero Chapa as being “intimately involved in drug trafficking with the Gulf cartel.”

The earliest mention of Guerrero Chapa as an apparent U.S. informant — in the documents obtained by The News — was in 2008, the year after his boss was extradited to the U.S.



It’s unlikely that Guerrero Chapa became a snitch behind Cárdenas’ back, the former Gulf cartel lieutenant said. Rather, cooperating with U.S. authorities was likely part of Cárdenas’ strategy to plant a trusted ally inside to gain the latest intelligence.

Since 2008, U.S. policy had revolved around the Mérida Initiative, a $2.3 billion plan created under the George W. Bush administration. Its purpose was to help Mexico confront threats to its national security, in part through promoting judicial reform and providing military equipment and intelligence support.


An army of Mexican informants emerged, with secret access to some of that country’s most powerful and dangerous criminal organizations.

Few were as valuable as Guerrero Chapa, an influential deal maker who had contacts within the Gulf cartel as well as the Mexican military and media.

“Guerrero Chapa is one of the most key individuals in the Gulf Drug Cartel who has contact with the highest-level of drug traffickers in Mexico,” according to a 2001 confidential government document obtained by The News.

Documents obtained by The News show that Guerrero Chapa:


**Aided the Mexican military with plans to capture cartel figures.


**Helped negotiate hostage releases and truces between rival cartels.
 
**Mediated disputes among gangsters, including “cocaine payment issues” and a fight over more than 500 acres of beachfront property in Tampico.

Guerrero Chapa also proved valuable intelligence to U.S. authorities seeking to infiltrate Mexico’s most powerful cartel. He gave up the whereabouts of certain cartel figures. He provided names of corrupt Mexican politicians as well as names, phone numbers and assets of various cartel lieutenants.

After Cárdenas made his plea deal with the U.S. government, Guerrero Chapa was tasked with his biggest job. At the direction of his U.S. handlers and Cárdenas, he set to out collect millions from the Zetas and the Gulf cartel in 2008 and 2009, according to federal government documents.



Documents show that Guerrero Chapa repeatedly leaned on high-ranking Zetas and Gulf cartel members to contribute money for the forfeiture. Some of the funds came from Cárdenas’ private stash.

While in power, Cárdenas had feared that the U.S. government could take his money, so he mostly avoided U.S. banks, stashing the money beneath private homes and at ranches.

Guerrero Chapa gathered the money for the transfers from at least nine underground bunkers at homes in Tamaulipas and Nuevo León.


Many of the cash exchanges occurred near the International Bridge that connects Reynosa to McAllen. Guerrero Chapa would drive north to the Mexican border town, his car loaded with suitcases stuffed with cash. U.S. law enforcement agents would take the money, sometimes barely checking it, and quickly return to the U.S., according to people familiar with the transactions.

Many of the cash exchanges for the Osiel Cárdenas Guillén forfeiture occurred near the International Bridge that spans the Rio Grande and connects McAllen (at bottom) to Reynosa (at top). Juan Jesús Guerrero Chapa, the Gulf cartel lawyer, handed over suitcases of money to U.S. law enforcement agents. (Nathan Lambrecht/Special Contributor)

Ranches and aircraft also were sold to raise money for the U.S. forfeiture, documents show.
Guerrero Chapa coordinated the surrender of three Bell helicopters and one Cessna airplane to U.S. authorities, according to DEA documents. The aircraft were flown to Canada and stored in a hangar north of Vancouver, according to documents obtained by The News.

While cooperating with the U.S. government, Cárdenas continued communicating with Gulf cartel and Zetas leaders through Guerrero Chapa, even promising to name one of them his successor, according to a former U.S. agent and a current U.S. agent knowledgeable about cartel intelligence matters.

For Zetas, doubts emerge

Even before the plea deal and the forfeiture, the Zetas leaders had developed doubts about Guerrero Chapa and his boss.

The Zetas had begun running their own drug loads. And mutual distrust and infighting had strained relations between the two organizations.

At one 2009 meeting, the Zetas’ top leader, Heriberto Lazcano Lazcano, took Guerrero Chapa aside to tell him he “had his suspicions that he was being set up” by Cárdenas, according to a DEA report as well as a former Gulf cartel leader who worked as one of Cárdenas’ financial administrators.
  
Lazcano Lazcano said he had a contact inside the DEA who told him that Cárdenas was “negotiating with the U.S. government by providing information on him,” the report said. Guerrero Chapa told Lazcano Lazcano he was “way off base.”

