Eddie Espinoza, 51, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy, three counts of smuggling firearms from the United States and three counts of making false statements.
Federal documents state the group smuggled more than 200 guns from New Mexico to the streets of Cíudad Juárez and Palomas, Chihuahua. The documents further state that at times the group used unmarked police cars registered toColumbus to smuggle the guns across the border. Agents had been following the illegal operation for more than a year.Espinoza is the fourth person to plead guilty in this case so far. Earlier this month, the village board voted to eliminate the four-man police department as a cost-cutting measure. The Luna County Sheriff's Department will be responsible for patrolling the area now. In another development on the Columbus case, the El Paso US Attorney's office recently took over the case from the New Mexico US Attorney, although the Justice department has been tight lipped about the reasons behind the switch.
ARIZONA: Recently leaked memos from the Arizona Deparment of Public Safety confirm that Hezbollah has established ties with some of the Mexican cartels in establishing smuggling routes and warn that the terrorist organization may be stockpiling heavy weaponry south of the border.
As evidence, it points to the 2010 Tijuana arrest of Hezbollah militant Jameel Nasr, who was allegedly tasked with establishing a Hezbollah network in Mexico and South America. The memo also recalls the April 2009 arrest of Jamal Yousef in New York, which exposed a huge cache of assault rifles, hand grenades, explosives and anti-tank munitions. According to Yousef, the weapons were stored in Mexico after being smuggled from Iraq by members of Hezbollah. The memo warns that consequences of partnerships between Hezbollah and Mexico's drug partnerships could be disastrous for Mexico's drug war, given Hezbollah's advanced weapons capabilities — specifically their expertise with improvised explosive devices (IEDs). It notes that some Mexican criminal organizations have started using small IEDs and car bombs, a marked change in tactics that indicates a relationship with Islamic militantsHezbollah is already active in the tri-border/Iguazu region of South America where the borders of Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay meet. Some experts, while aware of Hezbollah's presence in Mexico, claim that while the organization may have no immediate plans for attacking the USA, the terrorist organization raises funds through criminal activity in Mexico and the USA. FLORIDA: A possible counterpart to the ATF's Phoenix-based Fast & Furious has come to light in Florida in recent weeks. Guns from a suspected trafficker in Florida under surveillance by the ATF had begun turning up in Puerto Rico, Honduras and Colombia in 2010.
At the center of the operation is 63-year-old Hugh Crumpler III, a well-known Central Florida bass fishing guide and tournament pro. He and 10 others have been charged -- six of whom were in the country illegally. Nine, including Crumpler, are scheduled for sentencing next month in federal court in Orlando. The other two are fugitives and are believed to have fled the country. Crumpler, who lives in Palm Bay, has admitted to selling the guns and knowing most of them were going out of the country to places such as Honduras, according to court documents. Records show three guns Crumpler bought were used in crimes in Puerto Rico, one just nine days after he bought it. Another gun was used in a homicide in Colombia 66 days after he bought it.The reports prompted a letter from Congressman Gus Bilirakis (R- FL9) to the ATF enquiring about the scope of Operation Castaway and whether or not the agency allowed any weapons to be 'walked' to Central America or Colombia.
NUEVO LEON: A few weeks ago, Reuters ran a special report titled If Monterrey Falls, Mexico Falls highlighting how the northern industrial center has largely been spared the bloody narco-violence spasming the rest of the country so far, but how that is changing. If there's any merit to using Mexico's main industrial center as a barometer, then Mexico's problems have only just begun, as the violence in the city has escalated with gunmen massacring 17 people at a bar in the city last weekend.
Monterrey, a major industrial hub, has seen a spike of violence since the Gulf and Zeta cartels began fighting for control of drug traffic there two years ago. The medical examiner's official said his office has recovered 17 bodies, including those of women, from the crime scene. He spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the record. Police sources would not confirm the number of dead people with The Associated Press and referred the AP to local prosecutors, who are not giving an official account of the shooting. Federal police spokesman Jose Ramon Salinas said that high-powered weapons used in the shooting indicated it might have been a drug cartel confrontation.The uptick in violence in Nuevo Leon could be attributed to violence from neighboring Tamaulipas spilling over. MICHOACAN: As the cartels have begun expanding their operations into illegal logging, one mountain village is barricading itself in an attempt to preserve the nearby old growth forests.
