BY MICHAEL WEBSTER: INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER Oct 12, 2008 1:00 PM PDT
The war on drugs is a war on terror and the war on terror is a war on drugs. They are interwoven and law enforcement believes they are inseparable. The Taliban and Al-Qaeda are growing poppies and producing heroin in Afghanistan and distributing those drugs via ships, aircraft and ground mules to Iraq, Turkey, Europe and Mexico to help raise cash.
Countries in South America like Columbia, Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia are growing, producing and distributing cocaine to Mexican drug cartels that in turn have Mexican and American gangs distribute throughout the United States, Europe and other countries around the world.
According to Michael A. Braun, DEA Chief of Operations, says that the drug trafficking and middle eastern terrorist groups are a “Growing Nexus.” He indicates that there is a growing nexus between international drug trafficking organizations and international terrorism. Mr. Braun believes it is a new hybrid organization funded by international drug trafficking and dedicated to terrorism.
As reported in the Laguna Journal Mexican and American gangs are expanding their sphere of influence here and around the world. Many gangs are much more sophisticated now days and are run much like well trained military units and multi-national corporations and therefore are much more of a threat to law enforcement as well as many citizens around the world.
U.S. and Mexican gangs are forging illegal business connections with other gangs in the states as well as in Mexico and Afghanistan seeking more lucrative drug markets.
These alliances make them much more dangerous and this organization is much more threatening. Many of the American gangs buy or are fronted drugs from the new alliances from as far away as Afghanistan where drug trades and whole selling take place. This proliferation and gangs adoption of terrorist tactic’s is worldwide and is increasingly accompanied by beheadings, shootings, kidnappings and other extreme violence and is threatening society in general.
It is estimated that there are 25,000 or more gangs currently operating in the U.S. and more than 1,000.000 active gang members. Most current gang members in the U.S. are believed by authorities to possess automatic weapons such as AK 47’s, shot guns, hand guns, other weapons such as grenade loungers, and other powerful explosives. Police report confiscating more and more bullet proof vests.
Gangs conduct all sorts of criminal activity in all 50 states, U.S. territories, Mexico, South America, Afghanistan and else where. Although most gang activity is concentrated in major urban areas, gangs also are proliferating in rural and suburban areas of varies countries.
Real headway on the war on drugs appear to be finally putting a dent in the global war on terror by cutting off the legs and arms of those organizations distributing the drugs which generates millions and some experts believe billions into the coffers of radical Muslim terrorist.
DEA Acting Administrator Michele Leonhart and Michael Garcia, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York announced that BASHIR NOORZAI, a former Mujahideen warlord and strong ally of the Taliban, was recently found guilty by a federal jury in Manhattan of conspiring to import and distribute heroin in the United States.
“BASHIR NOORZAI’s illegal activities illustrate the volatile convergence of drugs and terrorism,” Leonhart said. “Citizens of America and Afghanistan can take great pride in the conviction of this dangerous and prolific drug lord.”
NOORZAI, the leader of his namesake tribe, one of Afghanistan’s largest and most influential tribes, owned opium fields in the southern province of Kandahar, Afghanistan, and had subordinates convert the opium into heroin at laboratories in Afghanistan’s border regions. The heroin was later imported into the United States, hidden in suitcases and on ships. As early as 1990, NOORZAI had a network of distributors in New York City who sold his heroin.
“BASHIR NOORZAI supported an extremist Taliban regime with the proceeds of his worldwide heroin trade. NOORZAI’s decades-long criminal career has finally ended, and one of Afghanistan’s most prolific heroin exporters now faces a life sentence to be served in a U.S. prison. “We owe a debt of gratitude to the men and women of the DEA and FBI who made countless sacrifices to bring him to justice,” Garcia said.
Recently other massive investigations and large numbers of drug arrests such as “Project Reckoning” delivered a huge blow to Mexican drug cartels and gang members worldwide.
Both international and state side clandestine law enforcement task force operations are now starting to produce real results. The U.S. government claims that “Project Reckoning” alone has resulted in the arrest of more than 500 individuals in the United States, Mexico and Italy with many more expected. “Project Reckoning,” a multi-agency law enforcement effort led by the DEA, targeted the largest Mexican Drug Cartel and its U.S. and international distribution networks.
175 of the 500 arrested are believed members of the Mexican Drug Gulf Cartel. Among those indicted are three of the alleged leaders of the Gulf Cartel: Ezequiel Cardenas-Guillen, Heriberto Lazcano-Lazcano, and Jorge Eduardo Costilla-Sanchez. These individuals, each designated as Consolidated Priority Organization Targets (CPOTs) by the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF), have been indicted in U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia on charges that they conspired to import drugs into the United States from Mexico. A CPOT designation is reserved for significant narcotics traffickers who are believed to be the leaders of drug trafficking organizations responsible for the importation of large quantities of narcotics into the United States.