Lazcano Lazcano warned Guerrero Chapa that if he were ever captured, “then an internal war would begin between the Zetas and the Gulf Cartel, which the Gulf Cartel could not win,” according to a DEA report.
Jorge Eduardo “El Coss” Costilla Sánchez Former head of the Gulf cartel who took over control of the organization along with Cárdenas’ brother, Antonio, when Cárdenas was captured in 2003. The Mexican marines arrested Costilla Sánchez in 2012. He was extradited to the U.S. in September 2015 to face trial on dozens of charges related to the importation of cocaine and marijuana into the U.S. 
Lazcano Lazcano also told him that the Zetas leader’s near-arrest by the Mexican military in San Luis 
Potosí shortly after speaking with the new Gulf cartel leader, Jorge Eduardo “El Coss” Costilla Sánchez, was “very suspicious,” the DEA report says.

Lazcano Lazcano said he hid in “the brush” for three days and later confirmed through his DEA contact that the U.S. government was tracking his phone, according to the report.

“At the conclusion of the meeting, however, Lazcano Lazcano did agree to turn over $10 million to Guerrero Chapa, in eight days, to assist,” the report said.
Secret sentencing

In 2010, a federal judge in Houston sentenced Cárdenas to 25 years in prison, far fewer than other drug kingpins got for comparable crimes. In all, 12 of the 17 counts were dismissed as part of the agreement.

On the day of his sentencing, Cárdenas appeared unusually meek, according to law enforcement officials at the hearing. The sentencing took place behind locked doors and before U.S. District Judge Hilda G. Tagle.

Only Cárdenas’ wife and daughter and a handful of federal agents were present, along with four lawyers.

Judges often seal documents in drug and terrorism cases to protect informants and ongoing investigations. But closing a sentencing hearing for security reasons is highly unusual. The government argued that it was necessary due to the possibility of an attack on the courthouse if it were known that Cárdenas was there.

Tagle ruled that failing to close the hearing to the public would “result in a substantial probability that the lives and safety of persons will be placed in danger and that ongoing investigations will be jeopardized.”
Jesus Enrique Reton Aguilar AKA "Mamito". Former Zetas leader and bodyguard of Cárdenas. Rejón Aguilar was arrested in 2011 in Mexico City and extradited to the U.S. in 2012 for prosecution in federal court in Washington, D.C. The case remains active. 

A high-ranking original member of the Zetas, Jesús Enrique Rejón Aguilar, would later testify in a different case that the Zetas were loyal to Cárdenas until February 2010, when the plea deal was revealed at his sentencing.

Aguilar, a former Mexican police officer, said the $50 million the Zetas provided was “for him [Cárdenas] to use in the United States to lower his sentence.”

The Zetas hadn’t imagined Cárdenas would also provide information that would help the U.S. government disrupt their business operations.

Asset forfeiture is not supposed to influence a defendant’s punishment. But when details of Cardenas’ forfeiture were discussed in court during Aguilar’s case, a federal judge questioned whether there was such a link.

U.S. District Judge Barbara J. Rothstein, the judge in the Aguilar case, asked about the Cárdenas forfeiture and Aguilar’s claim that the money was sent to help reduce Cardenas’ sentence, according to court records.

“Are we going to let that stay just the way it is on the record?” she asked.
Rothstein asked the prosecutor if he knew that to be true. He said he did not.
“It leaves a certain implication that one would like to have cleared up,” Rothstein said. “I hope that wasn’t the case.”

On paper, the forfeiture was $50 million. But Cárdenas actually forked over tens of millions more, a large chunk of his total net worth, estimated at $1.1 billion, according to a former Gulf cartel lieutenant.
Cárdenas, locked up in Colorado, will be 68 when his prison term ends in 2035.


Plea deals defended

After the sentencing, the Zetas formally split from the Gulf cartel, a move that sparked one of the bloodiest periods in Mexico’s drug violence. Among the casualties: migrants from Mexico and Latin America. In 2010, Mexican authorities discovered the bodies of 72 migrants killed by the Zetas, who apparently suspected them of being recruits for the Gulf cartel.

Months later, the Zetas intercepted several more buses with migrants on board and kidnapped some, turning some into hitmen and executing 193 at a ranch near San Fernando.

Weeks after the casino fire in Monterrey killed 52 in August 2011, authorities discovered 49 decapitated bodies along a highway.


