Border Crime

On the Southwest Border banner

Border Crime By the Numbers

$1.1 Million Worth Of Drugs Stopped At Calexico Border

US Customs and Border Protection ( CBP ) officers at the Calexico ports of entry made three significant drug seizures over the weekend.

Sheriff Joe meets with extreme resistance at a school

He also captures the TEA Party’s pro-Arpaio people who suggest that the Border Patrol should start “popping off” people as they cross the border,

Covert Marijuana Growing Operation Foiled by US Border Patrol

Temecula, California – Last week, United States Border Patrol agents eradicated 365 marijuana plants growing outdoors in a secluded canyon near Temecula,

Family Fight, Border Patrol Raid, Baby Deported

Ms. Castro, a fourth-generation American citizen, went to the local Border Patrol station. She said she would give the agents there information about the

Agents seize $2.5 million worth of drugs in Starr County

RIO GRANDE CITY — Border Patrol agents seized more than $2.5 million worth of marijuana over the weekend in Starr County. The first seizure occured near

3 of 4 illegals caught after lengthy search

One suspect is being charged by the US Border Patrol with human smuggling, police said. The suspects, identified by police as Hispanic men, were in a 2000

Border Patrol confiscates half a ton of marijuana

Border Patrol Agents confiscated more than half a ton of marijuana that was being transported in a trailer. LAREDO, Tx.- Border Patrol Agents confiscated

A kidnapper's holding cell.

Kidnappings Escalate

Kidnappings by the cartels and the gangs who work for them have become a serious problem in several U.S. cities on the Southwest border. In the past, kidnap victims were usually rivals in the drug trade. Sometimes victims were kidnapped for revenge, sometimes to intimidate. And paying a ransom was no guarantee the victim would be released.

But when the gangs realized how easy—and profitable—kidnapping could be, they started abducting anyone who looked wealthy enough to command a hefty ransom, and that included Americans on either side of the border.

In the Texas border town of McAllen, for example, the rate of kidnapping has nearly quadrupled. Between October 2008 and September 2009, 42 people were kidnapped in the McAllen area, compared with 11 the previous year. And many kidnappings go unreported because the victims may be involved in illegal activity and don’t want to contact authorities.

***************************************************************

ON THE SOUTHWEST BORDER
Corruption, Drugs, Gangs, and More

08/02/10

The U.S. border with Mexico extends nearly 2,000 miles, from San Diego, California to Brownsville, Texas. At too many points along the way, criminals ply their trade with surprising ease and devastating results.

Drug cartels transporting kilos of cocaine and marijuana, gangs who think nothing of kidnapping and murder, traffickers smuggling human cargo, corrupt public officials lining their pockets by looking the other way—any one of these offenses represents a challenge to law enforcement.

Traffic - Video Play

Taken together, they constitute a threat not only to the safety of our border communities, but to the security of the entire country.

During the next several weeks, FBI.gov will take you to the Southwest border for a firsthand look at our efforts there to fight crime. We will take you to San Diego—home of the world’s busiest port of entry—and across the border into Tijuana. We will also visit El Paso, Texas, whose sister city in Mexico—Juarez—has become as deadly as any war zone thanks to the drug cartels.

In articles, pictures, and video, we will chronicle the Bureau’s efforts to combat Southwest

Kevin Perkins
Assistant Director
Kevin Perkins

border crime through our participation in drug, violent crime, and public corruption task forces; our extensive intelligence-gathering efforts; and our vital partnerships with Mexican law enforcement.

Despite our continuing successes, however, much work is left to be done.

“With such a great expanse of territory to cover,” said Kevin Perkins, assistant director of our Criminal Investigative Division, “there are places where the border is permeable. In some areas of the desert, people can cross illegally at will, and they do. The U.S. government has built fences and other barriers that our adversaries are continually trying to defeat, and in some cases they are defeating them,” he added.  “Either they’re tunneling under, flying over, or actually cutting through the various defenses we’ve put up.”

The cartels make billion-dollar profits trafficking drugs. Gaining and controlling border access is critical to their operations. They maintain that control through bribery, extortion, intimidation, and extreme violence. Some areas on the Mexican side of the border are so violent they are reminiscent of the gangster era of Chicago in the 1930s or the heyday of the Mafia’s Five Families in New York. In Tijuana, for example, a man who came to be known as “The Strew Maker”—El Pozolero—worked for one of the cartels dissolving hundreds of murder victims in acid to dispose of the evidence. In Juarez, decapitated heads of murdered cartel members have been displayed on fence posts to intimidate rivals.

“We think al Qaeda is violent,” said one of our senior agents in El Paso, “but the cartels here are often just as willing to resort to extreme brutality and bloodshed to carry out their objectives.”