Masked and wielding rifles, the men of this mountain town stand guard at blockades of tires and sandbags to stop illegal loggers backed by drug traffickers. Their defiance isn’t just about defending their way of life; it’s one of the first major challenges to the reign of terror unleashed by Mexico’s drug cartels. The indigenous Purepecha people of this town surrounded by mountains of pine forests and neat farmland took security into their own hands last month after loggers, who residents say are backed by cartel henchmen and local police, killed two residents and wounded several others. “There is no fear here,” said one young man, defiantly peering out between a red handkerchief pulled up to his dark eyes and a camouflage baseball cap riding low over his brow. “Here we are fighting a David-and-Goliath battle because we are standing up to organized crime, which is no small adversary.” Nearly all residents in the town of 16,000 in the southwestern state of Michoacan spoke to reporters on condition of anonymity because of safety concerns. The Cheran rebellion is one of the few examples of a town standing up to drug cartels since President Felipe Calderon launched his crackdown on organized crime in late 2006, sparking a national wave of violence that has killed at least 35,000 people. Most Mexicans are too frightened to openly fight back against gangs that have terrorized the country with beheadings and massacres. Some towns in northern Mexico have emptied as cartels move in. The rebellion in Cheran caught the attention of the federal government, which deployed troops and federal police last week to patrol the outskirts of the town. “La Familia has the heaviest presence in the zone. Everything indicates that it’s them because they have the biggest presence, but we can’t say for sure,” said David Pena, a lawyer who has been representing the community in negotiations for protection with the federal government. Disputes over communal woods — between those who want to log indiscriminately and those who subsist on forest products — has long been a source of conflict in southwestern Mexico. The federal government has stepped up efforts against deforestation, conducting raids and shutting down illegal sawmills. But rogue loggers have become more violent as they align themselves with drug cartels, said Rupert Knox, a Mexico researcher at London-based Amnesty International, which has investigated the crisis in Cheran. “Illegal logging has gone hand-in-glove with criminal gangs. They have moved into that sphere and controlled it with extreme brutality and corruption of local officials,” Knox said. The animosity came to a head in Cheran when residents captured five illegal loggers on April 15 as their truck attempted to smuggle out illegally harvested wood. Two hours later, a convoy of armed men rumbled into the town to free the detained loggers, accompanied by local police, according to Pena and Amnesty International. One Cheran man was shot in the head and remains in a coma. But the townspeople, through force of numbers, managed to drive out the gunmen. In apparent reprisal, loggers shot and killed two Cheran men and wounded four others who were patrolling the woods on April 27. Angry Cheran residents stormed the local police headquarters, seizing 18 guns. They swiftly barricaded the town, piling sandbags and tires beneath plastic tents at several checkpoints along the main road. Young men with rifles keep track of residents venturing out and question anyone trying to get in. Classes have been suspended at the town’s more than 20 schools, which draw students from neighboring communities because both Spanish and the Purepecha language are taught. Instead, young boys hang out at the barricades, covering their faces with handkerchiefs and pretending to patrol with plastic toy guns. “Everything is paralyzed out of fear that this gang might attack the children,” said a soft-spoken man wearing a white bandana and a black wool cap at a checkpoint. The municipal police dissolved itself. Mayor Roberto Bautista Chapina reported the guns stolen but has otherwise stayed out of the dispute, trying not to inflame tensions. He said the Cheran men attacked the police chief and grabbed his gun. Community leaders and Interior Department representatives met Tuesday in the state capital of Morelia and agreed on a long-term security plan, Pena said. The government promised to set up two bases outside the town for army troops and federal and state police, who will patrol the hills and forests and meet weekly with Cheran leaders. Residents will be allowed to keep protecting the town on their own.Among many observers, this is thought to be the most direct challenge to the cartels since the reported last stand of rancher and businessman Don Alejo Garza last year. It's also worth noting that as an organization, La Familia is pretty much finished thanks to infighting and it's leadership on the run or imprisoned with the rest of the organization reconstituting themselves into the Knights Templar. ELSEWHERE IN MICHOACAN: Speaking of the Knights Templar, Mexican Federal Police have arrested the man they claim oversees killings for the young organization. Javier Beltran Arco- aka 'El Chivo'- was arrested along with two lookouts in Michoacan this month. Also seized were two pounds of methamphetamine and three automatic rifles. At the Lazaro Cardenas seaport, officials also intercepted containers from Shanghai, China carrying 44 metric tons worth of chemicals used to manufacture methamphetamine. TEXAS: PEMEX, Mexico's state run oil company, has filed a lawsuit against nine companies in the US District Court in Houston, TX last month. The suit alleges that the nine companies and two individuals named in the suit have either willingly or unknowingly received oil stolen from PEMEX pipelines.
