Showing posts with label Sinaloa Cartel. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Sinaloa Cartel. Show all posts

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Highlights From the El Chapo Trial: Cocaine in Jalapeño Cans and a Tunnel From Mexico to Arizona, The Mexican Drug Lord’s U.S. Trial has Detailed the Inner Workings of his Narcotics Empire

The trial of Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, the infamous Mexican drug lord, has given the public an unprecedented look inside the operations of the Sinaloa cartel. Prosecutors have trotted out dozens of witnesses, including former cartel bosses, who have described how Mr. Guzmán and his associates built a multibillion-dollar narcotics empire.

The two months of testimony in Brooklyn federal court have revealed details about how the cartel smuggled cocaine, marijuana and other illegal drugs into the U.S. using cars, trains, planes, submarines and even underground tunnels. Witnesses have described the multimilliondollar bribes paid to law enforcement and the murders carried out during wars with rival cartels.

Mr. Guzmán has pleaded not guilty to drug-trafficking, money-laundering and other charges. Getting Mr. Guzmán into a U.S. courtroom has been years in the making, after he escaped twice from maximum-security prisons in Mexico.

The trial is expected to last several more weeks. Here’s a look at some of the colorful moments that have already come out:

In the Can

In the early 1990s, Mr. Guzmán smuggled cocaine across the Tijuana border to Los Angeles inside jalapeño cans, according to the testimony of Miguel Angel Martínez, an early member of Mr. Guzmán’s crew. The cans were packaged in warehouses in Mexico using labels that imitated those of a real chile pepper company.

To make the cans sound like there were actual peppers inside when shaken by inspectors, workers packed them with a special gravel that would mimic the sound and weight of water. During the packaging, workers would often get high because pressing the cocaine into the can would release it into the air, Mr. Martínez said.

Mr. Martínez testified that the cartel stopped using this method in 1993, after a truck carrying seven tons of cocaine packed inside jalapeño cans was stopped by Mexican police.

Tunnel Effect

Mr. Guzmán impressed his Colombian suppliers because he was able to move drugs across the U.S.-Mexico border in mere days—much faster than the weeks needed by other traffickers, federal prosecutors said

In the 1980s, the cartel used an underground tunnel it dug from Agua Prieta, Mexico, to Douglas, Ariz., according to the testimony of a former U.S. customs agent. Cartel members would wheel cocaine bricks in carts from the Mexican side to the U.S., approximately 40 to 50 yards.

The Mexican entrance was covered by a pool table that lifted from the concrete floor with a hydraulic system. The entrance on the American side was located two blocks away from the U.S. customs office. The tunnel was discovered by U.S. law enforcement in 1990.

Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh My!

In describing Mr. Guzmán’s lavish lifestyle in the 1990s, Mr. Martínez told jurors that his former boss owned a ranch in Guadalajara, where he built a zoo that housed tigers, lions, panthers and deer. Guests could see the animals by riding a train that ran through the property.

Jets and Suitcases Full of Cash

In the early 1990s, Mr. Martínez’s job was to coordinate money shipments for the cartel. He testified that drug profits came back to Mexico in pickup trucks filled with cash. After the money arrived in the border city of Tijuana, it was flown in Mr. Guzmán’s private jets to Mexico City. Each jet contained $8 million to $10 million, Mr. Martínez testified.

Mr. Martínez said he wheeled a Samsonite suitcase filled with at least $10 million in drug proceeds to a Mexico City bank every week to deposit. When the bank asked if he was laundering money, he said he was exporting tomatoes.

Border Run-in

In 1989, a U.S. customs agent stopped Mr. Guzmán’s brother, Arturo, as he was trying to drive across the border in Arizona with drug proceeds in his car. His black Ford Bronco was stuffed with more than $1.2 million in cash—a record seizure at the time for any port of entry in Arizona, according to the testimony of Michael Humphries, a port director with U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

An Assassination Attempt

In 1993, members of the rival Tijuana Cartel tried to assassinate Mr. Guzmán at an airport in Guadalajara, Mexico, according to multiple trial witnesses. Mr. Guzmán and his bodyguard dodged the shootout by running past baggage claim and onto the landing strips, all while carrying $600,000 in a suitcase. They kept running until they reached a highway, where they hailed a taxi.

The shootout killed Cardinal Juan Jesús Posadas Ocampo, a beloved figure in Mexico, sparking a national manhunt for Mr. Guzmán. He was captured in Guatemala shortly after and extradited to Mexico. Mr. Guzmán escaped from a maximum-security prison there in 2001 before completing his 20-year prison sentence

Bribery at Every Level

Trial witnesses testified about the bribes paid to law-enforcement officers at every level of Mexican government. Jesús Zambada García, the cartel’s former accountant, testified under cross-examination that he paid off Genaro García Luna—head of Mexico’s equivalent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, who eventually became the country’s secretary of public security—to ensure law enforcement wouldn’t interfere with the cartel’s drug activities. Mr. Zambada said that between 2005 and 2007, he met the official on two occasions at a restaurant to give him at least $3 million in a suitcase each time. Mr. García Luna has denied receiving any bribes, according to Mexican press reports.

When Mr. Guzmán was in prison the first time, his lieutenants paid approximately $30,000 to $40,000 a month in bribes to prison officials, according to Mr. Martínez. Mr. Guzmán wanted a cell phone and asked to have “intimate relationships” with all of his wives. He had four or five wives at the time, Mr. Martínez testified.

Mr. Guzmán escaped from prison in 2001 by paying off a prison worker who wheeled him out in a laundry cart.

Swiss Fountain of Youth

Mr. Martínez said he traveled the world with Mr. Guzmán, including to Macau to gamble and to seek out heroin suppliers. Mr. Guzmán also traveled to a clinic in Switzerland for cell injections to keep himself looking young, Mr. Martínez said

As gifts, he gave his employees new cars and diamond Rolex watches. Mr. Martínez said his annual salary in the early 1990s was $1 million.

The government blurred out Mr. Martínez’s face in their trial exhibit because of the death threats he has received since his arrest in 1998.

High-Tech Ducking

To avoid law-enforcement detection, Mr. Guzmán sent engineers to the U.S. to buy the latest high-tech phone equipment, including scramblers and wiretapping gear, a former employee testified.

He “cloned” other people’s phone numbers when making calls, changed those cloned numbers every three or four days, and wiretapped enemies, friends and girlfriends. Mr. Martínez said the wiretaps were critical to keeping Mr. Guzmán informed about his employees’ whereabouts, including attempts by anyone to betray him.

The cartel also bought machines from the U.S. and Europe to manufacture fake passports and IDs, including fake police credentials

Sunken Ships

Cocaine was often transported from Colombia to Mexico by sea, including by submarine, before being smuggled into the U.S. A submarine was seized by the U.S. Coast Guard in 2008 as it was carrying cocaine for the Sinaloa cartel.

In 1994, a large shipping vessel was carrying 20 tons of cocaine to the cartel. The crew thought the shipment would be intercepted by law enforcement and sank the vessel off the Mexican coast, according to the cartel’s former accountant. The cartel then used deep-sea divers to recover the cocaine.

Hiding the Money

To stash his cash, Mr. Guzmán hired an architect to build houses with hydraulic systems that lifted the beds from the floor to reveal hidden compartments, according to a former cartel member. At one house, the bed covered a ladder that led to a safe inside an underground water tank. The water had to be pumped out to access the special compartment.

Thanks to Nicole Hong.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

How Chicago became a Key Hub in El Chapo's Massive Sinaloa Cartel U.S. Drug Operation

In untold hundreds of truck and train shipments, tons of cocaine rolled into Chicago hidden among loads of vegetables, shrimp, and even live sheep.

The city acted as the American distribution center of the vast network of the Sinaloa cartel, and was run by Chicago twin brothers who had declared allegiance to a person they referred to often simply as “The Man.” Both would eventually turn against their boss, Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, and one of them, Pedro Flores, began testifying in Guzman’s historic trial in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn on Tuesday.

In harrowing detail over three hours, Flores explained his rise from dealing cocaine with family members on the Southwest Side to working as a top lieutenant for the world’s most notorious drug lord. He told an anonymous jury in New York that he has cooperated against some 50 people in the cartel network already, testifying he risked his life to help the U.S. government after considering his future and that of his pregnant wife 10 years ago. “Or that lack of a future,” Flores said. “That lack of living. I couldn’t promise my family tomorrow.”

Neither Pedro Flores nor his twin, Margarito Flores, have been seen publicly in the nearly four years since both were sentenced to 14 years in prison in Chicago. Dressed in navy blue jail garb, Pedro Flores took a seat in the courtroom Tuesday for a few moments before the jury filed in to hear his testimony.

Perhaps 30 feet away was El Chapo himself, a man to whom Flores estimated he once sent as much as $227 million a year from the cartel’s U.S. operation. Guzman has entered the courtroom with a smile and handshakes for his lawyers in recent days, but as he stared across the room toward Flores, that look had faded.

Flores was somewhat soft-spoken as he related his experiences, drawing laughs in the courtroom gallery at times with his likable demeanor. He described giving El Chapo gold-plated guns as a gift because Flores had “seen too many movies,” and recalled that the reputed kingpin laughed at him the first time he met Guzman at a secret mountain compound in Sinaloa.

Flores was wearing jean shorts. “He said with all that money, I couldn’t afford the rest of the pants?” Flores said.

Guzman has been on trial for more than a month at the federal courthouse in Brooklyn, with prosecutors accusing him of drug trafficking as the head of the cartel. They have presented a series of insider witnesses, perhaps none more compelling than the 37-year-old Flores, who now ranks among the most significant criminal turncoats that Chicago has ever produced.

He told jurors his father welcomed him into the world of drug smuggling, using him as a child because his hands were small enough to reach into gas tanks of cars where drugs had been stashed. Their father was kidnapped and presumably killed when he ignored warnings and returned to Mexico in 2009 after drug rings suspected the brothers were helping authorities.

Questioned by Assistant U.S. Attorney Adam Fels, Flores explained how his early drug business grew thanks to a connection from one of his father’s friends to the point where Flores was taking shipments in a “grimy van” left for him at a restaurant in the Chicago suburbs. Fels then showed jurors a photograph of a Denny’s in Bolingbrook off of I-55.

Early work to keep larger quantities of drugs in stash houses didn’t always go well, Flores said. The first time he backed the van into a garage, it hit the overhang and the drugs had to be unloaded on the driveway. The plastic bags they were in then tore, spilling kilos onto the concrete. “There’s neighbors out,” he said. “It was a pretty hectic day.”

Chicago was a natural hub for drug networking, Flores said, because of its location in the middle of the country and its infrastructure. “You’re practically halfway to everywhere,” Flores testified.

Flores was soon moving drugs to Milwaukee and other cities, where he eventually attracted the attention of federal authorities who got an indictment against him and sent the brothers fleeing to Mexico.

