Thursday, January 24, 2008

Los Zetas subcommander convicted in McAllen: Details emerge of Gulf Cartel operations

I've heard of tunnels across the Mexican border in California and Arizona, but across the Rio Grande! That's an impressive bit of tunneling!

That's just one tantalizing tidbit arising from the trial and guilty verdict this week of an alleged Los Zetas subcommander in McAllen, providing unique insight into the inner workings of the notorious Gulf Cartel. Reports AP:

Carlos Landin Martinez was found guilty of nine counts including drug trafficking, conspiracy and money laundering over alleged cartel activities from 2005 to 2007.

Prosecutors said Landin oversaw an operation in which traffickers wanting to use lucrative smuggling routes across the border into South Texas had to pay Landin a "piso," or tax, to move drugs in cartel territory. Landin was the Gulf cartel's second-in-command in Reynosa, a Mexican city south of McAllen, prosecutors say.

Drugs came across on people, on rafts and through a tunnel that opened up through a manhole in Hidalgo, Texas, among other means, according to investigators. The proceeds from drug sales all over the United States were then smuggled back into Mexico, authorities said.

Government witnesses, arrested on similar charges and hoping for leniency in their own cases, testified about the operations but did not have firsthand knowledge of Landin, also known as "The Puma."

An exception was Antonio Parra Saenz, who testified last week that he saw Landin in a black Suburban in Mexico before he was taken away to be tortured for 15 days after a large load of drugs was seized from his stash house in Pharr, Texas.

One aspect of this case that particularly interests me is the decentralized nature of the drug trade. The Gulf Cartel, if we're to believe the government's case, is less a smuggling operation than a gatekeeper into the US for many, smaller-scale smugglers. They maintain the access points - tunnels, corrupt cops and customs officials, etc. - through which OTHER criminal gangs move drugs.

By contrast, the Sinaloa cartel has entered alliances with South American cocaine producers and purchased fleets of planes to create a more "vertically integrated" (to use the economists' term) production and distribution system.

Since we've been discussing money laundering recently, here's an old-school, tried and true method of laundering cash that cropped up in the trial:
an alleged cash smuggler for the cartel, took the stand in his own defense. He told jurors that he had never trafficked drugs or money for the cartel, but would often take large sums of cash in to the U.S. to buy cars to sell in Mexico.
I've not seen extensive coverage of the trial in the MSM, but it's a safe bet that to get a conviction based mostly on informants who never met Landin, that a great deal of the details of the Gulf cartel's inner workings were exposed in open court. I wish I'd been there to hear it all.

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