Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Will Federal Designation of Mara Salvatrucha as a Criminal Organization Really Break the Violent Transnational Gang?

A couple of weeks ago, the Feds announced a new crackdown on the Mara Salvatrucha as being a “criminal organization”.  It is the first time that a street gang has received such a designation from the government.  This new effort gives the U.S. Treasury Department the power to freeze financial assets of MS members and bars banks from engaging in any transactions with members of the group.
On the surface, this order against the transnational MS gang may sound like a major victory against organized crime, but the MS gang usually wires money in small amounts via low key Latino stores and outlets or launders money out of the country in other ways often via non-gang involved couriers.  In L.A., the Salvadoran and Latino community have expressed concern the order may stifle and tarnish the reputation of law abiding businesses or people suspected, but not proven, to have ties to MS.   Officials have said the move is designed to reduce the flow of gang money within the United States and across our borders.  Authorities believe money generated by MS clicas here is often funneled back to the group's leadership in El Salvador as well as other countries where they are very active like Honduras and Guatemala.
MS was originally predominately Salvadoran and MS members were treated as outsiders by the Mexican/Chicano gangs of L.A.’s Westside.  About 1994, they made a truce with the Mexican Mafia, also called La EME, and used MS13 as a sign of loyalty.  Most Southern California Hispanic gangs commonly referred to as Sureños use the code number 13 for the 13th letter of the alphabet “M” or “EME” in Spanish.  MS even paid taxes to La EME and several MS members were considered Camaradas or EME Associates.  But, the gang has always been looked down upon by much larger L.A. gangs such as Eighteenth Street or Florencia 13.  Recently some MS have advised members, especially ones who live far away from L.A. and further away from the rath of La EME, to drop the 13 again.  At one time, most MS had to get a MS or MS13 tattoo to be recognized as being in la clica, now some MS are refraining from doing so in an attempt to evade law enforcement detection.    
Various MS clicas often do network with each other, but MS is set up more horizontal than the vertical nature of traditional organized crime.  Each clica is run by a Shotcaller known as a “Ranflero”.  MS is believed to have as many as 30,000 members worldwide with approximately 8,000 operating within the U.S.  In places like L.A. and Seattle, MS actually has less influence than they did 10 years ago, but is still a viable threat on the East Coast.  Newly organized MS cells in El Salvador soon established beachheads on the East Coast, especially in suburbs of northern Virginia and Maryland.  Many younger generation MS that currently live on the East Coast have never even been to L.A. which was the gang’s birthplace in the early 1980s.
In great part due to deportations, Central American MS clicas have far greater influence on society and operate in more sophisticated ways than most groups there.  It has been reported that older veterano MS in Central America are now dressing more like business men and have diversified from mainly dealing drugs, into ventures like kidnapping, extortion, human trafficking, sex trafficking young girls, working as hired assassins, and other forms of racketeering.  MS in Central America do not hesitate to use vicious machete attacks, dismember their victims, and commit violent rapes.  The gang’s informal motto is “Mata, Controla, y Viola” (Kill, Control, and Rape).  MS in Central America also have far greater control in jails and prisons then they do in the United States.
There have been past documented reports of some MS members working for drug cartels like the Zetas.  But now some experts fear there may be an alliance between the violent cartel and the violent street gang.  Zetas have branched out from their original turf in northeast Mexico in states like Tamaulipas and expanded down to Chiapas and even into Guatemala.  A merger with MS would make sense to move drugs north through Mexican corridors and into the U.S. as Zetas move most of their dope loads via the Tex-Mex border and up through the Mid-West and East Coast.
This alliance was recently revealed by the Combating Terrorism Center at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.  In a report written by Adam Elkus and John P. Sullivan they stated, “The relationship between the Zetas and MS-13 is an alliance, and one that increases the Zetas’ ability to leverage new skills and markets, exploit gaps and vacuums, and extend their reach...It should be understood that MS-13 and the Zetas joining together is not equivalent to a signed treaty that facilitates formal cooperation between two groups...It is not known how such a deal was conducted, but it is sure to be something other than a literal declaration of fealty.”
Gangs are very competitive to protect their reputation and in fighting for their share of the drug market and other criminal enterprises.  Another side effect of this competition may be that the rival Barrio Diesiocho, also known as 18th Street, may form an alliance with “Chapo” Guzman and the Sinaloa Cartel.  The 18th Street gang is far bigger than MS on the West Coast and the Sinaloans control most of the drug trade on the West Coast of Mexico so 18th Street may see such an arrangement as an ideal "win-win situation"?  
On the positive side, the new U.S. order does give law enforcement another tool to disrupt MS activities.
You can read more about MS and 18th Street in the new book BEST:

Monday, October 15, 2012

The Death of Zetas Leader "El Lazca"

On October 7, 2012, Heriberto Lazcano-Lazcano, aka "El Lazca/Z-3", the overall leader of Los Zetas was killed. He died after being shot six or seven times during confrontations that he and bodyguards had with members of the Mexican Marines which started in Progreso and ended near the town of Sabinas, State of Coahuila, Mexico. An official report states that a Zeta convoy of vehicles began launching grenades at the patrol of Marines at approximately 1:30 p.m. Three separate gun battles erupted during the day that ultimately led to the death of El Lazca. Mexican officials state that Miguel Treviño-Morales, aka “El Z-40”, stole the body of El Lazca from the Garcia Funeral Home in Sabinas. During a press conference, Coahuila State Prosecutor Homero Ramos-Garcia confirmed that a group of armed men stole the body of El Lazca and his bodyguard from the morgue and took them away in a stolen Hearse. Some people say this was a Zeta military code of “leave no man behind”. The Mexican government states it did not know initially who it had killed.

Others, including many in the U.S. government, highly doubt it?

