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Latin America: Mexico Drug War Update

by Bernd Debussman, Jr.

Mexican drug trafficking organizations make billions each year smuggling drugs into the United States, profiting enormously from the prohibitionist drug policies of the US government. Since Mexican president Felipe Calderon took office in December 2006 and called the armed forces into the fight against the so-called cartels, prohibition-related violence has killed over 20,000 people, with a death toll of nearly 8,000 in 2009 and over 4,000 so far in 2010. The increasing militarization of the drug war and the arrest of dozens of high-profile drug traffickers have failed to stem the flow of drugs -- or the violence -- whatsoever. The Merida initiative, which provides $1.4 billion over three years for the US to assist the Mexican government with training, equipment and intelligence, has so far failed to make a difference. Here are a few of the latest developments in Mexico's drug war:

Wednesday, May 19

In Chihuahua, police discovered five mummified bodies in the bed of a truck. The five, two women and three women, were left in a pickup truck alongside a desert highway south of Ciudad Juarez, and were mummified by the desert conditions. In Ciudad Juarez itself, a local university student was discovered murdered and wrapped in a blanket at the fairgrounds.

Thursday, May 20

In Tamaulipas, four gunmen were killed and four arrested after a raid by elements of the Mexican Navy. Three of the detainees were Guatemalan nationals. In Torreon, Coahuila, two police officers and three gunmen were killed in a firefight.

Outside Culiacan, Sinaloa, police announced the capture of the Sinaloa Cartel's operations chief for the greater Mexico City area. Jose Manuel Garcia is also being accused of coordinating cartel operations with local officials.

Sunday, May 23

In Tijuana, soldiers discovered $729,000 dollars during a raid in La Libertad neighborhood of northwest Tijuana. No arrests were made during the operation.

In Jalisco and Zacatecas, the army and gunmen fought six gun battles in 12 hours. No casualties were reported in the fighting, which was nonetheless described as "intense." According to the army, the gunmen used large caliber Barrett sniper rifles and fragmentation grenades and the engagement. At least 50 gunmen fled into nearby mountains on vehicle and on foot.

In Sinaloa, a federal police agent and his drug-sniffing dog are missing after being kidnapped alongside four other men and a woman near the town of Los Mochis. Three of them, including the woman, were later found dead. Afterwards, police searched for men traveling in three vehicles in relation to the incident. The area around Los Mochis is a known drug trafficking area.

Nine people were murdered in the city of Chihuahua, and a man was killed in the city of Durango. Three young women who were traveling in his car were wounded after being ambushed by gunmen wielding high-powered weapons. In Tampico, two gunmen were killed after a shootout with the army. In Morelos, gunmen forced a man out of a bar and shot him just outside. One person was killed in Tabasco.

Monday, May 24

In Zapopan, Jalisco, the operations chief of the municipal police was shot and killed. Witnesses told police that Jose Nicolas Araujo Baldenegro ran out of his house after hearing a truck smash into his car, only to be gunned down when he stepped onto the street. The truck used in the attack was later found abandoned.

Tuesday, May 25

In a suburb of Monterrey, an ex-police officer from an elite unit of the municipal police was killed in a shootout between gunmen and soldiers. The incident, which took place in the affluent suburb of San Pedro Garza Garcia, took place in the early morning after the army received reports of armed men at a party. After a brief firefight, soldiers discovered the body of ex-municipal police officer Pedro Valezquez Amador. It was later reported that he is a high-ranking member of the Beltran-Leyva organization, although the organization has been split in recent months.

Wednesday, May 26

In Cancun, the mayor was arrested on suspicion of protecting the Beltran-Leyva and Zetas organizations. Gregorio Sanchez now faces charges of drug trafficking and money laundering, a year after a Cancun police chief and several deputies were taken into custody. High-level corruption is rampant in many parts of Mexico.

In Chihuahua, a large group of armed men took over a small village near Ciudad Juarez. Reports indicate that a group of at least 60 men traveling in 16 vehicles took over the small town of El Porvenir and executed two people before withdrawing. The local headquarters of a police intelligence unit was also burned. Several police were reported to have fled into nearby forests.

In Culiacan, three people were executed, including a woman who was thrown into a canal after being shot. Two murders occurred in Ciudad Juarez.

Thursday, May 27

In Ciudad Juarez, two policemen were shot dead in the parking lot of a shopping center. Five people were shot in different incidents across the city of Chihuahua, and two people each were killed in Sonora, Sinaloa, and Durango.