The disturbing level of violence sometimes overshadows the national security risks along the border, Perkins said. “Unfortunately, there are border guards who are corrupt—people who can wave vehicles through checkpoints. Those vehicles could contain narcotics or illegal aliens, but they could also be pieces to the next dirty bomb brought into the country by terrorists. We are working very hard to make sure that doesn’t happen.”

*********************************************************************

CBP officer at border stop (play video)
U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer Michael Gilliland is seen in surveillance video in 2006 waving cars through his lane at a border crossing in San Diego. He was arrested hours later. Video


ON THE SOUTHWEST BORDER
Public Corruption: A Few Bad Apples

08/09/10

In the surveillance footage taken hours before his arrest, U.S. Customs and Border Protection Officer Michael Gilliland can be seen nonchalantly waving a car through his lane at the Otay Mesa Port of Entry in San Diego. He was knowingly allowing illegal aliens across the border, and he would do this several more times throughout the evening. His actions that night would earn him nearly the equivalent of his annual salary—and eventually a five-year prison term.

Gilliland, a former U.S. Marine and veteran Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer with 16 years of experience, has been in jail since 2007. But his case continues to illustrate the pervasive problem of corruption along the Southwest border and the damage that can occur when officials betray the public’s trust.

Although the vast majority of U.S. government employees working on the border are not corrupt, as one senior agent who investigates such crimes noted, “Even one bad apple is too many.”

Of our 700 agents assigned to public corruption investigations nationwide, approximately 120 of them are located in the Southwest region. We work closely with many federal agencies, including CBP and the Drug Enforcement Administration. The result has been more than 400 public corruption cases originating from the Southwest region—and in the past fiscal year more than 100 arrests and about 130 state and federal cases prosecuted.

We have 12 border corruption task forces in the Southwest, which consist of many state and local law enforcement agencies as well as our federal partners. Recently, we established a National Border Corruption Task Force at FBI Headquarters to coordinate the activities of all regional operations.

At our Border Corruption Task Force office in San Diego, Special Agent Terry Reed—who headed the Michael Gilliland investigation—points out the “Wall of Shame.” Displayed are pictures of a dozen former officials convicted of public corruption offenses in the San Diego area. They are a diverse group of men and women from a variety of state and federal government agencies. They were all in it for the money, sex, or both—a fact not lost on the drug cartels.

“The cartels have developed into very sophisticated businesses,” said El Paso Special Agent Tim Gutierrez. “Despite their brutality and violence, they use sophisticated tactics.”

The cartels actively engage in corrupting public officials. They recruit by exploiting weaknesses, sometimes gaining intelligence through surveillance methods usually employed by law enforcement. Cartel members have been known to observe inspectors at ports of entry using binoculars from the Mexican side of the border. Maybe an inspector has a drinking or gambling problem. Maybe he flirts with women and could be tempted to cheat on his wife. Maybe an employee is simply burned out on the job.

“If you’re an inspector and you are legitimately waving through 97 out of 100 cars anyway,” Gutierrez said, “and you realize you can make as much as your annual salary by letting the 98th car go by, it can be easy to rationalize that.”

“The cartels are always looking for the next Michael Gilliland,” Agent Reed said. “But using our combined investigative and intelligence gathering skills, the task force has been very successful in rooting out corrupt public officials at the border.”

********************************************************************

Mexico Border crossing
The kidnappings, beatings, and murders that mark the drug-related violence of Mexican border cities like Tijuana and Juarez have increasingly spilled over the border.


ON THE SOUTHWEST BORDER
When Violence Hits Too Close to Home

08/12/10

Emerging from the port of entry’s administrative offices into a sunny San Diego morning, Special Agent Dean Giboney spoke in fluent Spanish with the man whose temporary U.S. visa he had just helped renew. The man was smiling, happy to be out of Mexico, even though he understood that being on U.S. soil was no guarantee of safety from the Tijuana drug cartel that has put a price on his head.

The kidnappings, beatings, and murders that mark the extreme drug-related violence of Mexican border cities such as Tijuana and Juarez have increasingly spilled over the border. Agent Giboney is hoping the man—we’ll call him José —can provide information that will help in the Bureau’s efforts to dismantle the cartels and the criminal enterprises they fuel.

A few years ago, José started working for the Arellano Felix Organization (AFO) in Tijuana to earn extra money. But when he saw how routine the act of murder was for the cartel—leaders thought nothing of having even their own people killed for real or perceived insubordination—he started to fear for his life and contacted the FBI to help him flee the country.

Sources like José are just one of many ways the Bureau gathers intelligence to combat border crime. Agent Giboney is particularly interested in gaining information regarding fugitives in the Los Palillos case, one of San Diego’s most notorious examples of so-called “spillover violence.”