All of the growth sometimes meant lost shipments and drug debts, one of them leading to a dispute with a former supplier who apparently ordered his kidnapping in Mexico, Flores said. He described being handcuffed, blindfolded and stuffed in a truck for a bumpy ride to a building where he said he was held in a cell for days.

After his brother helped arrange his freedom, and with cartel leaders including Guzman and Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada taking notice of the twins’ success, Flores described an early meeting with Zambada and Guzman’s cousin.

Zambada told the Flores brothers they would be supplied by the cartel, and that their business would grow again. The drug boss said “any idiot” could sell drugs in Mexico, but through his own experiences in Chicago, Zambada was impressed with how much product the brothers had moved in the U.S. “He laughed and said, ‘imagine if you guys were triplets,’ ” Flores testified.

The Floreses would get the same price for bulk cocaine as other top lieutenants, Flores recalled Zambada saying, and they would work on their own behalf.

The business did in fact take off again, Flores said. Drugs flowed through Los Angeles and Chicago to Philadelphia, Detroit, New York and Washington. Throughout his cartel career, Flores said, he moved some 60 tons into the states.

After boosting their supply, the Flores brothers were taken to see El Chapo, Flores said, telling jurors he went first to an airstrip in a cornfield for a 40-minute flight that ended on another runway that ran up the side of an incline in the mountains.

From there they were driven in trucks into an even more remote area. Along the way were macabre signs of the cartel’s handiwork, including a naked man chained to a tree. Flores recalled he appeared to be crouching and staring down at them as they passed.

The kingpin’s compound was a concrete foundation rising from the earth, he said, with a thatched roof. “Like you’d see on vacation,” he said. El Chapo appeared wearing a hat, with a shiny handgun in his waistband. An AK-47 rifle leaned on a chair nearby.

Guzman promised to solve the dispute that had led to Flores being kidnapped, and indeed, Flores said he heard that the man, Guadalupe Ledesma, eventually had been suffocated on El Chapo’s orders. Flores said his anxiety around Guzman eventually faded in future meetings, and that he brought El Chapo the gift of the guns — which were laughed at for being too heavy — and a gag gift of a pair of jean shorts like the ones Flores had been mocked for, which he gave the kingpin in a box shaped like a Viagra pill.

Flores described how the shipments just kept coming, with the cartel even employing submarines to move drugs into the U.S. without detection. The truck shipments came too, including so many with vegetables Flores said they could affect market prices by dumping them for sale in Chicago. And there was the one with the sheep.

The brothers were unprepared. And the truck was headed for a Chicago warehouse.

“I’m looking at a bunch of live sheep,” Flores said. “What are we gonna do with them?” The answer was a friend who was paid $10,000 to take them out of the city. Still, Flores said he complained up the chain of command that “I was concerned the cover loads were getting kinda weak.”

By November 2008, Flores said he had begun to have enough of the business. His wife was newly pregnant, and the cartel had split into two warring factions. One remained headed by Guzman and Zambada, and another by Arturo Beltran Leyva. Both sides wanted to force the brothers to remain loyal and never do business with the other side.

The brothers’ “sweet spot” in the cartel that let them make money without worrying about internal — and often deadly — politics was dissolving. Fearing for his life, Flores said he reached out to the Drug Enforcement Administration through a lawyer, and began cooperating.

That included making recordings, including of El Chapo, on a digital recorder Flores said he bought at a Radio Shack in Mexico. The jury is expected to hear those recordings in the coming days, as Flores continues his testimony.

As for his more recent past, Flores testified that he hasn’t always been on the straight and narrow. He worked a scam to flood other inmates’ commissary accounts with money, he testified, and got his wife pregnant again, this time in a bathroom while in DEA custody.

Still, his cooperation could be key in the federal government’s attempt to hold El Chapo accountable for decades of allegedly providing illicit drugs to addicted Americans. Flores said he made the decision he had to, knowing he was testifying in exchange for wiping out crimes that could have meant multiple life sentences.

“I could only give them one life,” he said.

Thanks to Jeff Coen.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Francisco Quiroz-Zamora, Reputed Mexican Sinaloa Cartel Leader, Charged with Smuggling Fentanyl into US

Authorities in New York have indicted a suspected Mexican drug kingpin they say was responsible for trafficking enough fentanyl to kill 10 million people.

Authorities say the arrest of Francisco Quiroz-Zamora provides a window into how the powerful Sinaloa cartel moves drugs from Mexico to the United States. Quiroz-ZamoraFrancisco Quiroz-Zamora, a 41-year-old known as "Gordo," or the Fat One, has been charged with operating as a major trafficker, first-degree sale of a controlled substance and second-degree conspiracy.

Quiroz-Zamora and five co-defendants will be arraigned in New York City on Tuesday.

Officials with New York's Special Narcotics Prosecutor indicted Quiroz-Zamora. Officials allege he arranged for 44 pounds, or nearly 20 kilograms, of fentanyl to be shipped to New York — a haul of drugs that had the potential to kill 10 million people. Fentanyl is about 50 times more powerful than heroin, and just a few grains can kill.

Fentanyl, which is made in clandestine labs with cheap chemicals, has become a lucrative business for traffickers. It is often cut into heroin or pressed into counterfeit pills made to resemble legitimate prescription drugs, including OxyContin and Xanax.

For a high-level dealer, Quiroz-Zamora was extremely involved in every aspect of the process that gets drugs from creators to users, officials claim. He organized a pipeline that sent drugs from Mexico to Arizona and California through trucks, cars and drug couriers and authorized transactions between customers and dealers, according to authorities.

Mexican trafficking groups are attempting to turn New York into their distribution hub, and fentanyl is now their main product. The amount of fentanyl seized by the Special Narcotics Prosecutor in New York rose from 35 pounds in 2016 to 491 pounds last year.

The drugs are now managed by inconspicuous dealers. They include a middle-aged couple who authorities said came to New York to broker the sale of 141 pounds of fentanyl seized from a Queens apartment.

Quiroz-Zamora allegedly was planning for a lucrative payday. He negotiated a going rate of between $45,000 and $50,000 per kilo of fentanyl. Officials seized the fentanyl as the result of two undercover sales they said were organized by Quiroz-Zamora.

In one instance, the drugs were stuffed in a duffel bag and placed atop a vending machine at the Umbrella Hotel in the Bronx in June.

In another, authorities said they found more than five pounds of fentanyl in a $4,000-a-month apartment on Central Park West, along with $12,000 in cash and a loaded gun. Thousands of packages of drugs ready for sale with names including "Uber" and "Wild Card" were discovered in the apartment. A man who left the apartment in an Uber was arrested along with the driver after heroin was found in the car.

Authorities allege Quiroz-Zamora went to New York in November to collect money he thought he was owed. He was arrested at Penn Station in New York City after arriving in in an extremely roundabout way. He allegedly flew from Texas to Connecticut and went to Delaware, where he boarded a train that took him to Penn Station.

Thanks to Katie Zezima.

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

Towns Where Even the Police Fear to Tread #MexicanCartels

Jorge lives in an improvised campsite in Práxedis, a silent town in the north of Mexico where few cars or people venture out on the streets. He is a member of the state police force, sent in by the Chihuahua state governor to combat the terrifying rate of violent crime. It is the state police that now handle a substantial portion of law enforcement in the area.

The Valley of Juárez, a region of Chihuahua bordering the US, has been a war zone riddled with organized crime for the past 10 years, due to its location at the crossroads of the routes used by drug traffickers and people smugglers. “We’ve been here since 2015 – there were no local police left because they had either been killed or abducted,” says Jorge at the precinct. When he first arrived here, he felt as though he were driving through a ghost town. “People didn’t come out on the streets, but bit by bit things have gone back to normal,” he says.

Práxedis and Guadalupe belong to the Valley of Juárez, a region surrounded by desert that was previously a prosperous cotton-growing area. But since the drug traffickers moved in more than 10 years ago, the territory has been a battleground for the Sinaloa and La Línea cartels smuggling drugs and people across the inhospitable gulf dividing this part of Mexico from the US.

The violence was largely responsible for the high number of murders in the state of Chihuahua in 2010, when it racked up a historic 3,903. The murder rate dropped dramatically in 2013, and though it began to climb again after 2016, the death toll in 2017 was still less that half of that at 1,566. In the volatile years between 2007 and 2015, any local police officer who had escaped death or abduction simply fled.

Lourdes López explains how her son was “carried off” along with four other policemen in Práxedis in 2009. “That was nine years ago and there’s been no justice,” she says. Her son had never used a gun and was never trained to do so. “He wanted to be a policeman ever since he was a boy and he was a good person who didn’t deserve what he got,” says the 62-year- old mother, who left town several days after her son was seized.

Martín Hueramo, a former mayor of Guadalupe, says that the municipal police were not prepared for the situation they found themselves in. “Towns had to confront organized crime with unarmed police officers whose only experience was with minor offenses. Nine policemen were killed in Guadalupe in various shoot-outs, and three human heads were left in an icebox. It was a terrifying era,” says Hueramo, who was granted political asylum in Texas. In that period, the population of Guadalupe fell from 13,000 to 2,000, he adds, although it has since bounced back to 5,000.

The last municipal policeman to work in Guadalupe, Joaquín Hernández, was killed in July 2015 after being lured to a phony crime scene. The municipal police department there was among the most frequently attacked. Between 2007 and 2010, it often closed down completely. In December 2010, it was shut down definitively when its head, Erika Gándara was “carried off” by a criminal group who sought her out in her own home. She was the last police officer left in the precinct following the death, disappearance or resignation of her colleagues. In 2014, the police station reopened with Máximo Carrillo at the helm, but he was killed in June 2015. He was then replaced by Joaquín Hernández, who was killed only three weeks later.

The situation wasn’t much different in Práxedis. The last police officer in town was Marisol, a young 20-year-old criminology student who made international headlines as “The Bravest Woman in Mexico.” She lasted less than four months before death threats forced her to flee across the border into the US. After she’d gone, no one else offered to step up to the plate and the state police moved in on surveillance shifts.

To date, Guadalupe’s police precinct has no plans to reopen, according to the town council secretary, Fausto González Pérez. “It exposes people to danger,” he says. “If we issue a job notice, some courageous soul might come forward, but it’s a delicate matter.” The prison cells of the precinct are currently being used to store wine, and the money that once went towards the town’s security has been otherwise spent on sport and cultural activities. “These are difficult times,” says González Pérez. “Right now we are in a wilderness, but we are rebuilding the town.”

