The Chicago Syndicate: Chapo Guzman
The Mission Impossible Backpack

Showing posts with label Chapo Guzman. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Chapo Guzman. Show all posts

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

The Inner Workings of a El Chapo's $14 Billion Drug Empire

The trial of Joaquín Guzmán Loera, and his conviction Tuesday on drug-smuggling charges, brought to an end the decades long career of the notorious “El Chapo.” It also revealed in remarkable detail the inner workings of the criminal empire he built, one that rivaled governments and multinational companies in its power and sophistication.

After a three-month trial, the 61-year-old, who escaped twice from maximum-security prisons, was found guilty on 10 criminal counts by a federal jury in Brooklyn, N.Y. He is expected to spend the rest of his life in a U.S. prison.

Trial testimony laid bare the secrets of the Sinaloa cartel’s organizational structure, including how cocaine and marijuana rumbled across the U.S. border in the walls of freight trains, how in-house tech experts built encrypted communications networks and how the cartel moved money around using debit cards, suitcases of cash and private planes. It even built its own rail spurs to unload shipments.

At times, the underlings of Mr. Guzmán who testified sounded as if they were describing corporate life. Former operations managers detailed infrastructure, accounting ledgers, supply-chain issues and the need to “protect the capital of the investors.” Mr. Guzmán often referred to the cartel as “la empresa,” or “the company.”

The cartel, of course, was no ordinary business. Prosecutors alleged Mr. Guzmán was involved in dozens of murders, and had ordered the burning of two cartel enemies after he had shot them in the head. Cartel leaders also allegedly paid millions in bribes to every level of Mexican law enforcement, which helped them to stay in operation for decades.

The U.S. has called the Sinaloa cartel Mr. Guzmán ran the largest drug-trafficking organization in the world. The murders and bribes facilitated its primary goal: maximizing the profits from smuggling illegal drugs into U.S. cities for sale to American users.

Mr. Guzmán’s lawyers said during the trial he wasn’t the real cartel leader and had no money. After the verdict, they said he didn’t get a fair trial and planned to appeal.

At the center of the action, as described by trial witnesses, was Mr. Guzmán, who evolved from an impoverished teenager growing poppies in front of his house in Sinaloa to a ruthless drug kingpin willing to kill anyone who disrespected him. He owned a private zoo, paid his workers in diamond watches and had girlfriends who helped him coordinate drug shipments. He reveled in his notoriety, even seeking to get a movie and book made about himself.

Mr. Guzmán was just a young smuggler in 1990 when he made a pitch to a Colombian cocaine supplier in a Mexico City hotel lobby. Pay me 40% of your drug shipment, he said, and I will get it across the U.S. border faster than anyone, the supplier recalled in court testimony. The price was higher than that of other Mexican traffickers, but Mr. Guzmán promised both speed and security, thanks to the stable of federal police he had bribed.

The Colombian, Juan Carlos Ramírez Abadía, flew his first drug shipment to Mr. Guzmán on five planes that landed at a clandestine airstrip in Sinaloa, Mexico. In less than a week, Mr. Guzmán smuggled more than 5,000 pounds of cocaine from Mexico into Los Angeles.

Their partnership lasted for almost two decades. Along the way, Mr. Guzmán escaped twice from maximum-security prisons in Mexico. Prosecutors say he made at least $14 billion in drug profits before his luck finally ran out when he was captured in 2016, and later extradited to New York.

The cartel was a collection of drug bosses who each controlled their own territory in Mexico, known as a “plaza.” The Sinaloa state, where Mr. Guzmán was born, was the most important plaza, partly because it had a long shoreline for receiving cocaine shipments.

Mr. Guzmán was one of the cartel’s four main early leaders, according to the testimony of Jesus Zambada García, who coordinated the cartel’s operations from 1992 until his arrest in 2008.

Underneath them were sub-leaders who managed the plazas and hundreds of other workers. Pilots and drivers ferried the drugs. Engineers set up secure communications. Security guards protected the drug loads and the cartel leaders. Hit men known as sicarios carried out beatings, kidnappings and murders of cartel enemies.

Most important, the cartel established a payroll for corrupt officials who escorted drug shipments and tipped off cartel members about law-enforcement operations. The salaries for corrupt officials exceeded $1 million a month, one witness testified.