Los Palillos—the “Toothpicks”—was a rogue spinoff from the AFO. From 2004 to 2007, the San Diego street gang carried out a brutal crime spree in which 13 people were abducted and nine were killed. Bodies turned up in cars, on jogging paths, and inside houses in quiet, residential neighborhoods.

The group’s leader, Jorge Rojas-Lopez, is serving a life sentence without parole for the crimes, and several of his henchmen are also in prison. But five members of the gang are still at large.

Rojas-Lopez—a former AFO member—was fighting the cartel for a piece of the billion-dollar drug trade, but he was also fighting for revenge, because the AFO had ordered the murder of his brother.

“This level of extreme violence is very typical of the way the cartels operate south of the border,” Giboney said. Unfortunately, Los Palillos is not an isolated case north of the border, either.

What explains this level of brutality? “The cartels and the gang members they employ want to be Al Pacino in the movie Scarface,” Giboney said. During raids on the homes of cartel members, he has seen movie posters of the machine-gun-wielding Pacino, who played a vicious drug kingpin. “They want to live that lifestyle—the nice cars, going out to clubs, throwing money around. But once you’re in that lifestyle,” he explained, “it’s hard to get out, even if you want to.”

José understands how difficult it is to get away from the cartel. The “narcos,” as he calls AFO members, are powerful as well as ruthless, and their influence is felt at every level of Mexican society. “Whatever they want to know about you they can find out,” he said. “They will stop at nothing to protect their interests, even if it means crossing the border.”

********************************************************************

Border liaisons Mike Eckel, Alejandro Lares
FBI Special Agent Mike Eckel, left, is one of the Bureau’s five border liaison officers. He meets about once a week with counterparts like Alejandro Lares of the Tijuana Police Department.


ON THE SOUTHWEST BORDER
Forging Ties in Tijuana

08/16/10

Amid the car horns, engine exhaust, and constant flow of people on foot and in cars, Special Agent Mike Eckel inched through traffic at the San Ysidro Port of Entry—the world’s busiest land border crossing—on his way from San Diego to Tijuana. Although the Mexican city can be a dangerous place for Americans, in his role as one of the Bureau’s five border liaison officers, Eckel makes the trip about once a week.

Alejandro Lares (Play Video)

On this day, he will visit his counterpart at the Tijuana Police Department in hopes of locating a U.S. citizen wanted for a 2009 murder in Nevada who may be hiding with relatives in that region of Mexico.

“The idea behind the border liaison program is to build relationships and to exchange information with Mexican law enforcement,” said Eckel, who speaks fluent Spanish. “We try to take geography out of the equation so we can share intelligence and help each other and bring criminals to justice on both sides of the border.”

In the past, such relationships were difficult to cultivate in Tijuana because of the level of corruption there, according to U.S. and Mexican officials. “But the tide is turning,” Eckel said. “There is less corruption now, and the FBI and other federal entities have established solid working relationships with our Mexican partners.”

Less than an hour after crossing the border, Eckel sat in a small office in a busy Tijuana police substation. He was speaking with officer Alejandro Lares about the Nevada murder fugitive and other matters, including suspected cartel members who live freely in San Diego, where they have committed no crimes. Lares, who has been on the Tijuana force for four years, has served as the liaison officer for U.S. law enforcement for the past year.

“Today, the cartels have less power than they had in the past,” Lares said, largely because the Mexican federal government has exerted its military presence in the area. “We are moving in the right direction,” he added, but acknowledged that the crime and corruption associated with the drug trade will never disappear completely.

Thanks to drug money, the cartels have enormous power—and they use it to bribe, intimidate, and murder. To get what they want from police and government officials in Tijuana and elsewhere along the Mexican border, the cartels offer “the silver or the lead”: the silver being money and the lead being bullets.

Even well-intentioned public servants who refuse outright bribes might be compelled to look the other way if their lives—or the lives of their families—have been threatened. “And these are not hollow threats,” Eckel said. “They will kill you.”

But efforts such as the border liaison program and the determined, collaborative work of law enforcement on both sides of the border are making a difference.

“Sharing information is the key,” Eckel said. “By being able to gather intelligence and quickly analyze and share it, we can actually save lives. I have seen that happen.” Working with the Mexicans as well as other U.S. partner agencies, he added, “We help keep each other safe. We all get along extremely well, because our lives can depend on it.”

*********************************************************************

Drug smuggling
A vanload of drugs confiscated near the border.


ON THE SOUTHWEST BORDER
A Drug Buy in El Paso

08/30/10

It may look like any other afternoon along this busy shopping strip outside El Paso, Texas, with people walking in and out of stores and restaurants and traffic moving at a steady clip. But inside a particular establishment, one of our sources is waiting to buy nearly $20,000 worth of cocaine from a local gang member.

