US MEXICO BORDER -- Mexican pirates trolling the waters of the U.S.-Mexico border lake shot and killed a tourist on September 30th, while his wife escaped a hail of bullets and raced her Jet Ski back to American soil. The incident has renewed calls for federal action by border security advocates.
Search and rescue teams patrolled the U.S. side of Falcon Lake this weekend searching for the body of Colorado tourist David Michael Hartley, 30, whose wife, Tiffany Hartley, told police he was shot in the back of the head after being ambushed by gunmen on boats.
Some Mexican officials who are investigating the case believe Hartley was killed by members of a powerful Mexico-based organized crime organization known as Los Zetas, a group long on the radar of American law enforcement and the U.S. Justice Department.
The Department of Justice's coordinated actions against the Gulf Cartel/Los Zetas drug trafficking organization, now known as the “Company,” resulted in a number of indictments of the gang's leaders prior to the Hartley murder case.
One of those charged last year, Miguel Trevino-Morales, was a principal leader of Los Zetas, originally a security force used by the Gulf Cartel. Los Zetas, whose origin includes former members of the Air Mobile Special Forces Group of the Mexican military, have evolved into not only a security force but a drug trafficking organization in their own right.
Antonio Ezequiel Cardenas-Guillen, Jorge Eduardo Costilla-Sanchez, Heriberto Lazcano-Lazcano and Miguel Trevino-Morales, high-level Mexican leaders of the Company and 15 of their top lieutenants, have been charged in U.S. federal courts with drug trafficking-related crimes. Also, the State Department announced rewards of up to $50 million, collectively, for information leading to the capture of 10 of these defendants, including the four leaders who were also specially designated as Narcotics Kingpins by the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control.
Federal prosecutors charged Miguel Trevino-Morales with operating a continuing criminal enterprise, international cocaine distribution and firearms violations. The indictment also contained a $1 billion forfeiture allegation. If convicted on all charges, he faces life in prison.
“These indictments allege a stunning and sophisticated operation by the Company to move illegal drugs into our communities and cash back to Mexico,” said Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer.
“We have learned that the most effective way to disrupt and dismantle criminal organizations is to prosecute their leaders and seize their funding. Today’s coordinated actions by the Departments of Justice, State and Treasury will serve not only to bring these individuals to justice, but also to significantly slow the flow of cash that is so vital to cartel operations.
These actions are also the result of our strong partnership with Mexican Attorney General Medina Mora, Secretary of Public Security Garcia Luna and other Mexican officials. We stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our brave Mexican colleagues in the fight against these destructive cartels.”
“Violent drug trafficking organizations represent a threat to the health and safety of people in Mexico and the U.S.,” said Acting Drug Enforcement Administration Administrator Michele M. Leonhart.
“These indictments and rewards prove our commitment to disrupting the cycle of drugs and associated violence that follow the cartels wherever they operate. I am especially proud of our DEA Houston and New York Divisions, whose investigations were the thrust behind the indictments of these offenders. With the help of the public, and in close coordination with the government of Mexico, they will be brought to justice.”
“Following on the heels of the President’s naming of Los Zetas as a drug kingpin organization in April, we are today targeting sanctions against four drug lords who are senior leaders in Los Zetas and the Gulf Cartel,” said OFAC Director Adam J. Szubin. “We remain committed to using all tools at our disposal to assist President Calderon in his courageous efforts against Mexico’s deadly narcotics cartels.”
According to the indictment, the Company was led primarily by a governing council, or triumvirate, which consisted of Cardenas-Guillen, Costilla-Sanchez and Lazcano-Lazcano. The indictment alleges the Company has operated along the U.S./Mexico border, dividing the territory into areas known as “plazas” and assigning each plaza region a leader known as the “plaza boss.”
The superseding indictment alleges Cardenas-Guillen, Costilla-Sanchez and Lazcano-Lazcano directed the Company’s cocaine and marijuana shipments via boats, planes and cars from Colombia and Venezuela to Guatemala, as well as to various cities and “plazas” in Mexico. From Mexico, the drugs were then shipped into cities in Texas for distribution to other cities in the United States.
The Company allegedly used sophisticated record keeping programs to track shipping, employment, payroll and payments made to law enforcement officials as well as payments received and owed. The superseding indictment alleges that the defendants discussed, among other things, supply issues, debt collection, pricing for the drugs in specific areas, bonus structures for individuals working at the “plazas,” concealment of the drugs during transportation, methods of shipment from Mexico to Texas, seizures of shipments and locations along the U.S./Mexico border where defendants allegedly believed the drugs could move more freely.