Mr. Guzmán allegedly paid $100 million in 2012 to Mexico’s then-President-elect Enrique Peña Nieto, according to the testimony of Mr. Guzmán’s former secretary. A spokesman for Mr. Peña Nieto has called the accusation “false, defamatory and absurd.”

In the mid-1990s, Mr. Guzmán and the other bosses began a profit-sharing model to protect against drug seizures by law enforcement. Under the model, each cartel investor shared the risk of lost or seized shipments and the upside for successful shipments. The new setup significantly strengthened the cartel.

The most secure way to get drugs across the U.S. border, witnesses said, was through tunnels. In the late 1980s, the cartel wheeled bricks of cocaine through an underground tunnel it dug from Agua Prieta, Mexico, to Douglas, Ariz. The Mexican entrance was covered by a pool table that lifted from the concrete floor with a hydraulic system. Law enforcement discovered the tunnel in 1990 after a cartel member forgot to lower the pool table.

Mr. Guzmán, one of his early friends testified, needed to quickly figure out a Plan B to move tons of cocaine inventory. Cartel members hatched a plan to smuggle cocaine across the Tijuana border to Los Angeles on large trucks inside jalapeño cans.

The cans were packaged in Mexican warehouses using labels that imitated those of a real chile-pepper company. Workers packed them with a special gravel that would mimic the sound and weight of water if they were shaken by inspectors.

When Colombian suppliers complained the packaging was damaging their product, Mr. Guzmán asked the suppliers to send cocaine in a cylindrical mold instead of the usual rectangular brick.

Mr. Guzmán also came up with a way to move the drugs by train. At the ends of each train car, Mr. Guzmán’s workers welded metal walls where vacuum-sealed bags of cocaine and marijuana were hidden. The bags were smeared with grease to ward off drug-sniffing dogs, and workers poured 2 inches of oil to the bottom of the train car to deter U.S. inspectors from stepping inside.

The cartel leased warehouses and train cars using front companies that looked like legitimate businesses importing cooking oil. Workers installed train spurs inside warehouses in cities such as Chicago and New York, where they could park the trains and sledgehammer the drugs out of the metal walls without arousing law-enforcement suspicion. The trains returned to Mexico carrying legitimate cargo.

Tirso Martínez Sanchez, who handled logistics for the train route, testified that the trains carried up to $800 million worth of drugs into the U.S. Law enforcement discovered the trains in 2002 and 2003. One amounted to the biggest drug seizure in New York City at the time.

Whenever the U.S. ramped up border security, the cartel would recruit people, including families with U.S. citizenship, to drive across legal ports of entry in cars with hidden compartments, stuffed with drugs and cash. In a single day, the cars could smuggle in more than 400 pounds of cocaine, one witness testified. After the drugs arrived in the U.S., they would leave the cartel’s warehouses in vans and trucks.

Mr. Guzmán welcomed international partners. The cartel worked with the Italian mafia to sell cocaine in Canada, one witness said. Dominicans helped distribute the cartel’s heroin and cocaine in New York City. Cartel lieutenants said they obtained methamphetamine from China and heroin from Thailand.

Laundering the millions of dollars in drug proceeds, typically denominated in small U.S. bills, was a separate challenge.

The drug money often came back to Mexico in cars. In 1989, Mr. Guzmán’s brother, Arturo, was stopped as he was driving across the Arizona border carrying more than $1.2 million in cash.

Mr. Guzmán purchased private jets to pick up the cash at the border and fly it back to Mexico City, where it would be wheeled in suitcases to be deposited at banks, according to the testimony of his former money manager Miguel Angel Martínez. Each jet would contain at least $8 million.

Architects built stash houses for Mr. Guzmán with beds that could lift above the ground, revealing passages to underground safes. Mr. Martínez said the largest amount stored in a single location was more than $20 million.

To move money from New York to Colombia and Ecuador to buy more cocaine, the cartel used debit cards that could be loaded up with as much as $9,900 per card. Unlike cash, which is made of linen that can absorb drug residue and attract drug-sniffing dogs, debit cards can be easily cleaned. After the cards arrived in South America, the cartel hired workers to withdraw the money from ATMs.

Mr. Guzmán invested in cutting-edge communications technology to avoid detection by authorities, hiring engineers to travel to the U.S. to buy the latest equipment. Early on, cartel members cloned other people’s phone numbers to make calls. Mr. Guzmán changed his cloned number every three or four days, one witness said.