The operation represents one of the many ways we are fighting the drug trade along the Southwest border. From small street-level drug buys to major cases targeting the highest levels of cartel and gang leadership, our agents and law enforcement partners attack the problem from every angle to gain intelligence and to disrupt and dismantle trafficking organizations.

On this day, agents from our criminal enterprise/gang squad are working with local and state officers to build a case against the gang. Members of the team—all in plain clothes and driving unmarked vehicles—are inconspicuously and strategically parked near the site of the establishment. The source inside is wearing a wire, and his conversations can be heard on car-to-car radios. If anything goes wrong, the source will say a code word and the team will quickly be inside.

At a final briefing before the operation began, the team leader—one of our veteran agents—spoke to the group in a parking lot behind a nearby municipal building. He went over the plan again in detail, stressing the danger involved and the need for extreme caution to make sure everyone stayed safe. Then, like a basketball coach before a game, he gathered the team in a circle and read aloud the Bureau’s policy on the use of deadly force.

An hour later, the source was inside, but the target wasn’t—he called to say he would be late. While they waited in their car and listened to the radio chatter, two of our agents on the operation—we’ll call them Smith and Johns—explained the economics of the drug trade in El Paso and across the border in Juarez.

“Where you have gangs,” Smith said, “you have drugs. And in El Paso, all the drugs are coming from across the border.” A kilo of cocaine in El Paso costs about $20,000, but can be sold in Chicago, Atlanta, New York, or Miami for more than $30,000. There is a lot of money to be made.

Finally, the target arrived, but without any drugs and only vague promises to produce them that day. The team leader sent a text message to the source to leave, and then canceled the operation. “We’ll try again tomorrow,” he said.

False starts and dead ends are typical in such drug cases, Agents Smith and Johns said later. But the work is important. Even though small drug buys won’t break the backs of the cartels, Johns explained, “We gain a lot of intelligence from these operations, and sometimes we develop new sources as a result. And every kilo of coke we take off the streets is one that doesn’t make its way to American kids.”

*********************************************************************

Confiscated drugs
Methamphetamine confiscated near the border. Photo courtesy of DEA


ON THE SOUTHWEST BORDER
Going After the Major Players

09/08/10

Methamphetamine, marijuana, cocaine, and cash—the amount of drugs and currency crossing the border in and around El Paso, Texas can be difficult to comprehend.

“El Paso may be the busiest city in the world in terms of the flow of drugs,” said Special Agent Mike Cordero, a member of the FBI/DEA Strike Force, an investigative team established in 2007 to target “the biggest of the big” drug trafficking organizations.

“If they are major players,” Agent Cordero explained, “we’re going after them. Our mission is to disrupt and dismantle these organizations.”

It is estimated that 40-60 percent of all illegal drugs that come into the U.S. enter through the border areas encompassed by our El Paso Field Office. The drugs flow across the border from Juarez, and U.S. currency flows back into Mexico. Every month, tens of millions of dollars in cash pass into Juarez, enabling the cartels to corrupt public officials, purchase weapons, and engage in other criminal activity beyond drug trafficking.

The strike force in El Paso—one of several along the Southwest border—is designed to fight this cycle of crime and violence. The program is funded by the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force, a longstanding Department of Justice initiative that combines federal, state, and local law enforcement efforts to fight organized crime and drug traffickers. The Drug Enforcement Administration and the FBI have lead roles in operating the strike force.

Working with undercover operatives, sources, and Mexican law enforcement, the team uses an intelligence-driven approach in its investigations. Besides orchestrating large drug buys, agents pay close attention to the money laundering aspects of drug trafficking. Perhaps most importantly, the actionable intelligence gathered by the strike force benefits many other investigations and law enforcement agencies both domestically and internationally.

The El Paso strike force consists of 10 FBI agents and 10 DEA agents, as well as representatives from the Internal Revenue Service and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives.

“We are a badge-less operation,” Agent Cordero said. “When you walk in our office, you can’t tell who is FBI and who is DEA. There is a concerted effort to put the cases first and not to worry about who gets the credit,” he added. “A win is a win for everybody.”

Recently, during a nationwide drug trafficking takedown called Project Deliverance, the strike force arrested 133 individuals on drug charges and seized 800 pounds of marijuana, 11 kilos of cocaine, and nearly $140,000 in cash. The operation also contributed intelligence to numerous other investigations around the country. “Because El Paso is a pivotal location for the Mexican drug trade,” said Special Agent Raul Bujanda, another member of the strike force, “the intelligence we gather allows us to spin off a lot of cases to other offices.”

Drugs in car body
Twelve pounds of heroin confiscated during Project Deliverance. Photo courtesy of DEA

“We’re very proud of the work we do,” Agent Cordero said. “There are no egos involved in the strike force—it’s all about the cases and bringing down the drug traffickers.”

********************************************************************

Advertisements