Relatives and friends grieved for one of 72 people, mostly Central American migrants, whom the Zetas abducted from a bus and massacred in 2010 in Tamaulipas state. (File Photo/The Associated Press)
A fire set by the Zetas in August 2011 at Casino Royale in Monterrey, Mexico, killed 52 people. Weeks later, 49 decapitated bodies were found along a highway. (File Photo/Agence France-Presse)
“You have internal fights; you have power grabs between organizations and within organizations,” said Arturo Sarukhan, a former Mexican ambassador to the U.S. “The consequence is violence and more violence because new leadership seeks to assert itself, and it is fighting for control of those organizations.”

Some U.S. officials defend the U.S. approach to battling cartels and deny that it heightened bloodshed. They blame Mexico’s corruption and weak rule of law and say that the mayhem would have been even worse if the U.S. hadn’t assisted its armed forces.

They also defend plea deals, asset forfeitures and informants as a necessary evil in dismantling cartels and investigating organized crime in general.

“Sure you can criticize the approach; it’s not without its shortcomings,” said Tony Garza, U.S. ambassador to Mexico from 2002 to 2009. “But don’t you think if there was a perfect way of taking these groups out, it would have been tried? As long as Mexico’s rule of law is weak, that cycle is going to repeat itself.”

Arturo Fontes, a former FBI agent who had a key role in carrying out U.S. anti-drug strategy in the Laredo area, put it this way: “These organizations, Zetas and the Gulf cartel, would have taken several years to disrupt, but when a cartel is divided, fighting against each other, that helps the governments come in and pick up the scraps. … Our strategy was simple: divide and conquer.”

But some experts question whether a plea agreement for such a notorious drug kingpin is good policy.
“A reduced sentence for someone like Osiel [Cárdenas], who contributed to the deaths of hundreds if not thousands of people, may not be worth it,” said Eric Olson, a specialist on organized crime at the Washington, D.C.-based Woodrow Wilson Center.

Olson said U.S. prosecutors don’t take into account the rights of victims in other countries. A U.S. prosecutor, for example, might agree to a reduced sentence for a drug trafficker involved in the deaths of many Mexicans to get information about a drug ring in Dallas, Olson said.
“Is this fair to the Mexican victims? Probably not, but the system isn’t set up to take that into account,” he said.

Mexico’s strategy, with backing from the U.S., has been to target the cartels by killing or arresting the top leaders, an approach that experts say has contributed to the climate of lawlessness and violence. This same approach, sometimes referred to as the kingpin strategy, brought down the mafia in the U.S. in the 1960s and drug cartels in Colombia in the 1990s, experts say. But it comes with a price.

“The flaw in the kingpin strategy is that at the end of the day you’re only creating vacuums, and when that happens, all and any vacuums inevitably get filled,” said Sarukhan, the former Mexican ambassador.
Garza, the former U.S. ambassador, conceded that the approach could be messy.

“Look, every time you take out a kingpin you create a void, a moment when succession and control of the ‘plaza’ are in play,” he said. “And that means there will be blood, and often lots of it, but what’s the alternative? Casting your lot with the kingpins?”

Today, violence in some parts of Mexico has ebbed, though cities like Reynosa and Nuevo Laredo remain largely under the control of the Zetas and remnants of the Gulf cartel.
Defeating the cartels, however, has proved elusive. Regions of Mexico remain gripped by fear and violence, as the number of criminal groups has skyrocketed from about five major cartels in the mid-2000s to an estimated 80 smaller criminal groups today, according to Mexico’s attorney general’s office. And the killings continue, with dozens reported in recent weeks along the Tamaulipas-Texas border.

Even in regions where the violence has ebbed, new threats have emerged. The conflict today isn’t just about illicit drugs, but also extortion rackets, kidnappings, migrant smuggling and piracy. Criminal groups now routinely tap gasoline pipelines and intercept fuel trucks, siphoning off millions of dollars in stolen gasoline each year.

A hit in Southlake

Guerrero Chapa allegedly was allowed to move large quantities of drugs from Mexico to the U.S. while under the watchful eye of his U.S. handlers — all while keeping a low profile at his new home in Southlake, according to confidential court documents.

A 2011 DEA report summarized information from a confidential source about Guerrero Chapa’s alleged drug activities.

“An individual identified as Juan Guerrero Chapa assists ... with the transportation of cocaine from Mexico to the United States,” the report said. “Also, Guerrero Chapa works with a group of individuals identified as Los Barretas,” based in Reynosa, who smuggle “large quantities of marijuana and cocaine” to the U.S.

Around that time, Guerrero Chapa purchased a $1.2 million Southlake mansion under an alias. The sellers were paid in cash.