Mr. Guzmán told his workers to communicate only via BlackBerry phones when crossing the U.S. border, thinking they were safer than radios.

In 2008, he hired as his top tech specialist a millennial college dropout with his own startup. Christian Rodriguez, a young cybersecurity expert, told Mr. Guzmán that BlackBerry messages weren’t safe. He testified he built an encrypted network that allowed Mr. Guzmán to securely call dozens of cartel members, and set up a cloud server in Canada because he had read about the country’s strong privacy laws.

Mr. Guzmán asked Mr. Rodriguez to install spy software that would let him track the locations of his associates’ phones and remotely turn on their microphones to eavesdrop on their conversations. He wanted to hear what his workers, including girlfriends, were saying behind his back.

The success of the Sinaloa cartel spawned deadly wars with rivals that were bad for business, former cartel workers said. Drug seizures ramped up, and American authorities slowly turned Mr. Guzmán’s close associates into cooperators.

Mr. Guzmán spent his last few years of freedom running from authorities, sometimes sleeping on the ground in the mountains and waking up every half-hour, according to his lieutenant at the time. Even so, Mr. Guzmán kept coordinating cocaine purchases from Ecuador for shipment to the U.S., the lieutenant said, protected by an army of bodyguards.

After his final arrest, a month before his extradition to the U.S., Mr. Guzmán was still planning another escape. The reason, said a federal prosecutor, was because “he never wanted to be in a position where he would have to answer for his crimes.”

Thanks to Nicole Hong.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Prosecution Rests Its Case and Joaquin Guzman Does Not Take the Stand in His Defense #ElChapo

The most common methods the drug lord Joaquín Guzmán Loera used to avoid imprisonment in Mexico was to either escape (which he did twice) or to not get caught in the first place. But now that the kingpin, known as El Chapo, is standing trial in Federal District Court in Brooklyn, his lawyers have been forced to mount an actual defense. As many had suspected, it emerged they did not offer one.

Mr. Guzmán’s case to the jury began at 9:38 a.m. when one of his lawyers, Jeffrey Lichtman, called to the stand an F.B.I. agent who explained his own small role in obtaining a piece of evidence that did not relate to the defendant. Mr. Lichtman also read aloud a stipulation, noting that for several years, his client was in debt.

Mr. Lichtman finished his presentation at 10:08 a.m. “And with that, judge,” he said, “the defense rests.”

It was clear from the beginning of the trial that little could be done for Mr. Guzmán who, after all, had been under investigation by American authorities for more than a decade. Complicating matters, he had also effectively confessed to being a drug lord in an interview with Rolling Stone two years ago. But Mr. Guzmán’s 30-minute jury presentation seemed particularly small compared to the monumental case prosecutors brought to a close on Monday. For more than 10 weeks, the government buried the defendant in a Matterhorn of evidence from 56 witnesses, including recorded phone calls of the kingpin doing business and intercepted messages of him, his wife and mistresses.

Mr. Guzmán’s courtroom troubles began in November from the moment Mr. Lichtman delivered his opening statement. In a bold move, he claimed his client had been framed for years by his partner in the Sinaloa drug cartel, Ismael Zambada Garcia, who Mr. Lichtman alleged had conspired with “crooked” American drug agents and a hopelessly corrupt Mexican government.

Two main problems emerged with this argument. One was that Judge Brian M. Cogan cut it short at the government’s request, stopping Mr. Lichtman in the middle of his speech by telling him that anything he had said was unlikely to be supported by evidence. The other was that the argument, even if true, did not exclude the possibility that Mr. Guzmán was a narco lord guilty of the charges he was facing.

During the trial, Mr. Lichtman and the two other members of Mr. Guzmán’s legal team — William Purpura and A. Eduardo Balarezo — largely spent their time attacking the credibility of the government’s 14 cooperating witnesses. Their efforts sometimes worked and sometimes did not. Most of the witnesses had also been previously charged with federal crimes and usually confessed to their misdeeds before the defense could bring them out.

Before the trial, the kingpin’s lawyers had mostly focused their attention on pointing out the harsh conditions of his confinement in the high-security wing of the Manhattan federal jail. Given Mr. Guzmán’s history of jailbreaks, he was kept for several months in isolation, forbidden to occupy the same room as his lawyers. Pretrial meetings were conducted — awkwardly at best — through a perforated plexiglass window.