Many people believe it was Z-40 himself who gave El Lazca up to authorities and which led to his untimely death. Z-40's detractors also accuse him of giving up info on rival drug cartel members, as well as fellow Zetas including Ivan Velazquez-Caballero, aka “Z-50/El Taliban”. He was captured in September, 2012, and was third in command of the Zetas. El Taliban and Z-40 had been trading death threats and accusations of being Zeta traitors (and far worse names) back and forth. This earned Treviño-Morales another moniker by his enemies as being “El Judas”.  

Los Zetas were renegades of the Mexican Army and originally hired as an armed wing of the Gulf Cartel, but they broke away in 2010. The “Z” organization has a vast network of drug suppliers from Central America to the northeastern Mexican border. Los Zetas not only traffic in drugs, but control kidnapping gangs, extortionists of businesses and undocumented migrants. They are also involved in the pirate merchandise such as music CDs, DVDs, and clothing. Most of the original Zetas have been killed or are in custody, but they train younger Zetitas who compose hundreds of cells, known as stakes, with 20 gunmen each. Each group has a local chief and in turn it receives orders from a regional manager who reports to Z-40. Zetas have been known to recruit teens and gang members to work for them. For instance, Omar Martín Estrada Luna, known as "El Kilo", grew up in the Yakima, WA, area and was a Norteño. Gangs like Mara Salvatrucha, 18th Street, Florencia 13, and West Side Pomona 13 may also have ties to cartels: Zetas control most of the drug smuggling corridors east of the Big Bend, TX, area. The Sinaloans control most of the area west of it, including taking over much of the Juarez Cartel's area as well as Sonora and Baja borders.   

Under outgoing Mexican President Felipe Calderon's six-year offensive an impressive number of Cartel leaders have been caught or killed including: Sinaloa Cartel’s Ignacio “El Nacho” Coronel (dead), and captured Sinaloa Cartel Vicente “Vicentillo” Zambada, Jesus “El Rey” Zambada, several members of the Arellano-Felix Organization (Tijuana Cartel), many members of the Juarez Cartel, as well as many members of the Beltran-Leyva Organization who broke off from the Sinaloans. The Gulf Cartel has also been greatly diminished by arrests, deaths, and by Zeta defections.

Unfortunately, the busts that have weakened some cartels have also emboldened new ones like the Knights Templar who are an offshoot of La Familia Michoacana. The Cartel de Jalisco New Generation also emerged in 2007 after the death of Sinaloa Cartel leader Ignacio Coronel. If there are further arrests of Zetas and Sinaloa Cartel members violence could spread even more?  

The death of “El Lazca” now leaves Los Zetas firmly in the control of Miguel Treviño-Morales (Z-40) and his brother Alejandro Treviño-Morales (L-42/Omar). As stated on this Blog last May, , Zetas and their rivals of the Pacific/Sinaloa Cartel are now the two biggest cartels in the country. The Sinaloa Cartel of “Chapo” Guzman has also been accused of giving up info to the government to take out the competition. Some believe that Z-40 and Chapo might also engage in one final battle for control of all of Mexico.

The Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) which ruled Mexico for almost three quarters of a century took power back with the 2012 Mexican Presidential Election of Enrique Peña-Nieto. It remains to be seen how Peña-Nieto’s government will handle corruption that prior PRI officials were so notorious for and better solve the drug cartel violence that has left more than 55,000 dead in the last six years.  

Thursday, October 4, 2012

New Book on Mexican Mafia Case & An Injustice to Cops

“In the annals of warfare, it is the consensus of historians that civil wars are more vicious and brutal than foreign wars. Sometimes during the course of living in close proximity to fellow citizens, differences in opinion, in values, in ideology -- or even the pursuit of power -- will boil over into a conflagration in which the aftereffects last long beyond the initial conflict. To some degree The Traffic Stop emulates that. In the never ending war between law enforcers and law breakers, sometimes the more vicious enemies are the ones sworn to serve as our allies and protectors, such as it is ….This is where The Traffic Stop begins.” - Mike Beringhele, Former CA Gang Task Force Member and Federal Agent

I have known Robert “Moco” Morrill professionally and personally for a long time and for the last 10 years I have heard every minute detail about the Traffic Stop. For many of those who will read it, will say, "could this really happen?" But for those in law enforcement who have worked major criminals for any length of time will tell you that sooner or later you will find yourself in some kind of controversy. This book addresses that topic and more. Read it! - Frank "Paco" Marcell, Former Undercover Narcotics Officer and Security Threat Group Manger, Mult. SW U.S. Correctional Facilities

This book follows up on Mr. Morrill's first book on the Mexican Mafia. What Officer Morrill thought was going to be a routine traffic stop proves there is no such thing, any stop can be dangerous, and any encounter with criminals can have repercussions long after an incident. Caught in the middle of a department war over who would be Chief and who would get promoted, justice took a back seat to personal politics. Mr. Morrill and his partner ended up being scapegoats accused of bungling the case. Tried in court, they both were eventually able to clear their names legally, but the damage to their careers had already been done. A must read for anybody interested in the criminal justice system! – Gabe Morales, Author, Trainer, Consultant

“In 1977 on a Southern California street, a city police officer makes what he believes to be a routine traffic stop. It is anything but routine. Unknown to him, this officer is now face-to-face with two Mexican Mafia assassins … on parole and armed. With the gang members in custody for booking on parole violation, a tangled web of criminal activity and corruption begins to emerge. Month-by-month, strand by strand, police investigators unravel a twisted mass of corruption, crime and murder that ultimately ensnares not only gang members and former felons, but implicates elected and appointed local and state officials. This single traffic stop and its subsequent shock waves would pit members of law enforcement against one another and lead to incriminations reaching the highest levels of state government.”

You can order Mr. Morrill's book on