Forensics team seen arriving at Apodaca Prison in Nuevo Leon after 44 inmates were killed in a prison riot which was used as a distraction for incarcerated cartel members to escape. Reuters PhotoNUEVO LEON- Thirty inmates- all of them believed to be members of Mexico's Zeta cartel- are missing after a deadly riot in Apodaca Prison outside of Monterrey killed 44 inmates. Within a day of the clashes, officials suspected the rioting was a diversion to draw attention away from the escape attempt.
"Without a doubt there was premeditation," said [Nuevo León Gov. Rodrigo] Medina, speaking at a news conference. "This was planned."The warden for Apodaca prison was dismissed from his post while
Mr. Medina said all the dead prisoners were members of the rival Gulf Cartel. The Zetas and the Gulf Cartel have been warring for two years for control of drug routes and lucrative drug markets, especially in the northeastern Mexican states of Nuevo León and Tamaulipas.
Mr. Medina said prison personnel appeared to have been involved in the massacre and escapes.
nine guards have confessed to helping inmates escape. As many as 18 guards from Apodaca have been detained as suspects in aiding in the jailbreak and subsequent riot.
Nuevo Leon state public security spokesman Jorge Domene Zambrano said nine of the guards confessed to aiding the escape. He said it appeared the breakout happened before the deadly fight.No firearms were used in the escape or subsequent riot- the 44 victims were reportedly stabbed, strangled or bludgeoned to death. A reward of up to US$775,000 for information leading to the recapture of the escaped inmates is reportedly being offered.
The massacre in this northern state was one of the worst prison killings in Mexico in at least a quarter-century and exposed another weak institution that President Felipe Calderon is relying on to fight his drug war.
Mexico has only six federal prisons, and so sends many of its dangerous cartel suspects and inmates to ill-prepared, overcrowded state penitentiaries. Drug trafficking, weapons possession and money laundering are all considered federal crimes in Mexico.
Nuevo Leon's governor said earlier Monday that the breakout would have been hard or impossible to stage without the help of prison authorities. Medina said no holes had been found in the perimeter walls of the prison in Apodaca, outside the northern city of Monterrey, and no armed gang had burst in to spring them.
Within a few days of the riot and jailbreak, gunmen wielding AK47-style rifles and 9mm pistols killed 5 men in a home in the Monterrey suburb of Apodaca- although the shooting is thought to be unrelated to the jailbreak in the same town.
TEXAS- On Feb 24th, the DEA arrested El Paso County Comissioner Willie Gandara Jr on charges of drug trafficking and money laundering.
Gandara had also recently filed papers to run as a Democrat for Texas State House District 75. The arrest would not automatically disqualify him for running for the state office, according to El Paso County Democrat Party chairman Danny Anchondo.
On Tuesday, Federal prosecutors introduced incriminating evidence against the younger Gandara during his bond hearing.
The evidence, including surveillance video and audio taken from Gandara's wiretapped cellphone, was introduced during a bond hearing for Gandara and his co-defendant, Juan Canales. Both men have pleaded not guilty.Gandara, who also owns Soccoro Iron & Metal, comes from a politically active family. Willie Gandara Sr was mayor of Soccoro, TX and in 2010, the elder Gandara and 10 others were charged with racketeering, mail fraid, wire fraid and conspiracy in a 27 count indictment. By May 2011, the elder Gandara was recalled as mayor of Soccoro- the first elected official to be recalled in El Paso county.
U.S. Magistrate Judge David Guaderrama set Gandara's bond at $50,000, and Canales' bond at $20,000, after viewing the video and listening to the audio evidence and testimony from Special Agent Larry Wooten of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
Guaderrama said that although the "weight of the evidence" presented was strong, he believed that the commissioner was neither a flight risk nor a danger to the community based on the totality of his history of community service and lack of a criminal record.
Wooten testified during the hearing that DEA agents were tipped off to Gandara's alleged drug activity by the confidential informant in November 2010.