Chihuahua’s municipal police force is not equipped to deal with serious crime. A recent report in a Juárez newspaper reveals that there are towns such as Guachochi with 53 police officers but only 15  bulletproof vests. Meanwhile, in Rosales, there are 42 police officers without vests working on an average salary of $200 a month. The state government has had to intervene in as many as nine towns, either because the police are ill equipped or because the police department has become corrupt. Last year, in Ahumada, the director of Public Security, Carlos Alberto Duarte, and six of his men were arrested on criminal charges. Several months later, however, Duarte was back in his job.

Thanks to Cludad Juarez.

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

Felix "Lic Vicc" Beltran, #ElChapo CFO and #Chicago Fugitive, Captured in Mexico

He is the money man behind the world's richest drug dealer, according to U.S. drug investigators.

Felix "Lic Vicc" Beltran was indicted in Chicago in 2015 on allegations he was chief financial officer for the notorious Sinaloa Cartel and its feared leader Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman. Even as El Chapo was arrested and continues to await trial in New York City, Felix Beltran had been a fugitive from justice in the Chicago case.

Until now.

The I-Team has learned that Beltran was arrested last Thursday in suburban Mexico City. 30 anti-organized crime agents raided a 9th floor apartment in the tony Santa Fe district southwest of downtown Mexico City where they say the Sinaloa CFO was hiding out.

Beltran is the son of Victor Manuel Félix Félix, "El Señor," who served as Chapo's chief financial officer and consiglieri until his detainment in 2011. According to authorities, "El Vic" served as his father's successor, handling most of the cartel's finances. Police say he was also in charge of the cartel's money laundering operation, and supervised the cartel's heroin production and export into the United States. Some reports have described him as El Chapo's "consigliere," the top advisor to a crime boss-usually associated with the Mafia.

As the I-Team reported in 2015, the U.S. Treasury Department described Félix Beltrán as "a high-ranking Sinaloa Cartel trafficker" and the newly installed head of the lucrative Mexico-to-Chicago trafficking operation. That same year, federal prosecutors in Chicago charged him with drug trafficking and money laundering, charges from which he remained a fugitive until his apprehension.

Authorities suspect that Beltran took over as leader of the cartel's Chicago distribution hub after the arrests of Pedro and Margarito Flores, twin brothers from Chicago who helped to bring down El Chapo himself.

Despite cutting off Sinaloa's head with the arrest of El Chapo, his cartel continues to reap major profits from exporting narcotics to Chicago investigators have said.

Federal prosecutors in Chicago declined to say whether they would seek Beltran's immediate extradition. There was a Chicago court filing in his case on Monday but it was ordered seal by Judge Ruben Castillo.

Thanks to Chuck Goudie and Ross Weidner.

Thursday, April 06, 2017

How Did Chicago became a Cultural Capital of Crime?

The thing outsiders know about Chicago is crime. The mobsters, the street drug gangs, the corrupt operators—these are the most sensationalized aspects of the city. But they are also key factors in its ongoing narrative, the one true Great American Novel that is Chicago. The city with a fiery creation myth grew into a blue-collar metropolis with the help of oily, feudal political machines and assorted local species of crook, leaving a deep, ugly legacy. It is written in our street grid, our transit lines, and our segregated accents, in which one can still hear both the old white ethnic strongholds and the Great Migration. It can be a very beautiful city, especially at night. In those icy parts of winter that have become more rare since I first moved here, the unique nighttime color of Chicago reflects in every direction. The flatness of the landscape and the straightness of the streets bring its divisions into deep focus. I’m proud to show it off. It is a city on the prairie, and therefore a city of the plain, like Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis.

For a time in the 1850s, there were so many problems with drainage that it became a swamp and had to raise itself up on jackscrews. So really, a Chicagoan has their pick of origin stories. The curse of the so-called Second City is that it lends itself effortlessly to symbolism and especially to metaphor, to the point that you start to believe that it just might be one. I’ve lived here longer now than I have anywhere else, and I have come to love this aspect of the city. When Chicagoans speak—whether they are true locals or transplants like myself, who have come to its ways through prolonged exposure—they speak its complicated history. This is the diverse Southern-inflected sound of black Chicago, the “Chi-cah-go” and “Chi-caw-go” pronunciations that classify white accents, and that perfect formulation of terse Midwesternese, the stranded “with,” as in the classic “You wanna come with?” They say “jagoff” is a Pittsburgh word, but Chicago owns it.

Really, there are many Chicagos, bound almost psychically. It is better maybe to try to grasp it in terms of its architecture—which is really one of the most beautiful things about it—and planning. For instance, Chicago is the alley capital of the world. There are about 1,900 miles of alleyways running through almost every block of the city, regulated to a minimum width of 16 feet, some much wider. The alley is part of day-to-day life in Chicago: It’s where we take our shortcuts and bring our trash. It’s why Chicago doesn’t smell as bad as other big cities. It lacks that note of garbage that gives New York streets their character. The kind of buildings we call two- or three-flats, whether brick, frame, or Indiana limestone (called “greystone” locally), will often have a gangway, a passage that lets you cut from the sidewalk to the alley. My favorites are the ones that dip under a protruding oriel. And most of the apartments in those two- and three-flats will have two doors, one in the front and one in the rear. It’s a city of backstreets and backdoors.

Chicago crime is a unique phenomenon. In broad statistics, it is not that dangerous a place; the rates of burglary and theft are low for an American city, and many of its neighborhoods experience negligible violent crime. This is a common defense tactic for Chicagoans, especially white Chicagoans—the “well, not my Chicago” plea. But this is as much a fantasy as the Trumpian burning of the quote-unquote “inner city.” Chicago crime inspires fascination because it is entrenched and so specific, so troublingly connected to a diverse city that otherwise eludes broad social generalizations. One fact about Chicago is that it has more nicknames in common circulation than any other place in this country, all of them kind of tacky: the Windy City, the Second City, Chi-Town and its pun variations, the City Of Big Shoulders. There are many others, too. Defining the spirit of Chicago is a bad parlor game. The nice parts of it are very nice, but for more than 90 years, it has been world-famous as a place where people get gunned down in the street. Throughout its history runs a succession of criminal boom industries: gambling, policy, liquor, crack, heroin.

The criminal conglomerates of Prohibition and the small sets of the West Side’s Heroin Highway are part of one uninterrupted story, though unwittingly. The story is the city. It goes back to the 1870s and the reign of “Big Mike” McDonald as the king of Chicago’s gambling underworld. It goes through generations of increasingly more effective political machines and increasingly larger criminal syndicates, colluding in political and commercial networks that made the street gangs seem like the inevitable result of a complicated equation. Let us assume a few things here as starting points: that the city and its underworlds have existed for a long time in a relationship that is more complex than host and parasite; that political and criminal groups in the city, however big or small, play variations on a similar game involving the flow and direction of movement; and that the city is itself a crossroads, its entire story defined by lines of interstate transit, be it the Illinois Central Railroad that transported half a million black job-seekers from the South during the Great Migration, or the Sinaloa Cartel network from which most of the cocaine and heroin of its current drug economy is believed to originate.

For Chicago, there is no artistic or cultural history without its social history, no social history without its political history, and no political history without crime. The mob is a staple of our tourist kitsch industry: the Al Capone T-shirt and the Untouchables bus tour, right up there with Mike Ditka’s hairspray, the goddamn Blues Brothers, and that casserole we call a deep-dish pizza. But the mob was always corny, even at its scariest. For decades, it was almost everywhere. I’ll give you an example: The Russian bathhouse immortalized by Saul Bellow in Humboldt’s Gift was actually a mob hangout. It was still owned by an Outfit family in the years that I lived across from it on Division Street, one of the more darkly perfect street names in Chicago.

Michael Mann’s 1981 debut feature, Thief (Special Director's Edition), is to my mind the best Chicago crime film set after Prohibition and one of the great artistic interpretations of the city’s nocturnal character. It was made in the last years that Chicago nights glowed bluish-green, before the city had completed the changeover from mercury vapor lighting to the sodium vapor lamps that produce its present honey-bronze haze. Much as alleyways have both a practical and a mystical relationship to the city’s networks of crime, so it is possible to chart eras of criminality through the history of its public lighting. Crime is a largely nocturnal activity, after all, as are most of the vices on which the city’s criminal syndicates were built. In the Prohibition and Great Depression golden age of Chicago crime, most of the streets were still gas-lit and very dim. This was the fabled era of the Tommy Gun mobsters, but also of the bank-robbing outlaw, embodied by the Chicago-based Dillinger Gang, the subject of Mann’s underappreciated crime epic Public Enemies. Mercury vapor arrived in the mid-1950s, along with Richard J. Daley’s Democratic political machine and the solidification of the Chicago Outfit, the white mob, which in those years finally murdered and intimidated its way into the territory of the city’s forgotten black crime syndicates. The most recognizable type of streetlight in Chicago was introduced in this era. It’s a bucket-shaped design unique to the city, called the General Electric Crimefighter.

Thief is not a film about the Outfit, but it features an Outfit operative as a character, played by the avuncular stage veteran Robert Prosky. You have probably seen a picture of Al Capone. Chances are it’s the glamour shot with his head turned and the cigar stuffed in his cheek and the size 6 7/8 cream-white Borsalino on his little head. This is the most flattering picture of Capone. As a young man, he had the pudgy face and baggy eyes of a fortysomething bank manager. He was 26 when he inherited Johnny Torrio’s criminal empire and was out of power by the age of 33. But in movies and TV, he is always played by older actors, trimmer or more barrel-chested, always tougher-looking than the real man: Rod Steiger in Al Capone; Neville Brand, Robert De Niro, and William Forsythe in successive versions of The Untouchables; Jason Robards in The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre; Stephen Graham on Boardwalk Empire. But there were never any handsome gangsters. They were all funny-looking, and with the exception of the flashy Capone years, they dressed like shit.

The Outfit was the successor to Capone’s organization, and in that era of mercury vapor lighting, when the tint of the night suggested an extended twilight, their look was Sansabelt, grandpa glasses, and starched short sleeves. Mann grew up in the long-gone Jewish quarter of the Humboldt Park neighborhood, as did Saul Bellow a generation earlier, and he is one of the few to try to capture this banal, used-car-salesman aspect of the Chicago mob. To me, he is one of the geniuses of the genre; in all of his crime films, there is a complex dialogue between authenticity and archetype. His favorite type of verisimilitude is the kind that directly contradicts expectations. In Thief, for instance, the safe-cracker played by James Caan—the first of the single-minded professionals that would become Mann’s contribution to the mythology of the crime genre—doesn’t press the resonator of a stethoscope against a door and listen to the tumblers; he uses an industrial oxygen lance, lent to Mann by an actual Chicago-area burglar. And while Prosky’s role might seem like a case of casting against type, if you look at pictures of Outfit bosses from the time, that’s what they all looked like.But here’s the thing: The imagery Mann subverts with this more realistic portrayal—and uses to formulate his own mythology—is also Chicagoan in origin. It was Chicago that birthed both the gangster picture and the notion of street criminal chic, and it really took until The Godfather for there to be a major American film that took its cues from the clannish organized crime culture of the East Coast. Even the great New York gangster movies that came before The Godfather, like Raoul Walsh’s The Roaring Twenties and Budd Boetticher’s The Rise And Fall Of Legs Diamond, are based on an archetype born of the Second City. Most film historians will tell you that there are two definitive early gangster films: Underworld, directed in 1927 by Josef Von Sternberg, and Howard Hawks’ insurmountable 1932 Scarface. Both are set in Chicago, as were almost all early American gangster movies—Little Caesar, The Public Enemy, the whole lot. The gritty city stuck in the imagination of ’30s Hollywood much in the same way as Paris and Vienna did, less a real-world setting than a genre in and of itself. Films about criminal gangs go back to the early 1900s, but they depict their bad guys mostly as ragged, unshaven goons in flat caps. The seductive criminals of the silent era are swindlers and masterminds. The idea that coarse, murderous thugs could be flamboyant, magnetic, and sexy—that comes from the Chicago of Al Capone and John Dillinger.