In the Durango incident, two suspected drug traffickers were killed after being stopped at a fake checkpoint. A four year old child was left alive in the backseat.

Total Body Count for the Week: 405

Total Body Count for the Year: 4,357

[Editor's note: We have decided to no longer include the overall death toll since Calderon began his drug war. There are too many problems of definition to be confident of any exact tally. We will, however, note when the official tally clicks over another thousand dead. Currently, it's at 23,000.]

Read the last Mexico Drug War Update here.

Law Enforcement: This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

We've got a trifecta of dirty NYPD cops this week, as well as snakepit full of crooked jail guards down in Florida, another one in St. Louis, and a pill-peddling court officer in Massachusetts. Let's get to it:

In New York City, an NYPD narcotics detective was arrested Tuesday for forcing the girlfriend of a drug suspect to have sex with him in a police station bathroom by threatening to lock her up. Detective Oscar Sandino, a 13-year veteran, allegedly arrested a drug suspect in Queens in 2008 and ordered the suspect's girlfriend to take off her clothes at the residence. Once at the station house, he told her she would be jailed and would lose custody of her children, but that he "would prevent those things from happening if she had sex with him.'' She complied, but reported him upon her release the next day. He is also accused of extorting sexual favors from two other women. He is charged with three misdemeanor counts of violating the civil rights of the three women. He is looking at up to three years in prison.

In New York City, a former NYPD officer pleaded guilty May 13 to robbing drug dealers at gunpoint and restraining them with his police handcuffs. Jorge Arbaje-Diaz, 31, admitted to being part of a crew that ripped-off dealers in Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan, and the Bronx. He even left his post patrolling the transit system to carry out one robbery while in uniform. Arbaje-Diaz resigned from the force after his 2008 arrest. He faces up to 20 years in prison.

In New York City, a fomer NYPD officer was convicted last Friday of conspiring to rob a drug dealer, attempted theft, and unlawful use of a bullet-proof vest, but acquitted of armed robbery charges. Hector Alvarez, 28, and his partner, Officer Miguel Castillo had received a tip that a drug dealer kept loads of cash at his Rutherford, New Jersey, home and decided to shake him down to the tune of half a million dollars. In May 2007, the pair drove to his home and flashed a fake search warrant in a bid to get in, but the dealer refused to let them in and scuffled with them. They left empty-handed, but not before attracting the attention of a neighbor who called police. They were picked up as they headed for the Lincoln tunnel. Castillo, 31, pleaded guilty in December to armed robbery and is now serving a seven-year sentence. Alvarez is looking at five to ten years, but he has already served three awaiting trial.

In West Palm Beach, Florida, 11 state prison guards and five others have pleaded guilty to cocaine possession and conspiracy charges after a two-year state and federal investigation into corruption in Palm Beach County prisons. The defendants were caught in an FBI sting operation in which they were recruited to run loads of what they thought were cocaine out of Miami-Dade County. The guards worked at the Glades Correctional Institution, South Bay Correctional Institution and the Florida Road Prison. Another, parallel probe by the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office and the State Attorney's Office resulted in the arrests of six more prison guards on charges of bribery, introduction of contraband into a correctional institution and conspiracy.

In St. Louis, a former jail guard was sentenced last Friday to 30 months in prison for smuggling what she thought was heroin for an inmate who was working with authorities. Peggy Lynn O'Neal, 49, had pleaded guilty in August to a felony charge of attempting to distribute heroin and admitted accepting money to smuggle it into the jail. O'Neal is one of three guards originally charged in the sting; all have pleaded guilty. One got two years, another awaits sentencing.

In Andover, Massachusetts, a former Massachusetts Trial Court officer was sentenced May 13 to three years in prison on federal drug distribution charges. Eric Bevilacqua, 28, was arrested in October when DEA agents searched his home and found $40,000 in a safe. He admitted selling a thousand 30-milligram oxycodone tablets a week to various customers and pleaded guilty to distributing it in February.

Law Enforcement: This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

The beat goes on. This week, we have a trio of ethically-challenged cops, and, of course, a crooked jail guard. Let's get to it:

If we can't keep drugs out of the prisons, how can we keep them out of the country?
In Newark, New Jersey, a Newark police officer was indicted Tuesday by a federal grand jury for being part of a ring of people who were "stealing money and narcotics from narcotics dealers and their associates," according to the indictment. Sgt. Michael Lalley is charged with obstructing an FBI investigation and witness tampering. He is accused of asking one person to lie about a sexual relationship they had when that person was a minor. He is also accused of paying that person $60 for sex acts at his home and at a Newark police station and giving her cocaine and marijuana. He is accused of similar offenses with another woman, as well. The offenses all occurred in the 1990s.

