DEA op­er­a­tion nets 175 drug-smug­gle sus­pects

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - BY BEN CONERY

The ar­rests of 175 drug-smug­gling sus­pects pro­vide a look into the Gulf Car­tel, one of Mex­ico’s most fear­some drug-traf­fick­ing groups, and ‘Ndrangheta, per­haps Italy’s most pow­er­ful organized crime syn­di­cate.

Law en­force­ment of­fi­cials say the ar­rests strike a blow to the car­tel’s abil­ity to im­port drugs from Mex­ico and use the U.S. as a base to traf­fic drugs into Europe.

“The in­ter­na­tional as­pect of this case re­minds us that to be ef­fec­tive, we must fight the war on drugs col­lec­tively, and across bor­ders,” At­tor ney Gen­eral Michael B. Mukasey said at a news con­fer­ence in At­lanta, where 43 peo­ple were ar­rested. “Too many com­mu­ni­ties, here and abroad, have been dam­aged by the drugs and vi­o­lence as­so­ci­ated with th­ese car­tels.”

The most re­cent ar­rests, which took place Sept. 16 and 17, are part of an on­go­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion led by the Drug En­force­ment Ad­min­is­tra­tion (DEA) into the Gulf Car­tel. Ten of the peo­ple ar­rested in Italy and sev­eral in New York have been linked by Ital­ian au­thor ities to ‘Ndrangheta, a group whose dom­i­na­tion of the Ital­ian un­der­world has re­port­edly eclipsed that of the Si­cil­ian Mafia.

In the past 15 months, more than 200 fed­eral, state, lo­cal and in­ter­na­tional law en­force­ment agen­cies have ar­rested 500 car­tel mem­bers and as­so­ci­ates who have been charged with drug traf­fick­ing, kid­nap­ping and at­tempted mur­der. The DEA said it also has seized $60 mil­lion, 18 tons of co­caine and 25 tons of mar­i­juana.

The Jus­tice Depart­ment also an­nounced Sept. 17 the in­dict­ment of the three re­puted leaders of the Gulf Car­tel: Ezequiel Car­de­nas-Guillen, Heriber to Laz­cano-Laz­cano and Jorge Ed­uardo Cos­tilla-Sanchez. They have not been ap­pre­hended and are thought to be in Mex­ico.

DEA of­fi­cials said the Gulf Car­tel is one of the two largest drug car­tels in Mex­ico. There are seven ma­jor Mex­i­can drug car­tels that dom­i­nate the il­lic­itdrug mar­kets in the U.S. As much as 90 per­cent of the co­caine found in the U.S. orig­i­nates from those car­tels.

The Gulf Car­tel con­trols the drug trade in north­east Mex­ico along the south­west Texas bor­der. A DEA of­fi­cial said the car­tel is par­tic­u­larly vi­o­lent and has its own para­mil­i­tary group, called Los Ze­tas.

A 2007 re­port from the Con­gres­sional Re­search Ser vice said that is the first time drug lords have had a per­sonal para­mil­i­tary. Los Ze­tas is thought to have been formed by a group of Mex­i­can mil­i­tary de­sert­ers in the 1990s and now in­cludes Mex­i­can law en­force­ment of­fi­cials.

“The Ze­tas act as as­sas­sins for the Gulf Car­tel. They also traf­fic arms, kid­nap, and col­lect pay­ments for the car­tel on its drug routes,” ac­cord­ing to the 2007 re­port to Congress. “Mex­i­can law en­force­ment of­fi­cials re­port that the Ze­tas have be­come an in­creas­ingly so­phis­ti­cated, three-tiered or­ga­ni­za­tion with leaders and mid­dle­men who co­or­di­nate con­tracts with petty cr im­i­nals to carr y out street work.”

The group has been linked to killings on both sides of the bor­der, ac­cord­ing to pub­lished re­ports.

U.S. law en­force­ment of­fi­cials worry about in­creas­ing vi­o­lence among Mex­i­can drug car­tels along the bor­der. A con­fi­den­tial law en­force­ment re­port ob­tained by The Wash­ing­ton Times ear­lier this month warned it could re­sult in in­creased vi­o­lence against U.S. law en­force­ment of­fi­cials.

Indictments re­leased Sept. 16 in­clude al­le­ga­tions that the Gulf Car­tel’s reach has ex­tended be­yond Mex­ico.

Ital­ian of­fi­cials told Agence France-Presse that the Gulf Car­tel worked with ‘Ndrangheta to traf­fic co­caine to Italy and fur­ther into Europe. Based in the Cal­abria re­gion, or Italy’s toe, ‘Ndrangheta was able to sell co­caine bought from the Gulf Car- tel at sub­stan­tially higher prices in Europe.

At least some of the drug deals be­tween the car­tel and crime syn­di­cate take place in the U.S. An in­dict­ment in New York ac­cuses two men of buy­ing co­caine there that was des­tined for Italy.

“This op­er­a­tion ex­em­pli­fies the Euro­pean vi­sion of the in­ter­na­tional fight against drug traf­fick­ing.” said Ni­cola Grat­teri, Ital­ian pub­lic pros­e­cu­tor for the Anti-mafia District At­tor­ney’s Of­fice of Reg­gio Cal­abria, Italy.

U.S. At­tor­ney Gen­eral Michael Mukasey

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