Pemex said the suit is intended to "combat the theft and smuggling of gas condensate from its facilities in northern Mexico," including tanker trucks hijacked at gunpoint in northern Mexico. The thefts involved dozens of tanker-truck loads. The suit does not claim any of the U.S. firms participated in the actual robberies, but says some knowingly conspired to ship the stolen goods, while others unwittingly handled them. "All of the defendants have participated and profited, knowingly or unwittingly, in the trafficking of stolen condensate in the United States," the suit says, referring to a mix of oil liquids produced as a byproduct of natural gas wells. "Some of the defendants knew, or at least should have known, they were trading in, or transporting, stolen condensate," the suit says. "Others were ignorant that they were purchasing stolen goods. In either case, however, the defendants took possession of Mexico's sovereign property without right or title. All defendants are therefore liable for their individual usurpation of Mexico's patrimony." The lawsuit does not name a specific amount of damages being sought, but argues that the sued companies are liable for part or all of the $300 million in oil stolen since 2006. Pemex has "lost large amounts of its condensate, at times approaching 40 percent of the production of condensate from the Burgos Field," the suit says. A joint U.S.-Mexico investigation in 2010 found that smuggled oil stolen from Pemex was being transported across the border and sold to U.S. refineries. The Mexican government has said drug cartel members and other criminals are responsible for many of the oil thefts.This would not be the first time organized crime in Mexico branched out into the theft and resale of stolen natural resources as the value of said resources went up. PEMEX, for its part, has claimed that a crackdown earlier this year has led to a decline in the amount of oil stolen from the national oil company's pipelines, but the thieves have been switching tactics as well as allegedly employing the cartels to help them smuggle and sell off the stolen product.
Gangs are still believed to earn hundreds of millions of dollars a year tapping Mexico's vast, but largely unprotected, pipeline network We're seeing changes. They are tapping into (propane) pipelines. We've also found some double taps that the criminals use to inject water into the pipes to stop the detection of a loss of pressure," Pemex Chief Executive Juan Jose Suarez said during testimony before a congressional panel last week. Fuel thieves traditionally focused on stealing gasoline and diesel for sale on the local black market, but gangs increasingly have set their sights on crude oil. Pemex found 712 connections to its network last year, nearly double the number found the year before and five times the amount detected in 2005. Two crude pipelines were the most tapped nationwide last year with 191 illegal connections, up from only five in 2005. Pemex believes thieves siphoned off about 10,000 barrels of crude worth more than $700,000 every day last year. Officials say the crude most likely ends up with brickmakers and other industrial customers who use it as a substitute for boiler fuel. Privately they admit criminals may be smuggling the oil out of Mexico, given the relatively small size of the domestic market for industrial boiler fuel. Drug cartels, which extort protection money from fuel theft gangs who are often made up of current and former oil industry workers, are believed to provide the expertise to smuggle siphoned oil into the United States. Court papers indicate that Mexican and U.S. authorities believe the Zetas cartel helped one gang move up to $300 million in condensate -- a liquid byproduct of natural gas used to make plastics -- into Texas by bribing customs officials, using false transit documents and hiring middlemen to sell it to some of the world's largest chemical companies. A similar scheme with crude would be easy to replicate and hard to detect due to the huge size of the oil market. Pemex officials say the origin of the smuggled crude can be easily concealed by blending it with legitimately-obtained oil.The companies named in the suit include Big Star Gathering LTD, F&M Transportation Inc., Western Refining Company LP, Joplin Energy LLC, Superior Crude Gathering Inc., Plains All-American [NYSE- PAA], TransMontaigne Partners LP of Denver, Colorado [NYSE- TLP], SemCrude LP of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, and Saint James Oil Inc. of Sandy, Utah. MEXICO CITY: Another seemingly mundane avenue that various cartels have muscled into include movie piracy.