In Salt Lake City, a former West Jordan police sergeant was arrested last Friday on charges he dealt drugs and stole seized money. Aaron Jensen, 34, is charged with distribution of a controlled substance, a second-degree felony, and two counts of misuse of public money, a third-degree felony. In one incident, Jensen was given $1,239 in cash that was seized during an arrest, but when the man was released, Jensen returned only $583. In another, he allegedly bought cocaine and heroin from two men in 2008. The two men later told investigators Jensen had contacted them earlier and said he would not arrest them if they worked as snitches for him. When Jensen was fired as a police officer, other officers cleaning his desk found several balloons of heroin and cocaine, as well as copies of the drivers' licenses for the two men from whom he bought drugs.

In Madison, Wisconsin, a state Justice Department narcotics agent pleaded not guilty last Friday to stealing drug money in an FBI sting. Agent Johnny Santiago was charged in March with theft of government property. He allegedly stole $1,100 that FBI agents planted in a vacant store he was sent to search.

In Albuquerque, a Metro Detention Center guard was arrested Tuesday after he was caught carrying heroin, methamphetamine, marijuana, and tobacco as he showed up for work. Guard Anthony Kennedy went down following a two-week investigation after jail administrators got a tip he might be bringing contraband into the jail. It is unclear what the formal charges will be at this point.

Law Enforcement: This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A South Carolina sheriff gets busted for cocaine trafficking, and so does a Texas border town cop. And, as always, we have a couple of misbehaving jail guards, too. Let's get to it:

In Florence, South Carolina, the Florence County sheriff was arrested Saturday along with six other people for operating a cocaine trafficking ring. Sheriff EJ Melvin and the others face federal charges of conspiracy to possess with the intent to distribute more than five kilograms of powder cocaine and more than 50 grams of crack cocaine. He is also accused of extorting money from drug dealers for protection or to reduce the charges against them. Melvin, who had been sheriff for a decade, resigned Monday morning. He and the others face up to life in prison if convicted.

In Laredo, Texas, a Laredo police officer was arrested April 28 on federal drug charges. Orland Jesus Hale, 27, is charged with conspiracy to possess and intent to distribute cocaine and possession of a fire arm during the commission of a drug crime. Hale is alleged to have participated with another indicted Laredo police officer, Pedro Martinez, in a scheme to use police cars to protect drug shipments. He faces up to life in prison on the conspiracy charge and a mandatory minimum of five years on the gun charge.

In Port St. Joe, Florida, a Gulf County Detention Center guard was arrested April 30 for allegedly smuggling marijuana and tobacco into the jail for prisoners. Guard John Pritchard, 24, is charged with conspiracy to introduce contraband and unlawful compensation. Also busted were a 24-year-old woman and a 24-year-old prisoner.

In Pocomoke City, Maryland, a Wiconomico County jail guard was arrested Saturday for selling cocaine on the streets. Jeremy Dashawn Moore, 29, faces 15 counts of cocaine possession and distribution. He went down after an eight-month investigation by local law enforcement, which included the use of a confidential informant who repeatedly bought cocaine from Moore. He is now out on $90,000 bail.

Law Enforcement: This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A New York cop heads to prison for dealing dope and groping women, a pair of Texas cops land in hot water, and California seems to have something of a problem with its drug lab techs. Let's get to it:

prohibition testing the crime labs
In Buffalo, New York, a former Niagara Falls police officer pleaded guilty April 22 to three federal charges, bringing his career as a dope dealer in uniform to an end. Former Officer Ryan Warme, 28, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute more than five grams of crack cocaine, possession of a weapon during the commission of a drug offense, and deprivation of civil rights. Prosecutors described Warme as a cocaine dealer who bought and sold drugs while at work and in uniform. They also said he had provided descriptions of undercover cars to drug dealers and warned one dealer of an impending raid, allowing him to elude arrest. The civil rights charge was for groping a woman he had detained. He faces mandatory minimum five-year sentences on both the cocaine and the gun charge, and one year on the civil rights count.

In Pasadena, Texas, two Pasadena police officers were indicted Thursday for their behavior during drug investigations. Officer Raymond Garivey, 39, was indicted on two counts of filing a false police report for lying to a Harris County prosecutor about the existence of a witness in case. Officer David Deal, 35, was indicted on two 2nd degree felony counts of tampering with a government record for written statements he made in official documents about a suspect he arrested with three pounds of marijuana. Both men have been suspended.