During the arrests the law enforcement officers reported they Seized over $60 million USD and more than 40 tons of illegal drugs from just the Mexican Drug Cartel.
The investigative efforts in Project Reckoning were coordinated by the Justice Department’s Special Operations Division, the DEA, FBI, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Internal Revenue Service, U.S. Marshals Service, and attorneys from the Criminal Division’s Narcotic and Dangerous Drug Section. More than 200 federal, state, local, and foreign law enforcement agencies contributed investigative and prosecutorial resources to Project Reckoning through the OCDETF. Significant assistance was also provided by a coalition of international investigative agencies spearheaded by DEA offices located in Colombia, Guatemala, Mexico, Panama, and Italy, with assistance from foreign counterparts in each of those countries.
The Gulf Cartel is responsible for the transportation of multi-ton quantities of cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin and marijuana from Colombia, Guatemala, Panama, and Mexico to the United States, as well as the distribution of those narcotics within the United States. The Gulf Cartel is also believed to be responsible for laundering multiple millions of dollars in criminal proceeds. Individuals indicted in the cases are charged with a variety of crimes, including: drug trafficking charges related to cocaine and marijuana; solicitation and conspiracy to kidnap; attempted murder; conspiracy to use a firearm in a violent crime; conspiracy to kill and kidnap in a foreign country; interstate and foreign travel in aid of racketeering; money laundering; and other related crimes.
“By spreading dangerous drugs and resorting to brutal violence, international drug cartels pose an extraordinary threat both here and abroad,” said Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey. “The scope of the threat demands a deliberate and sustained response and the success we have had, such as the takedowns announced today, is due to the combined efforts of federal, state, local, and international law enforcement. Although I am pleased with the efforts so far, we cannot and will not rest on these successes. The threat posed by international drug cartels is too great. It will take all of us working together to prevail.”
“We successfully completed a hard-hitting, coordinated, and massive assault on the powerful and extremely violent Gulf Cartel,” said DEA Acting Administrator Michele M. Leonhart. “We have arrested U.S. cell heads, stripped the cartel of $60 million in cash, imprisoned their brutal assassins, and significantly disrupted their U.S. infrastructure. DEA will continue our relentless attack against this cartel, aiming to dismantle them and stop the violence they inflict on Southwest Border communities.”
According to the indictments to date, Project Reckoning has resulted in the arrest of 507 individuals and the seizure of approximately $60.1 million in U.S. currency, 16,711 kilograms of cocaine, 1,039 pounds of methamphetamine, 19 pounds of heroin, 51,258 pounds of marijuana, 176 vehicles, and 167 weapons.
Project Reckoning, a 15-month investigation, combined into one centrally coordinated effort several multi-district enforcement operations that all involved individuals with close ties to the Gulf Cartel. Operation Dos Equis, Operation Vertigo, Operation Stinger, and Operation The Family, as well as numerous local operations combined to form the secret operation “Project Reckoning.”
Operation Community Shield that was begun in February 2005 to dismantle street gangs seems of late to be bearing some real fruit too. The Department of Homeland Security says there have been real up-ticks in the program that has led to more than 10,000 arrests involving violent gangs, including Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13, whose members are from El Salvador, Honduras and other Central American countries.
Over 2,000 violent gang members who are in this country illegally were arrested in the last couple of years in U.S. Government crackdowns. “We’ve arrested quite a number of very serious criminals – individuals who frankly have worn out their welcome by coming into this country illegally and committing more crimes when they got here,” said Julie L. Myers, assistant secretary of homeland security for immigration and customs enforcement.
In other related developments Vito S. Guarino, the Acting Special Agent in Charge of DEA’s Caribbean Division and Rosa Emilia Rodríguez-Vélez, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Puerto Rico, joined with members of the Caribbean Corridor Initiative (CCI) to announce the seizure of approximately 1,930 kilograms of cocaine with a street market value of $58 million onboard the Panamanian-flagged vessel Megan Star.
As a result of the joint investigative efforts of CCI participants, a U.S. Coast Guard law enforcement detachment onboard the U.S. Naval frigate USS FARRAGUT intercepted the Megan Star in international waters.
Just in the last few days Timothy J. Landrum, Special Agent in Charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) Los Angeles Field Division and Bernard K. Melekian, Chief of Police of the Pasadena Police Department announced the arrest of 89 people, and the seizure of 12 pounds of methamphetamine, 2,492 pills of ecstasy and almost 12 pounds of cocaine, in both powder and rock form, as well as dozens of guns in a multi-agency crackdown on gangs and drugs that stretched from Pasadena to the eastern United States.
From July 2008 to October 2008, the DEA deployed their Mobile Enforcement Team (MET) to the Pasadena area to assist local law enforcement with the surge of drug and street gang violence. The investigation primarily targeted members of the Pasadena Denver Lane Bloods drug street gang.
