DEA: Mexican Gangs 'Remain Greatest Criminal Drug Threat to the United States'

Susan Jones | November 5, 2015 | 8:28am EST
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This Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2015 photo released by Mexico's Federal Police shows an underground tunnel that police say was built to smuggle drugs from Tijuana, Mexico to San Diego in the United States. Mexican federal police said the tunnel extends about 2,600 feet (800 meters) and is lit, ventilated, equipped with a rail car system, and lined with metal beams to prevent collapse. (Mexico Federal Police via AP)

( - "Mexican transnational criminal organizations (TCOs) remain the greatest criminal drug threat to the United States; no other group can challenge them in the near term," says the 2015 National Drug Threat Assessment released on Wednesday by the Drug Enforcement Administration.

"These Mexican poly-drug organizations traffic heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine, and marijuana throughout the United States, using established transportation routes and distribution networks," the report says.

The Mexican TCOs serve primarily as wholesale suppliers, and they work with thousands of local, U.S.-based gangs to distribute the drugs at the retail level.

And these Mexican criminal enterprises may be coming to a neighborhood near you:
"Law enforcement reporting indicates some Mexican trafficking organizations within the United States are relocating from major metropolitan areas to establish bases of operation in suburban or rural areas," the DEA said.

"Traffickers are relocating because they feel they can better conceal their operations in an area where law enforcement does not expect to find large trafficking organizations operating or are not accustomed to dealing with such organizations."

The report mentions Dallas, San Francisco, eastern Washington State, western Colorado, and parts of North Carolina as places where Mexican traffickers have relocated.

'Family and friends'

The 2015 threat assessment -- based on the most recent 2013 data -- says Mexican TCOs depend on "extended family and friends," including those in the U.S., to build their networks:

"Families affiliated with various Mexican TCOs in Mexico vouch for US-based relatives or friends that are deemed trustworthy enough to help run various aspects of the drug trafficking operations in the United States. Actual members of Mexican TCOs are usually sent to important US hub cities to manage stash houses containing drug shipments and bulk cash drug proceeds."

Other findings:

-- Mexican TCOs transport the bulk of their drugs over the Southwest Border through ports of entry using passenger vehicles or tractor trailers.  The drugs are typically secreted in hidden compartments when transported in passenger vehicles or comingled with legitimate goods when transported in tractor trailers.  Once across the Southwest Border, the drugs are transported to stash houses in hub cities such as Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, and Phoenix, and then transported via these same conveyances to distribution groups in the Midwest and on the East Coast.

--Mexican TCOs sometimes traffic marijuana through subterranean tunnels connected to a network of safe houses on both the Mexico and the US sides of the border.  Mexican TCOs also transport marijuana via commercial cargo trains and on small boats, often referred to as “pangas,” from the West Coast of Baja California north to the central California coast.  Mexican TCOs also have transported drugs across the Southwest Border using ultralight aircraft.

-- The DEA counts nine "major Mexican TCOs" now operating in the United States, including the Beltran-Leyva Organization (BLO), New Generation Jalisco Cartel (Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generación or CJNG) the Los Cuinis, Gulf Cartel (Cartel del Golfo or CDG), Juarez Cartel, Michoacán Family (La Familia Michoacána or LFM), Knights Templar (Los Caballeros Templarios or LCT), Los Zetas, and the Sinaloa Cartel, which is identified as "the most active supplier."

-- U.S. street gangs "continue to expand, develop and grow more  sophisticated in their criminal enterprises.  The National Gang Intelligence Center (NGIC) assesses that the U.S. gang composition is approximately 88 percent street gang members, 9.5 percent prison gang members, and 2.5 percent outlaw motorcycle gang members.  

--  DEA counts approximately 1.4 million active street, prison, and outlaw motorcycle gang members comprising more than 33,000 gangs in the United States.  Though gangs are involved in a multitude of criminal activities, street-level drug trafficking and distribution continues to be their main source of revenue, and they commit violent crimes, such as robbery, assault, threats, and intimidation, in furtherance of those ends."

The outlook is grim: The report says Mexican TCOs "will continue to dominate the trafficking of heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine, and marijuana throughout the United States.  There are no other organizations at this time with the infrastructure and power to challenge Mexican TCOs for control of the US drug market."

Also See:
46,471: Drug Overdoses Killed More Americans Than Car Crashes or Guns

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