In several motions, Mr. Guzmán’s lawyers sought to persuade Judge Cogan that such severe conditions had eroded their client’s right to adequate legal counsel under the Sixth Amendment. While the judge improved the circumstances slightly, he was mostly unconvinced that Mr. Guzmán’s constitutional rights had been violated.

Last week, intense speculation arose over whether Mr. Guzmán might take the stand and become his own star witness. But after days of conversations with his lawyers, he told Judge Cogan on Monday that he did not plan to testify.

Little is known about those conversations because of the protections of the attorney-client privilege. But after Mr. Guzmán addressed the court, Mr. Purpura told Judge Cogan that he and his partners had explained to their client the legal perils of undergoing cross-examination. Mr. Guzmán then decided not to testify “knowingly and voluntarily,” Mr. Purpura said.

The kingpin’s lawyers will have one more shot at persuading the jury Thursday when they deliver their summation. But even that will be severely restricted if the government has its way.

On Monday night, prosecutors filed a motion to Judge Cogan asking him to preclude the defense from arguing, as they did in opening statements, that Mr. Zambada, known as Mayo, had quietly conspired with Mexican and American officials to target Mr. Guzmán.

The prosecutors not only said the claim was “preposterous,” but also quoted back Judge Cogan words from the second day of the trial. “You can have two drug dealers, one of whom is paying off the government and one of whom is not,” he had said. “That does not mean the one who is not didn’t do the crimes.”

Thanks to Alan Feuer.

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

17 Years in Federal Prison, to be Followed by Deportation, for Sinaloa Cartel Member, for Cocaine Drug Conspiracy

Acting United States Attorney Donald Feith announced that Rafael Humberto Celaya Valenzuela, 40 of Hermosillo, Mexico was sentenced to 17 years in federal prison after being convicted by a jury of conspiracy to distribute and to possess with the intent to distribute cocaine.

A grand jury for the District of New Hampshire originally charged Celaya Valenzuela and seven coconspirators including Joaquin Guzman-Loera, a/k/a “Chapo” with the drug conspiracy in June 2011. A grand jury returned a superseding indictment in July 2012; shortly before Celaya Valenzuela’s arrest in Spain on August 7, 2012 conspirators Samuel Zazueta Valenzuela, Jesus Gonzalo Palazuelo Soto, and Jesus Manuel Gutierrez Guzman arrived there to monitor the delivery of 346 kilograms of cocaine to Algeciras, Spain. The cocaine was delivered to a European port for eventual redistribution in Europe and the United States. The delivery resulted from negotiations between members of the Sinaloa Cartel led by Chapo and undercover agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation posing as members of an organized crime syndicate.

During the period of the negotiations there were numerous meetings with members of the conspiracy in the United States, including an April 2011 meeting in New Castle, New Hampshire, and a March 2011 meeting in Madrid, Spain to finalize the terms of the first delivery. During this time, three “test” deliveries of fruit were made to provide assurance to the conspirators that they were not dealing with law enforcement. The success of the test deliveries led to the ultimate delivery of the cocaine.

“This case illustrates that drug cartels based in foreign countries will go anywhere to distribute their deadly products,” stated Acting United States Attorney Donald Feith. “Mr. Celaya Valenzuela served as a representative of one of the world’s wealthiest and deadliest drug organizations. Without the work of dedicated agents from the FBI, the Boston Police Department, and the Spanish National Police, this long term investigation would not have been successful. I commend these agencies for their determination to bring these individuals to justice.”

Celaya Valenzuela will be deported to Mexico upon his release.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Is Jaquin "Chapo" Guzman Chicago's New Scarface?

Chicago’s new Scarface is a shadowy Mexican drug kingpin nicknamed Chapo — “Shorty” in Spanish. His cash crop is marijuana, which his cartel sells by the ton and protects with horrific violence.

If you thought Chicago’s Italian mob was the worst of the worst in organized crime, think again, federal agents say. “Chapo Guzman would eat them alive,” said Jack Riley, head of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s office in Chicago.

The 5-foot-6 Joaquin “Chapo” Guzman rules the Sinaloa Cartel, which allegedly smuggles marijuana and other narcotics in planes, trains, ships, trucks, cars and even submarines.

Most of Guzman’s leafy product comes from Mexico, but some is grown alarmingly nearby — deep in Wisconsin’s North Woods, whose pristine lakes and pine forests are a paradise for weekend campers, hunters and anglers. Authorities suspect much of that Wisconsin-grown pot is destined for here.