Both Underworld and Scarface were based on stories by Ben Hecht, though the latter was nominally adapted from a forgotten pulp novel of the time. Before he became one of the greatest screenwriters in the history of Hollywood, Hecht was a Chicago Daily News crime reporter, an experience he would draw on many times—most famously in The Front Page, one of several collaborations with his crime-desk colleague Charles MacArthur, subsequently reworked as His Girl Friday. Hecht was one of a number of literary men who worked in the Chicago dailies of the 1920s (the poet Carl Sandburg was also at the Chicago Daily News at the time), and the best of a tradition of newspapermen who treated the job of columnist as though it made them prose-poet laureate of Chicago. A reader of modernist and symbolist literature, he was also involved in the Little Review, the Chicago literary magazine famous as the first publisher of James Joyce’s Ulysses, which was originally serialized over several years in its pages. In Underworld, released at a time when Joyce’s landmark novel was still banned as obscene in the United States, there is a villainous Irish gangster named Buck Mulligan, after the central character of the first chapter of Ulysses—a fact that I’ve always found amusing.

The classic, Hecht-ian gangster drew on the public’s morbid fascination with Chicago crime to create something almost modernist—this wanton criminal as an epic figure in an expressively metaphorical cityscape. This is true of Scarface, a masterpiece that was the work of a number of remarkable talents, not just Hawks and Hecht. One of the many memorable things about Scarface is the use of signage as commentary and ironic counterpoint: the famous “The World Is Yours” travel ad (carried over in Brian De Palma’s loose 1983 remake); the body lying under the crossed shadow of a signboard that reads “Undertakers”; the lit-up marquee of the club called “Paradise No. 2.” The Godfather would refashion the gangster as a creature of family and loyalty, but in his original conception, he was a creature of the city. Scarface’s Capone-inspired title character doesn’t rise to power in the middle of nowhere, but in a darkly comic metropolis that seems to empower and mock him in equal measure. In other words, he rises to power in Chicago.

It should be pointed out that almost all Chicago-set Hollywood films produced from the late 1920s to the 1970s are about mobsters, crime, or corruption. We’re talking Nicholas Ray’s Party Girl, assorted half-remembered noirs, various versions of the Roxie Hart story (including one written by Ben Hecht), the premise of Some Like It Hot. Of these, only Arthur Penn’s Mickey One, the film that first attempted to apply a French New Wave sensibility to home-grown pulp, did any substantial filming here, capturing both its decrepit alleys and its modernist architecture in stark black-and-white. It was only in the 1980s that the city became a popular filming location. Perhaps Thief seems definitive because it represents a point of merger—between the mythology of the city and its reality, which already seems fairly stylized.


The great musical legacy of Chicago is the modernization and urbanization of the blues, a rural sound that was electrified by the city and laid the groundwork for most popular music that has come since. One important but underappreciated figure in its development was Kokomo Arnold, who played a rapid bottleneck-slide-guitar blues in a style that still sounds rock ’n’ roll. It is said that he came to Chicago as a bootlegger in the 1920s, but was forced to rely on his musical talents for a living after the end of Prohibition, trading one business of handling bottles for another. However, when it comes to stories about bluesmen, one can never be sure. Arnold’s recording of “Old Original Kokomo Blues” was reworked by the Delta bluesman Robert Johnson into “Sweet Home Chicago,” now the de facto anthem of the city. “Sweet Home Chicago” isn’t actually about Chicago. It uses the name of the city figuratively. It has to be the most singable place name in American English: Chi-ca-go, those three syllables, each ending in a different vowel sound. It lends itself to varied interpretation.

More so than any place in America and perhaps even the world, Chicago was founded on the idea of a city; before it had developed a cultural life of its own, it was a word, a notion, and a destination, ballooning over the second half of the 19th century from a smallish midland settlement into what was then the fifth largest city in the world. It is a place that inspires ideals—from the Wobblies to the aesthetic of Afrofuturism, the Hull House to the tradition of philosophizing architects embodied by Louis Sullivan, Daniel Burnham, and Frank Lloyd Wright. But how much of Chicago’s idealistic streak is a reaction to its cynical pragmatism? For as long as it has deserved to be called a city, Chicago has had problems with disenfranchisement, corruption, and crime—problems that seem like they were almost designed into the city. I’ll point out here that in his Whitman-esque poem “Chicago,” which is the source of the nickname “the City Of Big Shoulders,” Carl Sandburg also writes: “Yes, it is true I have seen the gunman kill and go free to kill again.” And this is the definitive celebration of the city.

It was Nelson Algren who mastered the art of making Chicago’s seediness sound like an exotic quality. He is best known for his novel The Man With The Golden Arm, which is set on that same mythologized stretch of Division Street that was home to Saul Bellow’s Russian bathhouse. Here, I’ll point out that Otto Preminger’s well-known 1955 film adaptation, starring Frank Sinatra as a heroin-addicted jazz drummer, was co-written by an uncredited Hecht, because everything somehow intersects in the novel of Chicago. It opens with a prowling long take down an evocative soundstage street that bears only a faint resemblance to the real city. It’s a Chicago of the imagination, but so are most. In his essay “Chicago: City On The Make,” published two years after The Man With The Golden Arm, Algren gave the city one of its most famous panegyrics: “Like loving a woman with a broken nose, you may well find lovelier lovelies. But never a lovely so real.” Like so many Chicago transplants who came here in the mid-2000s to lead a quasi-bohemian existence, I have this passage memorized. But it did not occur to me until many years later to ask who broke the woman’s nose.
Iceberg Slim on the cover of his 1976 spoken-word album, Reflections.

The fact is that, while the crime and corruption provide links between Chicago’s countless neighborhoods, their effects have always been graded by skin color. I know of no black writer of the same periods who wrote of Chicago crime as a sign of its resilient spirit, as Sandburg did, or as an Algren-esque existential quality, the proof of its hustle—not even Iceberg Slim, who was second only to Ben Hecht in developing and popularizing the mythology of the street criminal. Slim—who was born Robert Maupin, but took Robert Beck as his legal name in middle age—had been a dapper pimp in the black underworld of Chicago and the upper Midwest in the 1940s and 1950s, until a breakdown in the Cook County Jail led him to retire. He had been known as Cavanaugh Slim. It was while working as an exterminator in Los Angeles that he wrote his autobiographical novel Pimp: The Story Of My Life, a bestseller that would come to define the voice of gritty urban pulp. Along with his subsequent crime novels and the follow-up memoir The Naked Soul Of Iceberg Slim: Robert Beck’s Real Story, it would exert a profound aesthetic and thematic influence on gangsta rap, blaxploitation films and black variations on noir (Bill Duke’s Deep Cover, for example), and the prose of a vast array of fiction writers, most notably Donald Goines and Irvine Welsh.

Slim was a complicated figure. Like Chester Himes, the godfather of black noir, and Ed Jones, the most powerful black kingpin of Slim’s early years in Chicago, he had a go at a respectable college education before lapsing into crime—though, admittedly, he already had a lengthy rap sheet by the time he arrived at Tuskegee, where he was a student around the same time as Ralph Ellison. As a prose writer, he was ecstatic and contradictory, the king of mixed metaphors, capable of lucidly deconstructing the misogyny and self-loathing of his criminal past one moment and juicing readers with lurid sexual exploits the next. Like Hecht, he sculpted the seductive aspect of Chicago crime—but in place of the classic gangster film’s anti-social pizzazz, what he presented was a cool, toughened nihilism. Perhaps Slim came to believe his own legend. After he found recognition as a writer, he adopted the public image of a wocka-wocka mid-1970s pimp, though his own heyday had been in the days of boogie-woogie and parted hair.

Indulge me now and take a moment to listen to “County Jail Blues,” a 1941 B-side by the Chicago blues pianist Big Maceo Merriweather. It’s an ageless song, and, in my opinion, one of the great overlooked blues recordings of the 1940s. The guitarist is Tampa Red, who played a gold-plated steel-body guitar that sounds remarkably like an electric. In its ideal form, blues is not glamorous music.

The cultural legacy of Chicago crime is really two stories, but they are intertwined. The first is a story of myths, plucked from the streets and alleys of the city and fermented in the popular imagination. The second is a complex narrative of devil’s bargains between art, business, political machinery, and crime. It stretches from the brothels of the early 20th century to the super-sized media conglomerates of the present day. Let me relate one small part of it.

The first black millionaires in America were probably policy kings, most likely in that densely populated area of the South Side that was then known as the Black Belt. Policy was an illegal lottery in which winning numbers were drawn from policy wheels (often rigged), which in Chicago bore such names as the Airplane, the Kentucky Derby, and the Prince Albert. It was a huge enterprise, with each wheel having its own drops, runners, and policy writers—not to mention a whole sub-industry of numerologists and hucksters who called themselves “policy professors” and hawked dream-based winning formulae in the ad pages of the Chicago Defender. If you want to try to get a sense of the spirit of the time, take a listen to “Four Eleven Forty-Four,” by Papa Charlie Jackson, the sardonic, banjo-playing chronicler of life in Chicago’s black neighborhoods in the 1920s and the first commercially successful self-accompanied blues musician; the title is the prototypical number combination, or gig, and a byword for policy itself.

The great policy kings are mostly forgotten now: Policy Sam, Mushmouth Johnson, Teenan Jones, Ed Jones (no relation) and his brothers, Dan Jackson, Teddy Roe. But their influence on the economic and political life of the city can’t be overstated. For the first half of the 20th century, the white powers that be considered them essential to the black vote in Chicago. When it comes to this city’s history, one should probably always think cynically and feudally: a community where the largest local employer, voter registration effort, charity, and source of capital is a single criminal racket is a corrupt administrator’s dream. Political machines gave policy kings leeway to keep them in power. During their reign, the center of black nightlife in Chicago was a section of the Bronzeville neighborhood known as “The Stroll.” How perfect is that, in a city where control is synonymous with directing movement?