A federal grand jury in San Diego California charged 35 more people with roles in groups that smuggled cocaine and methamphetamine to the United States and returned to Mexico with cash stashed in secret vehicle compartments.
Authorities called the sting another blow to Mexico’s Sinaloa drug cartel, which allegedly supplied the drugs that were smuggled across the border from Mexicali, Mexico, to Calexico, Calif., about 120 miles east of San Diego.
Nineteen defendants have been arrested on drug and money-laundering charges, said U.S. Attorney Karen Hewitt. Nine others were believed to be at-large in Mexico and seven were believed to be at-large in the United States.
The 18-month investigation resulted in seizures of $9.5 million in cash, about 1,500 pounds of cocaine, 371 pounds of methamphetamine and about 1,600 pounds of marijuana, authorities said.
Six defendants were charged with engaging in a continuing criminal enterprise, which carries a minimum sentence of 20 years in prison and a maximum of life. The others were charged with crimes that carry sentences between 10 years and life in prison.
The majority of arrests occurred in California’s Imperial Valley, said Eileen Zeidler, spokeswoman for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. The U.S. will seek extradition for four who were arrested in Mexicali by Mexican authorities.
Special Agent David King with the Imperial County Law Enforcement Coordination Center, says, “It’s a culmination of an 18 month investigation looking into individuals, 6 group cells operating in Imperial County distributing drugs through California and the United States.”
The investigation is called Money Train. Over 150 federal, state, and local agents joined forces, looking for criminals and drugs.
“In some of the homes we found weapons, tech nines, uzi, controlled substances for sale and various other narcotic paraphernalia.”
Bundles of cash were discovered in some of the homes, along with minors. Investigators have been working the money train for a year and a half, and today the train came to a screeching halt.
“We take everybody all at once and it has a massive effect that it completely dismantles the drug trafficking organization.”
The defendants include U.S. and Mexican citizens.
Just north of San Diego – Six people were also recently arrested and six others already in custody were named in federal complaints resulting from a three-year multi-agency investigation that targeted the Oceanside-based Varrio Posole Locos street gang, authorities said.
During the investigation, authorities seized 26 firearms and more than 10,000 rounds of ammunition in the Oceanside area, U.S. Attorney Karen P. Hewitt said in a prepared statement.
The investigation was conducted by the North County Regional Gang Task Force.
“Today’s operation is an example of bringing in multiple law-enforcement agency resources to greatly diminish the impacts of one of our local gangs,” Oceanside Police Chief Frank S. McCoy said in the statement.
Hewitt said the crimes alleged in the complaint include purchase, theft and possession of multiple firearms by convicted felons; robbery of a heroin dealer who was forced from a moving vehicle; conspiracies to distribute heroin in the Vista jail and in Ironwood State Prison in Blythe; and street sales of methamphetamine and heroin.
Large street gangs readily employ violence to control and expand drug, gun, prostitution and other illegal activities, targeting rival gangs and dealers who neglect or refuse to pay extortion fees. Members also use violence to ensure that members adhere to the gang’s code of conduct or to prevent a member from leaving. Authorities throughout the country report that gangs are responsible for most of the serious violent crime in the major cities of the U.S. Gangs engage in an array of criminal activities including torturing, assault, burglary, drive-by shooting, extortion, homicide, identification fraud, money laundering, prostitution operations, robbery, sale of stolen property, and weapons trafficking.
Street gangs, outlaw motorcycle gangs (OMGs), and prison gangs are the primary distributors of illegal drugs on the streets of the United States. Gangs also smuggle drugs into the United States and produce and transport drugs within the country.
U.S. gangs are now working hand in hand with Mexican cartel gangs, according to a DEA official who wants to remain anonymous.
Street gang members convert powdered cocaine into crack cocaine and produce most of the PCP available in the United States. Gangs, primarily produce marijuana and methamphetamine. In addition, gangs increasingly are involved in smuggling large quantities of cocaine, marijuana, heroin, methamphetamine, and MDMA (also known as ecstasy a sex drug) into the United States from foreign sources of supply.
Gangs primarily transport and distribute powdered cocaine, crack cocaine, heroin, marijuana, methamphetamine, MDMA, and PCP in the United States. And that illegal activity generates millions of dollars for the gangs and their members.
Gangs collect millions of dollars per month selling illegal drugs, trafficking weapons, operating prostitution rings, producing porno films and selling stolen property. Gangs launder proceeds by investing in real estate, recording studios, motorcycle shops, car washes and construction companies. They also operate various cash-based businesses, such as porno shops, porno movie houses, barbershops, music stores, restaurants, catering services, tattoo parlors, launder mats, donut shops, and strip clubs, in order to commingle drug proceeds with funds generated through legitimate commerce.
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