Shortly before 7 p.m. on May 22, 2013, Guerrero Chapa and his wife were finishing a shopping trip at Southlake’s Town Square. As she put their bags in their Range Rover, a white Toyota Sequoia pulled up behind them. A masked gunman stepped out, walked over to the passenger side of their SUV where Guerrero Chapa sat, and shot him multiple times with a 9 mm pistol.

Body of Chapa laying across front seat.  Apparently tried to escape his assassin.


A cellphone video taken by a passer-by moments after the attack captures the horror. Guerrero Chapa’s wife screams in disbelief as her husband lies across the front seats in an apparent attempt to escape the gunfire.

Three Mexican citizens were arrested more than a year later and charged with interstate stalking resulting in death and aiding and abetting in the murder.

Jesús Gerardo Ledezma Cepeda and his son, Jesús Gerardo Ledezma Campano Jr., 32, were arrested in McAllen, officials said. Ledezma Cepeda’s cousin, José Luis Cepeda Cortes, 59, a legal U.S. resident with a green card, was arrested at his Edinburg home. Ledezma Cepeda and Cepeda Cortes are scheduled to go to trial April 25 in Fort Worth.

The men made several trips across the border to North Texas to stalk Guerrero Chapa while staying in a rented Grapevine apartment, officials said. They used at least eight rented and purchased cars. A camera set up in Guerrero Chapa’s neighborhood captured him driving his Range Rover, which also had a tracking device attached underneath. And cameras were aimed at his home.
The killers have not been apprehended or publicly identified. 


Editor’s note
The News reviewed hundreds of confidential law enforcement records in the reporting of this story. We also interviewed former and current U.S. and Mexican law enforcement and government officials. In addition, we spoke with confidential informants and former members of the Gulf cartel and Zetas, including two high-level associates of Osiel Cárdenas Guillén.



Michoacán: 3 Former Autodefensas Executed

Posted: 24 Apr 2016 03:01 PM PDT




By: Julio César Aguirre/Quadratín; Red 113 Michoacán | Translated by Valor for Borderland Beat

Apatzingán, Michoacán, April 23, 2016— Three men traveling onboard a truck and who were about to pull out of a gas station in Cuatro Caminos were massacred by a group of heavily armed men.  The dead were allegedly former autodefensas of the city of Apatzingán, according to reports from the authorities at the scene.  Two of the men died on site while the other one died on the way to the hospital.  The former autodefensas were armed with AK-47’s.

It was learned that around 6:00 hours, a Chevrolet Silverado, with California license plates, was pulling out of the gas station Mafer, located at kilometer 153 in the Siglo XXI Freeway, however only managed to move a few meters before being intercepted by the armed group.  The armed group sprayed them with bullets at close range.


Members of the federal police arrived at the scene and cordoned off the area.  Minutes later, personnel from the Regional Prosecutor’s Office of Apatzingán arrived, who conducted the removal of the bodies and collected dozens of spent shell casings of different calibers.


Even though the corporation recently stopped existing, local people said that the deceased claimed to be members of the Fuerza Rural and that is how they identified themselves with the population, however, RED 113 inquired about the subject to sources of the Ministry of Public Security and they denied that the deceased were discharged from the corporation or ever had belonged to it; they were former autodefensas, they said.

Sources:QuadratinRed 113

The Man Who Runs The Sinaloa Cartel... With Or Without ‘El Chapo’

Posted: 24 Apr 2016 09:20 AM PDT

He was born in the countryside of the Mexican state of Sinaloa, entered the drug trade as a teenager and presides over what many believe is the hemisphere’s largest drug trafficking operation. But unlike recently recaptured drug lord Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán Loera, he isn’t a household name.

Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada García, the man many believe to have the most control over the Sinaloa cartel, has spent five decades in the drug trade. While El Chapo is widely described as the cartel’s leader, that notion obscures the fact that Sinaloa operates more like a federation with multiple leaders who form something analogous to a board of directors.

Within that group, Zambada, 68, has likely risen to become the most powerful player. Unlike Guzmán, “El Mayo” Zambada hasn’t been sidelined by yearslong stints in prison.

Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada likely plays the strongest leading role in the Sinaloa cartel. 

When Guzmán was first jailed from 1993 to 2001, it was Zambada who oversaw the Sinaloa cartel’s continued expansion. It was Zambada who sent a private helicopter to whisk Guzmán to safety not too long after he slipped out of Puente Grande in a laundry basket, according to journalist Malcolm Beith’s 2010 book The Last Narco. And it was Zambada who facilitated Guzmán’s rise once again after his first escape.