"He stated Mr. Gandara was involved in drug trafficking and warehousing, and selling stolen goods" including copper items, Wooten testified.
On June 27, 2011, the confidential source arranged to meet with Gandara at his home to "confirm or deny those allegations," Wooten said in court.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Antonio Franco then played parts of a hidden-camera video taken of Gandara and the informant in the informant's vehicle, which was allegedly parked outside of Gandara's home.
In the video, the source tells Gandara he has a large amount of marijuana to unload, and that it would take 15 to 20 minutes. Gandara mentions to the source a ranch "where I have the horses," referring to a ranch at 720 Worsham Road in Socorro, where the source can transfer his marijuana load.
The source is then heard offering Gandara between $5,000 and $10,000 in payment for using the site to unload the drugs.
Wooten also testified that during a recorded conversation with the source, Gandara allegedly bragged about running a drug-trafficking organization with a pipeline from El Paso County to Oklahoma and Chicago. He also bragged about making $1,200 per pound of marijuana sold in Chicago, and typically running 150 pounds of the drug per trip.
On Sept. 9, 2011, the confidential source allegedly arranged for another offload transaction at Gandara's scrap yard on Coker Road in Socorro. During the transaction, which was also videotaped, the source and an undercover DEA agent are seen transferring packages filled with marijuana from one vehicle into a truck close Gandara stands close by.
In one part of the video, the source is seen showing Gandara a bundle and some marijuana that came out of the bundle. Out of view, Gandara allegedly asks the informant for "a sample," but the source declines to leave Gandara one of the marijuana bundles.
"The confidential source was not allowed to give him the bundle, so he withheld it and said there may be more available in the future," Wooten said.
On Oct. 22, 2011, Border Patrol agents seized a large amount of marijuana from a tractor-trailer traveling through the Sierra Blanca checkpoint. The truck, allegedly driven by Javier Betancourt, apparently originated from one of Gandara's properties, Wooten testified.
The day before the seizure, DEA agents recorded a conversation, allegedly between Gandara and Betancourt, discussing the load. During the conversation, Betancourt is heard telling Gandara he needs to leave earlier than planned in order to drive through the checkpoint during shift change and when a Greyhound bus was expected to pass through the checkpoint. Both events would create a distraction for agents, Betancourt tells Gandara.
ARIZONA- Portions of what's been called The Most Dangerous National Park in America have reopened to the public this month.
On a hot desert morning last week, a group of 20 tourists gathered in the visitor center in Arizona’s Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument to attend a mandatory safety briefing before taking a guarded van tour to Quitobaquito springs. The springs is part of the 69 percent of the remote border park west of Tucson that has been closed to the public since Kris Eggle, a 28-year-old law enforcement park ranger, was shot and killed while pursuing drug runners armed with AK-47s in 2002.Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is located in the remote desert area to the south and west of Tuscon, AZ adjacent to the Mexican border and Tohono O'Odham Indian Reservation.
Organ Pipe was named “the most dangerous national park” that year and also in 2003 by the U.S. Park Rangers Lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police, before the group discontinued the series. The drastic increase of drug activity on Arizona’s southern border since the 1990s has turned Organ Pipe rangers into de factor Border Patrol agents.
Since 2009, the park has offered van tours to the springs, as long as rangers armed with assault rifles go along to protect the visitors. Now, ten years after Eggle’s murder, the park’s leadership has decided to open up a portion of the closed areas to the public in March, citing improved safety conditions and a big increase in Border Patrol agents in the area.
Ken Hires, an unflaggingly cheerful park ranger dressed in reassuringly normal-looking tan ranger clothes, bounded to the front of the room. Hires is what’s called an interpretive ranger, which means he has no law enforcement duties and does not carry a weapon. (“I spent my five years in Vietnam. Enough shooting,” he said later.) Hires explained that some law enforcement officers would be hiding in the hills and closely watching the two-hour nature hike, while another pair of armed rangers would follow the tourists closely from the ground. “They’ll have M-14s at hand,” he told the group. “Don’t be worried.”