U.S. Alleges Mexican Drug Cartel Rented Apartments in U.S. to Recruit Young Americans

January 7, 2011 - 7:10 AM

Tijuana drug war

A soldier guards packages containing marijuana as they are shown to reporters in the pouring rain in Tijuana, Mexico, on Monday, Jan. 3, 2011. (AP Photo/Guillermo Arias)

(CNSNews.com) - An assistant U.S. attorney told CNSNews.com that a federal judge will hear a criminal case later this month involving an offshoot of the Tijuana cartel that is believed to be setting up operations in the United States to recruit young Americans for drug trafficking.

The case shows that U.S. drug cartels are attempting to extend their operations into the United States.

Todd Robinson, the assistant U.S. attorney who will prosecute the alleged drug ring at the U.S. District Court of the Southern District of California, said he expects the federal judge who will hear the case on Jan. 26 to set a trial date on that day.

According to the 86-page indictment, Mexican drug cartels have rented apartments in the United States under a franchise scheme aimed at recruiting young Americans into their illicit activities, coordinating drug trafficking operations, as well as kidnapping and extortion on both sides of the southwest border.

The case to be heard stemmed from a long-term investigation dubbed “Operation Luz Verde” (green light), that began in November 2009. The probe was conducted by the multi-agency San Diego Cross Border Violence Task Force and it reportedly revealed state and federal crimes, including murder, kidnapping, firearms and drug trafficking.

Investigators used court-authorized wiretaps to capture 50,000 phone calls over a six-month period that led to a case against 43 suspects, including some Mexican police officers and top officials, such as Jesus Quinones Marquez, the director of International Liaison for the Baja California Attorney General’s Office.

In that position, Marquez is one of the primary Mexican liaison officials providing information to U.S. law enforcement officers. According to the investigation, Marquez used his position to provide the drug cartel Fernandez Sanchez Organization (FSO) with confidential law enforcement information. He also allegedly arranged the arrest of FSO rivals by Mexican authorities.

The Justice Department indictment was unsealed in late July 2010 and charges 43 defendants with taking part in a federal racketeering conspiracy (Title 18, U.S. Code, Section 1962(d)). In the complaint, the 43 alleged culprits are said to be members of the FSO, which is an offshoot of the Arellano-Felix drug trafficking ring based in Tijuana.

According to the complaint, FSO “is a transnational drug organization with integrated narcotics and enforcement operations in the United States and Mexico.”

It is described as a “powerful organization that controls drug distribution and other illegal activities in the U.S. and Mexico, and which has increasingly committed acts of violence in Tijuana, San Diego County, and the greater Los Angeles area to expand its influence.”

The hierarchy of command under the leadership of Fernando Sanchez Arellano is comprised of five distinct groups: lieutenants, underbosses, corrupt Mexican officials, crew leaders, and crew members.

Mexico violence

A young man lies dead in a public park after being shot to death by unidentified assailants in the municipality of Apodaca on the outskirts of Monterrey, Mexico, Wednesday Dec. 1, 2010. The numbered tags mark bullets casings. (AP Photo/Carlos Jasso)

According to the wiretaps and secret informants, the Fernando Sanchez Organization was operating out of a San Diego apartment it referred to as “The Office.”

The criminal complaint states that Mexican drug cartels are recruiting young Americans in an effort to keep their drug trafficking operations under the radar, including using young women as drug mules to cross from Mexico into the United States.

These “mules” allegedly were paid $100 per trip to smuggle quarter-pound loads of methamphetamine across the border.

The San Diego criminal enterprise also was recruiting members of U.S.-based Latino street gangs, both illegal immigrants and U.S. citizens, and former Mexican police officers, according to the indictment.

Most of the gang members operating in the San Diego office of the accused Mexican cartel are Latino, some illegal aliens and others U.S. citizens, according to the criminal complaint.

The investigation found that the criminal group had safe houses, distributed illicit drugs, trafficked in guns and other weapons, laundered money, committed robberies, and collected drug debts. When debtors failed to pay, they were kidnapped or targeted with execution on both sides of the southwest border.

In one instance, according to the investigation, the accused drug enterprise “placed the defaced headstone of two murder victims in the victims’ family courtyard with a threatening message” in an effort to publicize its enforcement capabilities.

During this investigation, the U.S. Department of Justice for the first time used communication towers on the U.S. side of the border to capture and monitor phone and radio communications used by Mexican drug cartels in the border area and thus were able to show that Mexican drug cartels are moving to expand their grasp into U.S. territory.