Former head of U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration international operations Mike Vigil, who spent 13 years working in Mexico, described Zambada as one of the most elusive drug lords whom Mexico has targeted.

“‘El Mayo’ Zambada” is one of the oldest capos still surviving in Mexico,” Vigil told The WorldPost. “He’s extremely highly respected by the drug trafficking community there. He has actually expanded the Sinaloa drug cartel operations since the time that ‘El Chapo’ was in jail.”

Born in the Sinaloa hamlet of El Alamo, Zambada began life as a farmer, in a state blanketed with illicit poppy and marijuana fields. Early in his criminal career, he also worked as a hitman in Ciudad Juárez, according to Beith. He rose to the leadership of the Sinaloa cartel when he was in his 40s.

Part of the reason people know less about Zambada is that he keeps a low profile. In one unusual exception, he arranged an interview in 2010 with Julio Scherer García, the former director of Mexican magazine Proceso.


A 2003 billboard posted in Southern Arizona offers a reward for information leading to the arrest of Zambada.

He described living in constant fear of getting caught. Zambada said that at least four times the military had gotten close enough to nab him.

“I fled to the hills,” Zambada said. “I know the foliage, the streams, the rocks, everything. They’ll only catch me if I slow down and get sloppy, like El Chapo.” 

Though Zambada had sought out Scherer, the drug lord declined to answer questions about his first-born son, Vicente. Known by his diminutive nickname, “Vicentillo” Zambada was arrested in Mexico in 2009 and extradited to the United States the next year on drug trafficking charges. His case caused an uproar when his lawyer contended that Vicentillo Zambada couldn’t be charged with drug trafficking because he was simultaneously working as an informant for the DEA.

The DEA and Department of Justice both denied extending him immunity and the case was resolved in 2013, when Vicentillo Zambada accepted a plea deal and ceded more than $1 billion worth of assets.

“I’m not going to talk about my boy,” Zambada told Scherer in 2010. “I cry for him.”

Mexican authorities present Vicente Zambada, “El Mayo” Zambada’s son, to the press after his arrest in 2009. He was extradited to the United States, where he is in prison.

Though he doesn’t command the same international brand recognition as “El Chapo,” Zambada has long attracted the attention of U.S. law enforcement. President George W. Bush added him to the list of sanctioned foreign nationals under the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act in 2002. He faces indictment in several jurisdictions across the United States for charges including drug trafficking, money laundering and homicide.

That fact that the Sinaloa cartel retains such a prominent leader causes many analysts to think the organization will continue to thrive despite Guzmán’s arrest. The recapture also isn’t likely to provoke the splintering and in-fighting associated with the decapitation of smaller cartels.

“Most of the time violence does increase after the government arrests or kills the leader of a criminal group,” Brian Phillips, a professor who researches organized crime and violence in Mexico, told HuffPost. “With Sinaloa [cartel] it’s a little different because it’s a very established group and there’s a second leader, ‘El Mayo’ Zambada, running the show. So you’re more likely to see continuity and stability.”

Despite his vaunted position, Zambada appears to view himself as a replaceable element in a vast machine. Echoing words El Chapo said in a video recording sent to Rolling Stone, Zambada told Scherer in 2010 that the day he died or was captured, the traffic would continue without him.

“The problem of drug trafficking involves millions [of people],” Zambada said. “How do you control that? As for the drug lords, whether they’re locked up, killed or extradited, their replacements are already there lurking.”

Source The Huffington Post

Watch Colombian Special Forces Capture A Narco Gang Leader

Posted: 24 Apr 2016 09:03 AM PDT

A video posted to the YouTube channel WarLeaks on April 22 shows Colombian special forces conducting a raid in Chocó, Colombia, which led to the capture of the wanted narco gang leader Édgar Gutierrez Arenas.

The footage, shot by helmet cam, shows special forces troops moving through jungle terrain to apprehend Arenas, the leader of the Úsuga Narco gang. The video lasts just over 90 seconds, but in that short time it offers an inside look into the particular, and dangerous, missions that special forces engage in.

The video opens with a firefight, and then cuts to a point-of-view run along dirt paths as the special forces soldiers break contact and move toward their quarry.

Throughout it all a Black Hawk helicopter hovers nearby in a support position, presumably spotting for the ground troops as they converge on Arenas before taking him into custody. Arenas emerges from the thick underbrush shirtless and in jeans, and is immediately grabbed by the necklace around his neck and pulled along by the special forces soldiers.


Watch below.