The 1920s and ’30s were Chicago’s heyday as a center of jazz talent and innovation. One of the most important clubs of this era was the Grand Terrace, known in its early years as the Sunset Cafe. The building—originally a garage, and until recently a hardware store—still stands on 35th Street. This was where Louis Armstrong became a star with a teenage Cab Calloway as his master of ceremonies, where Nat King Cole got his first break, and where the trailblazing pianist and bandleader Earl “Fatha” Hines had his 12-year residency, playing a piano bought for him by Al Capone. In the ’30s, the Grand Terrace had its own national radio show, broadcast live every night. Policy kings owned many popular clubs on The Stroll, including Palm Tavern (owned by Genial Jim Knight) and the Elite No. 2 (owned by Teenan Jones), which I’m almost certain inspired the similarly comical name of Scarface’s Paradise No. 2. But the most lucrative and glamorous spots were integrated black-and-tan clubs like the Grand Terrace and the Plantation, which was located across the street. Both were controlled by the Capone organization through Jewish associates.


Unlike the Outfit that succeeded him, Capone made a point of leaving the black syndicates alone. There were many reasons for this, including the fact that the mob and the policy kings were both colluding with the Republican political machine headed by Mayor William H. Thompson, a flagrantly corrupt figure who believed that the one true enemy of America was the British crown. But the one that matters here is the mob’s intended audience. The Grand Terrace attracted many wealthy black customers, from bona fide celebrities to local crime lords (Icerberg Slim’s mentor, “Baby” Bell, spent there lavishly), but it was designed to draw in white money. Anyone who wanted to make a career in Chicago had to play the mob’s segregated circuit. The white jazzmen (including such talents-in-training as Gene Krupa and Benny Goodman) mostly played whites-only venues, while the black jazzmen played black-and-tan clubs, where white musicians could sit and play if they wanted. The privilege did not go the other way around.

Thus, the mob invisibly controlled the direction of musical influence, as it did so many other things that may seem intangible. Its monopoly on early Chicago jazz had many consequences, one of which was an eventual exodus of talent, beginning with the great cornetist King Oliver, who led the band at the Plantation Café. Oliver was a true tragic figure; he gradually lost his teeth and the ability to play to severe gum disease, ended up working as a janitor in a pool hall, and died broke in a rooming house. In the mythology of jazz, his downfall into obscurity and fatal poverty is all the result of his refusal to take a lowball offer for a regular gig at the Cotton Club, which instead catapulted Duke Ellington to stardom. This is the thing to remember: Much of the formative 1930s period of jazz, a music with deep black roots, happened on terms set by white criminals. After the black-and-tan clubs went out of fashion toward the end of the 1930s, the Chicago mob got into coin-operated jukeboxes. Thankfully, they never developed an interest in blues.

Regardless of age or gender, Chicago will turn you into an old man giving directions. Every story reminds of another story, and a story of something that used to be there—because it’s really all one story. After the Outfit took control of policy and bolita, a similar numbers game popular in the city’s Latino neighborhoods, they became absorbed into the gambling and vice empire of the Rush Street crew, whose day-to-day manager went daily to Saul Bellow’s beloved Russian bathhouse on Division Street. The Grand Terrace, having finally gone out of business, became the headquarters of the Democratic congressman William L. Dawson. He was the black sub-boss of Chicago’s political machine, and, in theory, the most powerful black politician of the 1950s. He didn’t redecorate the Grand Terrace. It still had its big neon sign (with a smaller sign with his name added) and its Jazz Age murals and private upstairs clubrooms. The last regular bandleader at the Grand Terrace had been the jazz iconoclast Sun Ra, who was then just developing his sci-fi aesthetic in Chicago.

Dawson’s position within the political machine was a feudal lordship; it was dependent on his ability to bring out black voters en masse. The political machine, in turn, depended on segregation and on interchanges with the underworld. The link between the Outfit’s earlier inroads on The Stroll and the Democratic political machine’s command of the post-war black voting block was made literal and blatant by the continued use of the Grand Terrace. There, Dawson’s landlord was Joe Glaser, the manager of Louis Armstrong and Billie Holiday and a longtime Outfit man. Glaser, who had an early history of walking away from sexual-assault charges, had been a boxing promoter who specialized in fixing fights for the mob and then a manager of black-and-tan clubs. After the repeal of Prohibition destroyed the Outfit’s stranglehold over Chicago liquor, he would rob delivery trucks to stock the bar of the Grand Terrace.

The management company Glaser created—and willed to the Outfit lawyer and power broker Sidney Korshak, unbeknownst to Armstrong—was funded by a loan from Jules Stein, an ophthalmologist, former bar mitzvah musician, and jazz booker for the Chicago mob circuit. Stein’s booking company was MCA, which started with speakeasies and black-and-tan clubs and became the largest talent agency in the world by the end of 1930s, all while being effectively controlled by the Capone organization. It acquired Universal Pictures, and expanded beyond talent management into film, television, music, and publishing. It kept its ties to the Outfit and carried over the city’s culture of patronage to Hollywood, where it encouraged the political ambitions of its client Ronald Reagan. At the start of this century, it merged with Vivendi to create NBCUniversal and Universal Music Group. This is the story of the Outfit controlling who worked in one building in Chicago. It’s a big city. There are many buildings.


If you are ever in Chicago, consider taking a drive through the city at night. Let the car rattle on the badly pockmarked streets. Your eyes will adjust to the amber sear of the General Electric Crimefighters and to that other feature of Chicago nighttimes, the blue flash of a police camera box. There are thousands mounted around the city. Turn down an alley and think of the fact that even in the earliest plat of Chicago, dating to the 1830s, there were plans for alleyways. Park the car, get out, and study how the dimensions and alignment of the streets and sidewalks affect your movements. Don’t think of crime as troglofauna, pale and eyeless, evolving in the dank corners of the city. In Chicago, crime moves, often along currents defined by earlier forms of crime. It’s structural.

Given that they have brought Chicago its most sensationalized coverage since the days of Al Capone, it seems interesting that there have been no real fiction films about the street gangs. Spike Lee’s Chi-Raq doesn’t count. Its portrayal of Chicago’s gangland is pure fantasy, influenced by the mythology of gangsta rap—which is to say, indirectly indebted to Iceberg Slim. Even in fiction, the city can’t escape the myths it inspires. You could say that about drill, our distinctive midtempo flavor of nihilistic trap rap. Drill tends to be oversimplified as the authentic sound of modern Chicago crime, which is how it sells itself, existing as it does in a complicated relationship with the histories and ongoing conflicts of Chicago’s drug gangs, grouped in the increasingly meaningless six-pointed-star Folk and five-pointed-star People alliances.

Really, drill is internet music. It owes its local significance, popularity, and very existence to limitless digital space and social media. Drill is the dizzying, exhaustive braggadocio of Montana Of 300’s “Holy Ghost”; the squishy nausea of Lil Durk’s “Glock Up”; and the hammering of Chief Keef’s “I Don’t Like”; but it is also a thousand guys who can’t rap boasting about the same shit over $50 beats while hustling for Instagram followers and YouTube views. Quality drill albums are nonexistent, and consistent drill mixtapes are rare as hen’s teeth; the ratio of filler to killer is notoriously poor. The mise-en-scène is remarkably consistent from video to video: guns; unimpressive cars; alleys, gangways, and iron gates; ugly weather; those hideous kitchen cabinets that seem to have been installed in every Chicago apartment, regardless of neighborhood. But cheapness and a lack of inspiration are part of the authenticity factor, because drill is immediate. It’s also on the outs, having never crossed over the way that the Savemoney scene made famous by Chance The Rapper and Vic Mensa has.

Nowadays, Chicago crime is defined by the street sets, mostly black or Latino, related by business and varying adherence to the mythology of the gang, prone to violent infighting and splintering. What makes this underworld special is that most of its artistic record is self-produced. These are the patch-sewn cardigans and calling cards of the old-school 1970s street gangs; the outsider literature of the Gangster Disciples’ manuals, more cultish than criminal; the hieroglyphic symbolism of the gang tags that cover Chicago’s alley-facing garage doors; meandering amateur movies in which people pretend to shoot each other with real guns; drill. Despite the early ambitions of the Vice Lords and the Latin Kings organizations, the street gangs have only ever been politically useful as bogeymen. By most estimates, there are around 100,000 street gang members in Chicago, divided into about 60 organizations that are in turn split into about 700 groups. Not every Chicago gang is a violent criminal enterprise, but the majority of murders in Chicago are gang-related, and most of them go unsolved.

There is nothing transgressive about our gangs. Chicago is a place where one can always map the relationship between the criminal and the city. It taught the world that the street criminal could be a charismatic figure and inspired a mythic bestiary of genre archetypes: the terse Mann-ian professional facing obsolescence; the mobster gunning for the throne of the city; the nihilist pimp who knows it’s all part of the game; the folk-hero bank-robber shot by lawmen in the back; the corrupt and colorful wheeler-dealer. But the street gangs can’t be understood on those terms. To an outsider, their public beefs can sound like the sectarian conflicts of a post-apocalyptic religion; witness the bloody feud between the Bang Bang Gang Terror Dome subset of the Black P. Stones and the New Money Killaward subset of the Gangster Disciples, which in 2015 caught the attention of a city otherwise desensitized to the idea of gangland murders.
Screenshot: Candyman

The ongoing social tragedy of murder in Chicago isn’t that there are so many (there are a lot, but it’s never ranked among the top American cities in that respect), but that they are so similar, the same m.o. repeated over and over again. It can reach the point where you almost trick yourself into thinking of the urban gangland as an organism or serial-killer hive mind. But it isn’t. The foibles of the street gangs are very human. And, though we don’t like do admit it, they are relatable.

The French novelist Jean-Patrick Manchette liked to call crime fiction “the great moral literature of our time,” a statement I sometimes find myself agreeing with. There is no more efficient way of putting a character in a moral and existential crisis than a crime, and it is a dark truth of every developed society that, regardless of circumstances, we are all capable of committing a heinous crime. The question of why some do while most don’t directly addresses an important piece of the human puzzle. But in this chapter of the ongoing story of sin in Chicago—the story as told in film, in music, in the media—crime has become a setting, a fact of the neighborhoods, not a question of personalities. No documentary about the day-to-day lives of street gangs (and there are a lot of them, made mostly for TV) has had the wider appeal of Steve James’ Hoop Dreams or The Interrupters—though, of course, none of them are as well made. This is a net positive.But let me posit something that may seem counterintuitive. It isn’t a plea for a return to romanticized crime, though I do think that the forbidden lure of the illegal and immoral can be subverted in powerful ways; it’s something many of the great crime narratives do. But I do think that the art that most cogently addresses crime—whether as a real-world social issue or as an existential state—is art about criminals, because it puts its audience in a compromised spot. There is something of a moral duty to resist the othering of crime. When we begin to think of gangs exclusively as a social phenomenon, instead of as people in groups, we dehumanize not just the gangs, but the people they exploit and victimize, a category that includes the gangs themselves.