Led by the notorious La Familia and Los Zetas drug mafias, Mexican cartels now take a big cut of the hundreds of millions of dollars in bootleg disks sold in Mexico each year, according to U.S. officials and representatives of film studios and software manufacturers. “This is no longer a victimless crime. There is blood on the product,” said Federico de la Garza, managing director of the Motion Picture Association in Mexico City, whose own investigators work closely with the Mexican attorney general. Disk piracy and U.S. copyright violations are a challenge around the world, but in Mexico the sale of bootleg copies of “Toy Story 3” and Microsoft Windows XP are funding the powerful mafias whose relentless violence has left more than 35,000 Mexicans dead in the past four years. Mexico has become the pirate capital of Latin America, exporting so many bootleg movies to Central America, for example, that the major studios no longer bother to sell their products on the shelves there, according to industry watchdogs. And in Cancun or Monterrey or Tijuana, when you buy a bootleg Disney movie for the kids, it is as likely as not to bare a stamp that shows it was distributed by the Zetas (a stallion) or La Familia (a butterfly). Video piracy is ubiquitous in Mexico, where more than nine of 10 movie DVDs sold are counterfeits. Mexican authorities rarely seize products from street dealers or market stalls. U.S. officials in Mexico suspect many vendors give kickbacks to local authorities to allow them to operate.While its likely that they aren't producing the bootleg DVDs themselves, the cartels usually make their money through taking over distribution routes and demanding protection money from vendors operating in territory they've taken over. BAJA CALIFORNIA: Mexican soldiers detained 58 people and seized an estimated US$160 billion worth of pot after stumbling across a massive 300 acre marijuana plantation in the northern part of the state last month. Mexican officials call it the largest seizure of marijuana on record and claim that the plantation had been operational for less than four months. Army officers said that the crop was discovered under canopies less than two miles off of Route 1, the main highway that traverses the Baja Peninsula. Although 58 people were taken into custody at the time of the raid, it appears that nearly twice as many people were working there. Although the territory was controlled by the Tijuana-based Arellano Felix cartel, that organization was one of the first organizations to have been undermined by President Calderon's stepped up attacks against the narcos. A spokesman for the Mexican Army's second region believes that Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman's Sinaloa cartel had a hand in setting up the massive plantation. TAMAULIPAS: At least 60 inmates managed to escape a state prison in Nuevo Laredo in a jailbreak that was thought to be orchestrated by Los Zetas, across the Rio Grande from Laredo, TX.
Seven prisoners were also killed during the escape, which the government said was preceded by a large-scale fight between inmates. Five employees of the prison, the Centro de Ejecución de Sanciones (CEDES), also deserted their posts. Thirty-five of the inmates were being jailed on federal charges. The escape marks the second time in eight months the city has seen a mass exodus of criminals from the prison. In December about 140 inmates escaped, which Cuellar attributed to a plan orchestrated by the Zetas to swell its ranks after suffering heavy losses throughout its ongoing battles against rival gangs and law enforcement. The sheriff could not confirm that today’s escape was part of a similar plan.Between January 2010 and March 2011, more than 400 inmates have escaped from five prisons operated under the state's authority in Tamaulipas. [Hat tip: Correspondence Committee; Borderland Beat; Friends of Ours]