Although Chicago is in the U.S. heartland, in the marijuana trade, “We are on the Mexican border,” Riley said.

Mexican marijuana dominates the Chicago market at a time when local police and prosecutors are trying to devise a better way to deal with the tens of thousands of people arrested here every year for possession of small amounts of pot. Most of those cases get dismissed in court, so several Chicago aldermen recently proposed an ordinance to allow officers to write tickets for minor marijuana possession.

Whatever the outcome, police and prosecutors say they won’t stop trying to prevent cartels like Guzman’s from shipping their huge loads of marijuana to Chicago. “The Mexican cartels have totally taken over the majority of the marijuana trafficking here,” Riley said. “It’s their cash crop. It’s the drug that really allows them to do all of their other criminal enterprises: heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine. That’s why it’s so important to us.”

A man scouting locations to hunt bears near the Chequamegon Nicolet National Forest stumbled upon one of the Sinaloa Cartel’s secret North Woods marijuana operations. The hunter called authorities, who notified the DEA. A federal probe found about 10 grow sites that ranged in size from a suburban backyard to a football field in the forest and other remote areas of northern Wisconsin. Suspected cartel workers were tending to about 10,000 plants that would have been worth millions of dollars on the street. Twelve men were nabbed last year and all the plants were destroyed. Agents also recovered an AK-47 and other weapons.

These backwoods pot farms — first discovered about three years ago — are more sophisticated than what local cops there have encountered in the past. Trees were clear-cut to 3 feet high and marijuana was planted between the stumps. Workers dug water wells and ran irrigation hoses to the plants. The men slept and cooked under plastic tarps where they stored their pots and pans, sleeping bags, fertilizers, pesticides and trash. “Luncheros,” or supply workers, brought them food and growing supplies.

National Forest Service district ranger Jeff Seefeldt said he has suggested that fellow employees bring along law enforcement on visits to remote areas of the 130,000 acres of forest he oversees. Oconto County Sheriff Michael Jansen said he doesn’t know of any cartel-related violence in his community, yet. But he’s worried that other heavily armed marijuana grow operations might move into his backyard.

“The national forests in the mountainous states — Oregon and California — have been dealing with this for years,” he said. “They’re looking at a map and seeing other national forests besides those out West. And they’ve put their finger on Wisconsin.”

Mexican drug cartels are growing marijuana in the Chicago area, too, but on a lesser scale, said Larry Lindenman, executive director of the Lake County Metropolitan Enforcement Group. He suspects a cartel was to blame for a marijuana field found in 2008 in Waukegan across the street from property owned by Abbott Laboratories. “They had tents. They would work and live on the site. They even made a building out of plastic bags and used a generator-powered heater to dry the harvested plants before shipping,” he said.

The operations the feds have busted in Wisconsin and northern Illinois are proof Mexican cartels will grow marijuana anywhere they can to ensure an uninterrupted supply of marijuana makes it their best-selling markets, including Chicago.

Still, their local grow operations are a sideline — just a “small part of the pie” ­— in the drug business, Riley said.

In recent years, Chicago and Atlanta have become key transportation hubs for the cartels, Riley said. Most of their pot comes to Chicago in trains and semi trucks.

A lot of that marijuana is being shipped here by the Sinaloa Cartel and protected with unthinkable violence, Riley said. “Chapo Guzman, now that Osama is dead, is in my opinion the most dangerous criminal in the world and probably the most wealthy criminal in the world,” he said. “Guzman was in the Forbes Top 100 most wealthy people in the world. His ability to produce revenue off marijuana, we’ve never seen it before. We’ve never seen a criminal organization so well-focused and with such business sense, and so vicious and violent.”

In Mexico, feuding cartels are suspected of tens of thousands of murders, some gruesome beyond compare. They have been known to kidnap, torture, kill and mutilate. Here’s an example: The Juarez Cartel got blamed for what happened to a kidnapping victim whose skinned face was stitched onto a soccer ball in Sinaloa, Mexico, in 2010. Cartel members, including a hit squad called the Scorpions, are believed responsible for murders in Chicago, too, a police source said.

Fear of cartel violence, as well as rampant bribery, has prompted many officials in Mexico to look the other way while tons of marijuana and other drugs cross the border. But the cartel bosses aren’t just ruthless killers. They’re also businessmen who run their operations with a logistical know-how that rivals corporate giants.