One of the more often cited example of this is the 1992 horror film Candyman, which places a supernatural threat within the crime-infested projects. (If you have the time, I recommend watching our short video documentary on the film.) It’s set in Cabrini-Green, which was then the most notorious housing project in Chicago; it was also the home of one of the subjects of Hoop Dreams, the setting of the ’70s sitcom Good Times, and the subject of several documentaries of its own. Candyman is a film that raises some interesting ideas early on, but waffles on them. In the end, it falls back on that all-too-popular image of the urban gangland as a monster, a variant of what one might call the second curse of Chicago—the idea of the city itself as an abstract threat. But it’s always people. Cabrini-Green is gone now, long demolished. In Chicago, it was symbolic of controlled disenfranchisement: a 15,000-person enclave of poverty in an affluent area. The street that ran directly down the middle of the complex—well, you can probably already guess this one. It was Division.

Thanks to Ignatiy Vishnevetsky.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Chicago Crime Commission Honors Outstanding Crime Fighters

The Chicago Crime Commission held its Stars of Distinction, 2016 Awards Dinner to recognize outstanding individual and organizational contributions in fighting crime. Chicago Police Department Superintendent Eddie Johnson was the keynote speaker at the event.

The program featured eight awards presented to individuals and the organizations they serve in recognition of their outstanding work in law enforcement. The recipients of the Stars of Distinction awards exemplify the commitment of all law enforcement in their efforts to fight crime in Chicago.

"While gang members and other criminals provide an unending threat to our safety and security, it is important to recognize the individuals who put their lives on the line every day and celebrate the victories they have won," according to J.R. Davis, Chairman and President of the Chicago Crime Commission.

"The Stars of Distinction, 2016 Awards Dinner is a chance to honor those whose efforts have been instrumental in the successful pursuit of justice. It is also an opportunity for us to thank them and celebrate their outstanding achievements along with their family, friends, and colleagues," he added.

Awards presented and recipients of the Stars of Distinction Awards included:

LAW ENFORCEMENT EXCELLENCE AWARD
Because of an ongoing war between Killa Ward Gangster Disciples and the Bang Bang Gang Black P Stones (BBG), 9-year-old Tyshawn Lee was murdered on November 2, 2015. The offenders – Corey Morgan, Dwright Doty and Kevin Edwards – all BBG members, were driving around the neighborhood, including Dawes Park, looking for Tyshawn's father, Pierre Stokes, a ranking member of the Killa Ward Gangster Disciples. The offenders entered Dawes Park and talked to several young teens playing basketball. They spotted Tyshawn across the park nearby on a swing. The offenders then lured Tyshawn into an alley with the promise to take him to the store for treats. However, in the alley, offender Doty shot Tyshawn in the head, hands and body. Immediately following the attack, Doty entered a car with the other offenders and fled the scene.

A few weeks after Tyshawn's murder, a task force was formed to investigate his murder and two other murders associated with the gang war in what was named "Operation Remember." The task force included members of the Chicago Police Department, CCDOC, FBI, HIDTA, and the Cook County State's Attorney's Office. Because of the immense dedication and hard-work by the members of the task force, Tyshawn's murderers were charged.

The Chicago Crime Commission proudly honors the following individuals: Cook County State's Attorney's Office ASAs George Canellis, Daniel Reedy, Jaime Santini, Brian Holmes, Emily Stevens, Thomas Darman, Nicholas Trutenko; Federal Bureau of Investigation Special Agent Anthony Grubisic; HIDTA Analyst Carrie Moe; CCDOC Executive Director Brad Curry, Executive Director Daniel Moreci, Investigator Franco Domma; Chicago Police Department Officer Matthew Kennedy, Detectives Keith Allen, John Murray, Timothy Murphy, Daniel Stover, Michael Cummings, Jeffrey Rodenberg, Arthur Davis, Melvin Branch, Donald Hill, Patrick Ford, Michael Chiocca, Brian Drees, David Garcia, and Sergeant Will Svilar.

LAW ENFORCEMENT EXCELLENCE AWARD (STREET GANGS)
Through effective multi-jurisdictional partnerships, the DEA-led Chicago HIDTA Group 43 - Violent Gang Conspiracy Group - has been investigating an international Transnational Criminal Organization (TCO) believed to be affiliated with multiple Mexican based cartels including the Knights Templar, Jalisco New Generation, and Zetas.

This multi-agency operation, made possible only through strategic partnership, information sharing, and careful planning, yielded the successful seizure of vast amounts of bulk cash and narcotics in transit between Mexico and Chicago as well as the subsequent arrest of twelve defendants, including a high-ranking member of the Chicago based Spanish Cobras Street Gang.

This Group demonstrates the very real importance of effective collaboration between law enforcement agencies and officers. The Chicago Crime Commission is honored to announce the recipients of the Law Enforcement Task Force Excellence Award for their collaboration with multiple agencies to ensure the perpetrators of the TCO operation are brought to justice.

The Chicago Crime Commission proudly honors the following individuals: DEA Group Supervisor George S. Karountzos, Special Agents Jomarr Cintron, Craig Schwartz, Paul Park, Nicholas Albert, Fernando Gomez, Christopher Marshall; Task Force Officers Artyom Postupaka - Lisle PD, Brette Glomb – Darien PD, Kristopher Kush - Park Forest PD, Donald Stone - Glenwood PD, Phil Hahn - Chicago Heights PD, Sergeant Alonzo Harris - Chicago PD, Lafayette Triplett - Chicago PD, Angel Amador - Chicago PD, Edward Daniels - Chicago PD, Defonda Louie – Chicago PD; Customs and Border Protection Officer Jose Venegas; National Guard IRS Olivia X. Rivera; National Guard IRS Natalie Uchmanowicz; and DEA IRA Kristeena V. Jackson.

LAW ENFORCEMENT EXCELLENCE AWARD (WEAPONS)
Again, the Chicago Crime Commission would like to honor another incredible instance of effective inter-agency partnership within the law enforcement community. For a significant amount of time, guns have been plaguing the neighborhoods of Chicago. Through the tireless efforts of ICE, HIS Chicago, FIG, and local law enforcement departments, guns that would otherwise be used to perpetrate unconscionable acts have been taken off the streets of Chicago.

Through meticulous investigative techniques and strategies, the multi-agency task force seized two live hand grenades, one grenade launcher, five .50 caliber assault rifles, a .22 handgun with a silencer, 25 other assault style weapons, over 1,000 rounds of ammunition, six ballistic vests, and 1.5 kilograms of cocaine.

The trifecta of seizing guns, money, and drugs is indicative of the far-reaching tentacles of organized crime in our communities. The seizure and arrests of the subjects involved in perpetrating criminal acts is also telling of the hardworking and determined law enforcement members who collaborate each day to make our streets safer.

Based on the successful efforts of the task force, the Chicago Crime Commission is proud to announce the following recipients of the Law Enforcement Excellence Award: HIS Chicago Financial Investigations Group Special Agents Matt Daoud, Matt Gauder, Tino Gonzalez, Jan Markiewicz, Robert Melone, Stefanie Moton, Kenneth Popovits, Matthew Siffermann, Spencer Taub, David Vanderlaan, Criminal Research Specialist Maureen McDougall, Financial Analyst Louis Sastre; ICE Enforcement Removal Officer Frank Trevino, Task Force Officers Sami Alnemri – Chicago PD, Garrick Amschl – Olympia Fields PD,  Juan Carrillo – Streamwood PD, David Dileto – New Lenox PD,  Jose Gonzalez – Addison PD, Tom LaPak – Hoffman Estates PD, Joel Mantia – Will County Sheriff's Office, Daniel Raysby – DuPage County Sheriff's Office, Vicente Roman – Lombard PD, Bilos Thomas – Chicago PD; Kane County State's Attorney's Office First Assistant State's Attorney Jody Gleason, Assistant State's Attorney William Engerman; Kane County Sheriff's Office Bomb and Arson Unit Sergeant Kevin Tindall, Deputy Brad Zentmyer; Chicago Police Department Cage Team Police Officers Jacinta O'Driscoll, Robert Garcia, Enrico Dixon; Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms Group Supervisor Timothy Wilson, Special Agent Levi Tinder, Certified Explosives Specialist Tina Sherrow; Elgin Police Department's Special Investigations Unit Detective Sergeant Chris Jensen, Detectives Tom Wolek, Heather Robinson, Canine Officer Marshall Kite.

EXCELLENCE IN LAW ENFORCEMENT (ILLEGAL NARCOTICS)
Just over three years ago, the Chicago Crime Commission named Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman Loera of the Sinaloa Cartel as its Public Enemy Number 1. Despite El Chapo being imprisoned in Mexico, his cartel continues to perpetuate crimes that impact the Chicagoland area. The efforts of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF), "Operation Tiburon" and "Operation Buzz Kill" – a joint state and federal investigation – have brought many members of El Chapo's gang enterprise to justice. Such individuals included many high-level members of the Sinaloa Cartel operating in multiple countries and multiple cities in the United States, including Chicago.

Through OCDETF's work they dismantled one of the largest drug trafficking organizations ever charged in Chicago, which was originally a simple Chicago street gang case. The Sinaloa Cartel supplied most of the heroin in the region and 1,500 – 2,000 kilograms of cocaine each month. To date, these investigations have resulted in federal indictments of 67 defendants, including Cartel leader Joaquin Guzman Loera and other high level Sinaloa targets, the seizure of over $32 million in U.S. currency, 3,100 kilograms of cocaine, 72 kilograms of heroin, 704 pounds of methamphetamine, 25 weapons, and 32 vehicles.  In total, the investigation sought over $1.8 billion.

The perseverance of the dedicated and passionate law enforcement members again illustrates how impactful and powerful our collective efforts are in ensuring the safety of our communities. The Chicago Crime Commission honors those members of the OCDETF task force who strive each day to end the influx of guns, violence, and drugs into the Chicagoland area including: Drug Enforcement Administration Group Supervisor Todd C. Smith, Special Agents John Buonincontro, Billy Conrad, Louis Gade, Robert Fergus, Emilia Fernandez, Jessica Ipema, Matthew McCarthy, Christopher O'Reilly, Dorothy Sells, Jennifer Vann, Donald Wood; TFOs Craig Clark – Palos Heights PD,  Teddy Fox – Chicago PD, Jennifer Guest - IRS-CID, James Healy - Evergreen Park PD, Jason Lippy - DEA Intelligence Research, Calvin Lucius - Calumet City PD, Chris Pedicini - Oak Park PD, Vincent Zehme - IRS-CID; DEA Investigative Assistant – Barbara Wynne; Christopher Hotaling, Chief of Narcotics – NDIL; Assistant U. S. Attorneys Michael Ferrera, Erika Csicsila, Lindsay Jenkins, Renai Rodney, Sean Franzblau, Kathryn Malizia, Angel Krull, Georgia Alexakis, and James Durkin.

