Staging raids in 38 cities across 19 states, the Justice Department claimed a major blow against the stateside networks of Mexico’s La Familia Michoacana narco gang this week. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. Oct. 22 announced the arrests of 303 people in the past two days, the culmination of a four-year investigation dubbed “Operation Coronado.”
“The sheer level and depravity of violence that this cartel has exhibited far exceeds what we, unfortunately, have become accustomed to from other cartels,” Holder said. “While this cartel may operate from Mexico, the toxic reach of its operations extends to nearly every state within our country.”
The biggest hauls were in Dallas, Atlanta and Seattle, with significant seizures also reported in San Diego and Riverside, Calif. Holder said authorities seized more than $32 million in US currency, 2,700 pounds of methamphetamine, 4,400 pounds of cocaine, 16,000 pounds of marijuana and 29 pounds of heroin, as well as 389 firearms and 269 vehicles. More arrests are expected, he added. Operation Coronado has led to some 900 arrests in the past four years, Holder asserted.
“These are drugs that were headed for our streets and weapons that often were headed for the streets of Mexico,” Holder said. “That’s why we are hitting them where it hurts the most—their revenue stream. By seizing their drugs and upending their supply chains, we have disrupted their ‘business-as-usual’ state of operations.”
As the raids were carried out in the United States, the Mexican authorities on Oct. 22 arrested six members of La Familia, including two mid-level commanders in the towns of Taretan and Morelia, Michoacán.
La Familia is said to specialize in smuggling methamphetamine, controlling the port of Lázaro Cárdenas, where precursors for the synthetic drug arrive. It manufactures thousands of pounds of the drug strictly for export to the United States.
The cartel started 20 years ago as an anti-drug vigilante group, and its leader, Nazario Moreno González AKA “El Más Loco”, still spouts paradoxical anti-drug rhetoric. He carries a Bible and a cartel-produced book of his own quotes, and requires the core members of the group to attend church. The organization apparently recruits heavily among drug addicts in Michoacán’s rehabilitation clinics.
“What is distinctive about them is they are messianic,” George W. Grayson, a professor of government at the College of William & Mary, told the New York Times’ James McKinley. “They justify their actions because they are carrying out divine justice.”
For years, La Familia was allied with the Gulf Cartel, based in Tamaulipas, and fought against the rival Sinaloa Cartel for control of the local police and officials in Michoacán. But that alliance fell apart in 2004, and La Familia has since gone into business for itself, competing with both the Gulf and Sinaloa cartels.
“This is an organization that just recently we started calling a cartel because of how they’ve grown and the violence that they spread,” DEA administrator Michele Leonhart told the Times. “And it is the first time we have seen a cartel take on meth trafficking, where they are the direct pipeline from Mexico to the US of multi-hundred-pound quantities of methamphetamine.”
Mexico has claimed some progress against La Familia’s leadership in recent years, but Moreno González and his top lieutenants remain at large. One, Servando Gómez Martinez AKA “La Tuta”, was indicted on drug trafficking charges in Manhattan as part of the nationwide crackdown. After the murder of Mexican federal officers in July, Gómez gave a recorded statement to a local TV station in which he said the cartel was locked in a battle with the Mexican police, the indictment noted. (El Universal, Oct. 23; NYT, Oct. 22)
Caro Quintero brother pleads guilty in massive ’80s marijuana operation
As the raids against La Familia went forward, a long-sought Mexican cartel leader—best known as the brother of the man who killed DEA Agent Enrique “Kiki” Camarena in 1985—pleaded guilty to drug trafficking charges in a federal court in Denver, Colorado. Nearly 20 years after his indictment, Miguel Angel Caro Quintero, 46, admitted trafficking more than 100 tons of marijuana into several western states between 1985 and 1988, and sending more than $100 million to Mexico. He faces between 10 to 20 years, as well as an additional five years in a separate marijuana case in Arizona.
Hideous narco-violence continues across Mexico
In Tijuana Oct. 17, the nude, mutilated body of a man was found hanging from an expressway overpass. Local news outlets reported that the man’s tongue had been cut out, suggesting that drug traffickers suspected he was an informant.
It was the second such discovery found in the past two weeks. On Oct. 9, the mutilated body of a Baja California state official who authorities said was suspected of giving fake driver’s licenses to drug gang members was found hanging from another bridge in Tijuana.
Also Oct. 17, police reported finding the mutilated body of a woman in a reservoir in another part of Tijuana. The woman’s hands and head were missing. That same day, a shoot-out between police and narco-gunmen left one officer and one narco dead, and two police wounded. (AP, Oct. 17)
As judges and prosecutors from across Mexico were holding a summit on the narco violence Oct. 3 in the central city of Guanajuato, the bodies of 10 ten men were found shot execution-style, some with their hands bound, at several locations around Guanajuato state. (El Universal, Oct. 3)