Cartels have even secretly hired students attending elite U.S. universities to engineer their marijuana for increased potency, a police source said.

Vicente Zambada-Niebla, the alleged head of logistics for the Sinaloa Cartel, claims the DEA allowed the cartel to operate without interference for years in return for providing DEA agents with details about rival cartels, including the location of their leaders. He says the DEA offered him immunity in exchange for information, which the agency vehemently denies.

Zambada-Niebla, Guzman and their co-defendants are charged with smuggling tons of heroin and cocaine to Chicago and elsewhere in the U.S. Zambada-Niebla is in a federal lockup in Chicago, but Guzman remains a fugitive.

Although that federal case focused on cocaine and heroin, authorities believe the Sinaloa Cartel and rival drug cartels are also responsible for tons of marijuana that police and federal agents have seized in recent years. From 2005 through 2009, Chicago Police officers interdicted 29 tons of marijuana suspected of coming from Mexican cartels. In 2010 alone, police seized another 19 tons.

Last year, DEA agents in Chicago Heights stopped a delivery of nearly 11 tons of marijuana packed in six rail cars from Mexico. And in August, Chicago Police conducted surveillance on a West Side warehouse and saw workers preparing to move large containers from a tractor-trailer to six white vans. Hiding on rooftops and in weeds, the officers watched workers pull the six containers from the semi truck. Each container contained a ton of marijuana. Some bore the label “AK-47.”

“You will see people getting shot, being beheaded back in Mexico because of this,” said one undercover narcotics officer involved in the bust. “But for every truck you stop, 12 get through.”

The high season for shipping cartel marijuana to Chicago is in January, February and March — the key harvest times in Mexico.

Marijuana is often hidden under fruit or other food in a tractor-trailer. If a truck hauls a ton of pot to Chicago, the dealer who bought it from the cartel might earmark four 500-pound packages for particular customers. Once the truck is unloaded in Chicago, the weed doesn’t sit in a warehouse long — an hour or two, tops.

“Now it’s up to the independent dealers in the area with their own customer base that might supply the local guys with 50 pounds here and 50 pounds there,” an undercover narcotics officer said.

The cartels deal almost exclusively with high-level, Spanish-speaking smugglers in Chicago.

There are rules for how the pot is distributed here, authorities said. A guy who buys a ton won’t sell less than 500 pounds to anyone. A guy who buys 500 pounds won’t sell less than 50 at a time. And the guy who buys 50 pounds will “pound out” 5- or 10-pound amounts to his customers. At the bottom of the pot-dealer chain, low-level Hispanic drug dealers sell marijuana to the street corner salesmen who deal in ounces and grams.

“It’s Basic Narcotics 101,” said Chicago Police Cmdr. James O’Grady of the narcotics unit. “Don’t try to buy a kilo from a guy who sells ounces.”

A guy who sells ounces will think you’re stupid and rob you. Or he’ll think you’re an undercover cop and avoid you — or worse, O’Grady said.

Certainly, a pot dealer selling ounces would never negotiate with someone like Saul Rodriguez, a ruthless drug trafficker near the top of the supply chain in Chicago.

Rodriguez played a dangerous game. He ripped off the Mexican cartels and sold the drugs he stole. He has also admitted to being involved in the murders of three people.

In 1996, the former La Raza gang member became an informant for Chicago Police, earning $807,000 for his tips about high-level drug dealers.

Glenn Lewellen was the narcotics officer who recruited Rodriguez as an informant. They became partners in crime, federal prosecutors allege.

Rodriguez got his start as a big-time marijuana dealer before moving into more lucrative cocaine deals, law enforcement sources say. In 1996, for example, the DEA seized 154 pounds of marijuana from one of Rodriguez’s cars. But Lewellen persuaded the feds to drop their case, prosecutors said.

Rodriguez’s crew continued to operate until 2009 when he was arrested. He has pleaded guilty to running a drug enterprise and arranging the murders of three men in 2000, 2001 and 2002.

Riley, the head of the DEA here, said he thinks a lot of pot smokers are unaware the bag of weed they buy is directly connected to the violence and corruption of Mexican drug cartels and their local associates, Rodriguez among them. “The guy sitting on the patio in Hinsdale — smoking a joint with his friend and having a drink — better think twice,” Riley said. “Because he’s part of the problem.”

Thanks to Frank Main


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