MITCH MARS PROSECUTORIAL EXCELLENCE AWARD
Law enforcement includes a host of essential foundations within society, and among them is the successful prosecution of criminal activity. Effective prosecution of crime and criminals serves as a truly foundational element of a healthy, law-abiding, and thriving humanity, and the law enforcement professionals dedicated to this service make a difference every day.

On the night of September 27, 2006, Metra Police Officer Thomas Cook was working a detail at the Harvey Metra rail station. The detail was formed in response to multiple armed robberies at that location. As Officer Cook sat in his squad car, Jemetric Nicholson approached the car and shot Officer Cook two times in the head. Nicholson then took Officer Cook's service weapon and fled the scene. Over the course of the next several weeks, the South Suburban Major Crimes Task Force, with the assistance of the Metra PD and the Harvey PD, led an investigation into Officer Cook's murder. The investigators followed up on hundreds of leads, executed search warrants, and interviewed dozens of people.

During the task force's investigation, they learned that Nicholson had shot two men as they stood in a car wash on the night of September 26, 2006, and that Nicholson and anther individual, Jeremy Lloyd, attempted a drive-by murder of rival gang members. As they fled that scene, Nicholson and Lloyd fired shots at a Harvey police officer. Furthermore, the task force learned that Nicholson shot a rival gang member in the face on October 2, 2006. Based on the task force's work, Lloyd was charged with First Degree Murder and agreed to testify against Nicholson in exchange for a sentencing recommendation of 20 years for murder and attempted murder of a police officer. In November 2010, Nicholson was charged with First Degree Murder in the death of Officer Cook.

Between 2011 and 2015, Nicholson was tried and convicted of attempted murder of five people in two separate shootings. He was sentenced to 125 years. Finally, in January 2016, Nicholson was convicted of First Degree Murder of Officer Cook. He was sentenced to Life in Prison. In all, five men were charged with violent crimes ranging from armed robbery to the murder of Officer Cook. Thanks to the perseverance and dedication of the investigators and prosecutors on the case, Officer Cook and his family received the justice they deserve.

The Chicago Crime Commission very proudly announces the recipients of the Mitch Mars Prosecutorial Excellence Award: Cook County State's Attorney's Office Assistant State's Attorneys Joseph Kosman, Theodore Lagerwall, Cheryl Schroeder-Hagendorn, and Michael Golden.

LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD FOR EXCELLENCE IN LAW ENFORCEMENT
The background and credentials of this year's Lifetime Achievement Award recipient stand and deserve tremendous commendation. Deputy Robert Skrypek began his career at the sheriff's office in May of 1995. Since then, he has served with honor in the following divisions: court security, highway patrol, tactical response team sniper, criminal investigations, warrants, cybercrimes unit, juvenile officer and field training unit.

During Deputy Skrypek's career, he helped track down Lake County's 10 Most Wanted fugitives, located parents who owed several thousands of dollars in back child support and managed approximately 180 registered sex offenders. Moreover, in 2006, he worked as a special investigator on a case involving the mayor of a local village in Lake County for distribution of child pornography. That case resulted in a conviction of the mayor for possession and distribution of child pornography.

The Chicago Crime Commission is proud to recognize these lifelong commitments and commends Deputy Skrypek for his many years of service and dedication to the law enforcement community and to the citizens of our country.

COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT AWARD
This year, the Chicago Crime Commission added the Community Engagement Award to the evening's list of accolades. This award recognizes individuals and organizations that seek to significantly enhance the lives of others in the community and empower them to succeed.

In that spirit, this year's Community Engagement Award goes to Youth Guidance's Executive Director Michelle Morrison, Chairman Michael Crowley and Becoming a Man Founder Anthony Divittorio. Through their work, Youth Guidance championed and implemented the Becoming a Man (BAM) and Working on Womanhood (WOW) programs in Chicago with great success. The BAM program was launched to help young men navigate difficult circumstances that threaten their future. A safe space was created at Clemente High School for young men to openly express themselves, receive support and develop the social and emotional skills necessary to succeed. Now in its 15th year, the BAM program is set to serve 4,080 youth in 60-plus Chicagoland schools in the 2016-17 academic year. Specifically, BAM, which operates within many Chicago public schools in neighborhoods with high rates of gang violence, drugs and violence works on getting young men into their program before they're drawn into gang life or drop out of school. In June 2016 researchers from the University of Chicago Crime Lab released new findings from a randomized controlled trial evaluating the impact of BAM during the 2013-15 academic years. Findings show that BAM reduced violent crime arrests by 50 percent, reduced total arrests by 35 percent, and improved school engagement for male Chicago Public Schools students.

PAWS OF DISTINCTION AWARD
The final award this evening is always one of great interest, and despite its recipient being a canine, is nevertheless illustrative of an important and meaningful contribution in the law enforcement community.

This year the PAWS of Distinction Award goes to Deputy Somerville and his Deputy K-9, Diesel, of the Lake County Sheriff's Office. Diesel is a two-year old German Shepherd. Deputy Somerville and Diesel have been partners since completing an intensive 8-week training program together in June 2015. They have been inseparable since that time. Through their time together on the streets of Lake County, they have proven to be forces to be reckoned with. Though examples of their heroism are boundless, two necessitate sharing. After a report came in of an individual who was trying to commit suicide, was badly bleeding, and fled, Diesel picked up that individual's scent and tracked her through a heavily traveled trail. Diesel located the individual under some brush and alerted other officers of his findings. The individual was rushed to the hospital. Had it not been for Diesel, the individual may not have lived. Furthermore, Diesel assisted the North Chicago Police Department with a search for a bank robbery suspect who robbed a credit union at gun point. North Chicago PD dispatched Deputy Somerville and Diesel to assist them after the bank robbery suspect fled on bicycle and foot. Diesel tracked the suspect's scent found on the bicycle and went through yards and over fences before locating the suspect in a crawl space in the back of a house. Diesel commenced barking and growling once on site, and the suspect surrendered to North Chicago PD without incident or injury.

The Chicago Crime Commission is pleased to present this year's Paws of Distinction Award to Deputy Somerville and his canine partner, Diesel. Their deserving contributions have enhanced the quality and capacity of our criminal justice system.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Three Sinaloa Cartel Distributors Sentenced to Lengthy Federal Prison Terms

Three men who were sent by the Sinaloa Cartel to Lubbock, Texas, to distribute methamphetamine for the cartel were sentenced to lengthy federal prison sentences, announced U.S. Attorney John Parker of the Northern District of Texas.

Senior U.S. District Judge Sam R. Cummings sentenced Juan Carlos Pinales, 23, to 151 months in federal prison, Ramon Osvaldo Escobar-Robles, 25, to 78 months in federal prison, and Jesus Mario Moreno-Perez, 24, to 120 months in federal prison. Each pleaded guilty last year to one count of possession with intent to distribute 500 grams or more of methamphetamine and aiding and abetting.  Escobar-Robles and Moreno-Perez are in the U.S. illegally.

According to documents filed in the case, a joint investigation by the FBI, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS), the Lubbock County Sheriff’s Office and the Lubbock Police Department revealed that the Sinaloa cartel had sent three individuals to Lubbock to distribute methamphetamine for the cartel. In June 2015, a search warrant was executed at their residence on Birch Avenue in Lubbock.

At the time the warrant was executed, the three defendants were home. The search by law enforcement yielded several containers or bags of suspected methamphetamine in the attic, to include:  two red Tupperware containers that contained a total of approximately 5.06 pounds of suspected methamphetamine, 19 clear plastic bags that contained a total of approximately 1.42 pounds of suspected methamphetamine, two clear plastic bags that contained a total of approximately 17.2 grams of suspected methamphetamine, and one clear plastic bag that contained approximately 31.2 grams of suspected methamphetamine; as well as a black pouch that contained approximately $3,783 in cash; numerous cell phones; money transfer receipts; and a spiral notebook that contained writings consistent with a drug ledger, showing amounts distributed to and owed by various persons.                                                

A DPS crime laboratory analysis confirmed that the substance in the two red Tupperware containers was, in fact, methamphetamine with a net weight of 1,797.92 grams and a purity level of at least 91.7%. All three defendants admitted they jointly possessed the methamphetamine found in the attic.

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.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Drug Kingpin Saul Rodriguez Seeks Deal Like That Given to Other Gangsters for Cooperating

A drug kingpin whose testimony brought down a former Chicago cop and a murderous kidnapping crew is asking for a big break in his upcoming sentencing because of his extensive work as a rat for the government, but prosecutors are balking at the request.

Saul Rodriguez — who killed at least three people, including his best friend, kidnapped dozens of people and put millions of dollars of cocaine and heroin on Chicago’s streets — is seeking a sentence like the ones given to the key witnesses who helped the government break the Chicago mob and the Sinaloa drug cartel in Mexico.

Nick Calabrese, the top witness in the Family Secrets case against the Chicago Outfit, got a 12 year sentence. And twin brothers Margarito and Pedro Flores each were recently sentenced to 14 years in prison for their cooperation in the investigation of Sinaloa boss Joaquin “Chapo” Guzman Loera, the FBI’s most-sought fugitive until his arrest last year. But federal prosecutors said Rodriguez, whose sentencing hearing is scheduled for April 17, should receive a 40 year prison term because of the particularly evil nature of his crimes.

“Rodriguez had his best friend, Juan Luevano, murdered and then showed up at the funeral acting like a mourner,” according to a filing in federal court in Chicago.

“Rodriguez had 29 individuals kidnapped so that he could steal drugs or money. Six of his victims were children. One was an elderly grandmother.”

In their filing, prosecutors acknowledged that Rodriguez’s help was valuable — among those sent to prison due to his testimony was former Chicago Police Officer Glenn Lewellen — but the case pales in comparison with taking down Chicago’s top mob leaders or the top drug dealer in the world.

“Though Rodriguez’s cooperation was significant, it is inapt to compare it to the Flores brothers who secretly recorded meetings with cartel leaders while in Mexico,” the government said.

“The Flores brothers helped bring down an entire Mexican drug cartel,” the government said, adding that Calabrese “cooperated for seven years, wore a wire against notorious mob killers, testified against his own family and helped solve 13 murders.”

Thanks to a plea agreement, Rodriguez avoided a life sentence, but a “40-year sentence is necessary to ensure that Rodriguez will never again terrorize others for his own benefit,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven Block wrote.

Rodriguez has received permission from the court to file his sentencing arguments under seal.

Thanks to Frank Main.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Pedro and Margarito Flores Cooperation Against Sinaloa Cartel Yields 14-Year Prison Terms; New Charges Target Cartel Top Echelon

Twin brothers Pedro and Margarito Flores, regarded as Chicago’s most significant drug traffickers who rose from street level dealers to the highest echelons of the Mexico-based Sinaloa Cartel and a rival cartel before they began providing unparalleled cooperation to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), were each sentenced to 14 years in federal prison. The sentencing marked the Flores brothers’ first public court appearance since they entered protective federal custody in 2008. Their August 2012 guilty pleas to a narcotics distribution conspiracy were unsealed in November 2014. Also, federal law enforcement officials announced the unsealing of an expanded eighth superseding indictment in the case in which the Flores brothers and leaders of the Sinaloa Cartel were initially indicted here in 2009. The eighth superseding indictment and three separate new indictments announced today, add significant new defendants, including two alleged cartel money laundering associates who were arrested in the United States and extend the government’s efforts in Chicago and elsewhere to dismantle the Sinaloa Cartel under Joaquin Guzman Loera, 60, also known as “Chapo,” and Ismael Zambada Garcia, 67, aka “Mayo.”

“The persistent determination of DEA special agents and leadership in Chicago, coupled with the efforts of those in DEA offices worldwide, is having a significant impact on the global operations of the Sinaloa Cartel,” said U.S. Attorney Zachary T. Fardon of the Northern District of Illinois. “This case put an end to the Flores brothers’ Chicago hub for transshipment of cartel narcotics nationwide. Our investigation and prosecution of cartel members is continuing,”

“The extraordinary work in this investigation continues,” said Special Agent in Charge Dennis A. Wichern of the Chicago Field Division of the DEA. “Agents, investigators, prosecutors and our worldwide law enforcement partners continue to expand this investigation against members of the Sinaloa Cartel ― working to bring them to justice and in doing so ― helping to make the great city of Chicago a safer place.”

“IRS Criminal Investigation is committed to working together with the DEA and the United States Attorney’s Office to fight the war on drugs,” said Special Agent in Charge James C. Lee of the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation Division (IRS CI) in Chicago. “IRS CI brings, and will continue to bring, its financial expertise to disrupt and dismantle the Sinaloa Cartel’s drug trafficking organization.”

Flores Brothers Sentencing

In sentencing of the 33-year-old Flores brothers, U.S. District Chief Judge Ruben Castillo said that but for the Flores brothers’ cooperation, he would have imposed a life sentence and noted that because of the peril their ongoing cooperation poses to them and their families, they effectively “are going to leave here with a life sentence.” If the city of Chicago had walls, Judge Castillo said the brothers’ operation “devastated the walls of this city,” adding that their operation “became just a highway of drugs into this city.” But, Judge Castillo added, “it is never too late to cooperate,” which is what earned the Flores brothers a significant discount in their sentences.

Judge Castillo ordered the Flores brothers to forfeit more than $3.66 million that was seized from them and a sport utility vehicle. In addition, more than $400,000 worth of assorted jewelry, several luxury automobiles and smaller amounts of cash and electronics equipment were seized and forfeited in administrative proceedings by the DEA. The brothers left behind millions of dollars in additional assets in Mexico after they began cooperating.

The judge also placed each of the brothers on court supervision for five years when they are released from prison after serving at least 85 percent of their sentences.

Between 2005 and 2008, the Flores brothers and their crew operated a Chicago-based wholesale distribution cell for the Sinaloa Cartel and a rival drug trafficking organization controlled by Arturo Beltran Leyva, receiving on average 1,500 to 2,000 kilograms of cocaine per month. Approximately half of this cocaine was distributed to the Flores’ customers in the Chicago area, while the other half was distributed to customers in Columbus, Cincinnati, Detroit, Milwaukee, New York, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C. and Vancouver, among other cities. In total, the brothers admitted to facilitating the transfer of approximately $1.8 billion of drug proceeds from the United States to Mexico, primarily through bulk cash smuggling.

At great personal risk to themselves and their families, the Flores brothers began cooperating with the government in October 2008 and recorded conversations, including two directly with Chapo Guzman. Their cooperation resulted in indictments against leaders of the Sinaloa Cartel and the Beltran Leyva organization, as well as the complete dismantling of the brothers’ own Chicago-based criminal enterprise. In late 2008 alone, their cooperation facilitated approximately a dozen seizures in the Chicago area totaling hundreds of kilograms of cocaine and heroin and more than $15 million in cash, as well as the seizure of more than 1,600 kilograms of cocaine in the Los Angeles area that was bound for Chicago.

Further cooperation by the Flores brothers and members of their dismantled crew resulted in the convictions of more than a dozen of their high-level customers who received on average 50 to 100 kilos of cocaine per month.

“While not as high-profile as the cartel figures, the successful prosecution of these defendants made a very real difference in combating the scourge of drug trafficking that fuels so much violence and the destruction of communities in Chicago,” said the prosecutors in recommending a sentence at or near the low end of the agreed 10- to 16-year sentencing range.

“The Flores brothers (and their families) will live the rest of their lives in danger of being killed in retribution,” prosecutors stated in a sentencing memo. “The barbarism of the cartels is legend, with a special place reserved for those who cooperate.”

In 2009, the brothers’ father was kidnapped and presumed killed when he reentered Mexico despite the U.S. government warning him not to do so.

The Primary ― Eighth Superseding ― Indictment

The eighth superseding indictment unsealed today charges a total of nine defendants, including Chapo Guzman, Mayo Zambada and Guzman’s son, Jesus Alfredo Guzman Salazar, 31, aka “Alfredillo” and “Jags,” each of whom was among the initial group of co-defendants in the original indictment in 2009. Zambada and Salazar are fugitives, while Guzman remains in Mexican custody following his arrest last February.

Co-defendant, Jesus Raul Beltran Leon, 31, aka “Trevol” and “Chuy Raul,” was arrested in Mexico this past November and remains in Mexican custody. The remaining co-defendants, all fugitives, Heriberto Zazueta Godoy, 54, aka “Capi Beto,” Victor Manuel Felix Beltran, 27, aka “Lic Vicc,” Hector Miguel Valencia Ortega, 33, aka “Mv,” Jorge Mario Valenzuela Verdugo, 32, aka “Choclos” and Guadalupe Fernandez Valencia, 54, aka “Don Julio” and “Julia.”

This indictment alleges that all nine defendants conspired between May 2005 and December 2014, when the indictment was returned under seal, to import and distribute narcotics and to commit money laundering. They allegedly conspired to smuggle large quantities of cocaine from Central and South America, as well as heroin, methamphetamine and marijuana from Mexico to the United States and through Chicago for distribution nationwide. The indictment seeks forfeiture of $2 billion.

The U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Asset Control today announced the designation of Felix Beltran, who is Salazar’s brother-in-law, pursuant to the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act, freezing all of his assets in the U.S. or in the control of U.S. persons and generally prohibiting any U.S. persons from engaging in transactions with him. A second designation was announced today against Alfonso Limon Sanchez, an alleged Sinaloa Cartel associate under federal indictment with Zambada and others in San Diego. Other alleged cartel leaders, including Chicago defendants Guzman, Zambada, Salazar and Godoy, were previously designated drug kingpins.

Charges brought in earlier versions of this primary indictment remain pending against three additional co-defendants: Felipe Cabrera Sarabia, 44, who is in custody in Mexico; German Olivares, age unknown and a fugitive; and Edgar Manuel Valencia Ortega, 27, aka “Fox,” and Hector Miguel Valencia Ortega’s brother, who was arrested last year in the United States and is in federal custody in Chicago. His next court date is Feb. 19, 2015 for a status hearing.

In addition to the Flores brothers, Alfredo Vasquez Hernandez, 59, pleaded guilty and was sentenced last November to 22 years in prison. Two other co-defendants, Mayo Zambada’s son, Vicente Zambada Niebla, 39, and Tomas Arevalo Renteria, 45, have pleaded guilty and are awaiting sentencing in Chicago. Altogether, 18 defendants have been charged in the primary case in Chicago.

Three New Indictments

Those 18 are among a total of 62 defendants, most of whom have been convicted and sentenced, who were indicted in nearly two dozen related cases in Chicago since 2009. Two new defendants, Alvaro Anguiano Hernandez, 38, aka “Panda,” and Jorge Martin Torres, 38, were arrested separately in the U.S. in November and are facing separate indictments here alleging they were high-level money laundering associates of the Sinaloa Cartel and participated in money laundering conspiracies. Anguiano Hernandez’s indictment seeks forfeiture of $950,000.

Torres allegedly conspired to launder in excess of $300,000 of drug proceeds from Mexico to the United States to purchase, refurbish, and transfer from Ohio to Mexico, a 1982 Cessna Turbo 210 to promote the cartel’s alleged narcotics conspiracy. His indictment seeks forfeiture of $1 million.

A third separate indictment announced today charges Venancio Covarrubias, 26, aka “Benny,” of Elgin, who was arrested last October, with being a high-level cartel customer in the Chicago area. In September 2013, law enforcement, including U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers in Laredo, Texas, seized 159 kilograms of cocaine that was allegedly destined for a warehouse in Elgin leased by Covarrubias. The cocaine, wrapped in 118 brick-shaped packages, was hidden in a tractor-trailer containing a shipment of fresh tomatoes from a fictitious Mexican business called Tadeo Produce. The charges allege that during the prior year, Covarrubias wire transferred drug proceeds to Tadeo Produce while receiving narcotics disguised as tomato shipments. His indictment seeks forfeiture of $2.89 million.

The money laundering conspiracy charges against Anguiano Hernandez, Torres and Covarrubias carry a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, a $500,000 fine, or an alternate fine totaling twice the amount of the funds involved in illegal activity. The narcotics importation and distribution conspiracy charges against Covarrubias and each defendant in the primary indictment carry a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years to a maximum of life in prison and a $10 million fine. If convicted, the court must impose a reasonable sentence under federal statutes and the advisory United States sentencing guidelines. The defendants against whom charges are pending are presumed innocent and are entitled to a fair trial at which the government has the burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

Total Seizures Since 2008

Overall, the Chicago-based investigation of the Sinaloa Cartel has resulted in seizures of approximately $30.8 million, approximately 11 tons of cocaine, 265 kilograms of methamphetamine and 78 kilograms of heroin. Law Enforcement in Chicago has worked closely with federal agents and prosecutors in San Diego to target the senior leadership of the Sinaloa Cartel. This partnership yielded the prosecutions here as well as 14 indictments announced this month in San Diego against 60 alleged Sinaloa leaders, lieutenants and associates, including Zambada, two of his four sons and another of Guzman’s sons.


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