In Ripon, California, drugs have turned up missing from the Central Valley Crime Lab and thousands of drug cases could be in jeopardy. One lab employee is under investigation and has been suspended in a series of cases where methamphetamine has gone missing, but no arrests have yet been made. The lab did testing for five Central Valley counties, and public defenders in those counties are preparing to challenge current prosecutions and review past convictions. This is the second crime lab scandal in California in recent weeks; similar problems in San Francisco have resulted in hundreds of cases being dismissed, and that number could rise.

Law Enforcement: This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A coke-peddling NYPD cop cops a plea, a Florida deputy provides a favor to the wrong woman, and a New Orleans jail guard gets caught peddling pot to a prisoner. Let's get to it:

If we can't keep drugs out of the prisons, how can we keep them out of the country?
In New York City, a former NYPD officer pleaded guilty in federal court Monday to his role in a large-scale drug-selling ring. Former officer Juan Acosta, 34, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute drugs, extortion, and illegal use of a firearm. He and a partner were accused of selling cocaine throughout the city since 2005, and Acosta was also accused of using his position as a beat cop to rip-off a drug courier in 2005. He went down after getting caught in a sting last November where he took $15,000 from a government witness to transport 10 kilos of cocaine from a Long Island warehouse to the Bronx. He faces up to life in prison when he is sentenced July 22.

In Lake Wales, Florida, a Polk County deputy sheriff was arrested last Friday on charges he provided confidential information to a woman who was being surveilled as part of an investigation into a local drug trafficking operation. Deputy Sheriff Joseph Murphy, 41, a 16-year-veteran, admitted to accessing the state Driver and Vehicle Information Database to run a license tag for the girlfriend of the drug ring leader, who said she was being followed by a vehicle. That vehicle turned out to be an undercover police vehicle indeed following the girlfriend, and her call to Murphy was recorded as part of the investigation into the ring. He is charged with unauthorized use of a computer, a third-degree felony, and has been suspended without pay pending termination.

In New Orleans, an Orleans Parish Criminal Sheriff's Office deputy was arrested Wednesday for selling contraband to an inmate. Deputy Joel Johnson, allegedly gave an inmate at the Templeman 5 unit a cell phone and marijuana in exchange for $500. Johnson was a recruit in the deputy training program, but now he will have to find a new career. He was fired upon being arrested. He is charged with one count of malfeasance, as well as drug possession and contraband charges.

Law Enforcement: This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

It's a veritable potpourri of prohibition-related police misconduct this week. Let's get to it:

In New York City, an NYPD auxiliary officer and a retired NYPD officer were arrested Tuesday after being indicted for helping protect drug shipments. Auxiliary NYPD Police Officer Rafael Jimenez and retired NYPD Officer Alfredo Rivera. The pair went down after meeting with a confidential informant and agreeing to transport a 10-kilogram load of drugs from Long Island to Brooklyn. They are charged with conspiracy to distribute cocaine and conspiracy to commit extortion under color of official right. They are looking at a 10-year mandatory minimum if convicted and up to life in prison.

In Altamonte Springs, Florida, an Altamonte Springs police officer and his wife were arrested April 5 on drugs and weapons charges. Officer Clay Adams and his wife Robyn are accused of operating a marijuana grow-op and trafficking in Oxycontin. They are also accused of threatening to kill an informant and a former narcotics unit chief. They are being held without bond at last report. They face up to life in prison if convicted.

In Beeville, Texas, a Beeville Police detective was arrested April 8 for allegedly peddling prescription drugs. Detective Victor Gonzales, 31, is charged with possession of a prescription drug with intent to distribute. He faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted. Gonzales has been released on bond and is suspended from his job with pay.

In Tulsa, Oklahoma, a former Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) agent was indicted last Friday for allegedly participating in a drug distribution ring. Former agent Brandon McFadden, 33, is charged with conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine, cocaine and marijuana. He is also charged with possessing meth with intent to distribute, possessing a firearm during a drug trafficking offense and money laundering. The indictment alleges that while McFadden was an ATF agent in Tulsa and participating in drug sales, he also planted false drug evidence on suspects, stole drugs and money from suspects, and perjured himself testifying in court. Tulsa Police Officer Jeff Henderson, who worked with McFadden, is now on leave amid accusations that he and McFadden gave false testimony in a drug case. He has not been charged with any crimes.

In Marietta, Georgia, a Fulton County Sheriff's deputy was indicted Tuesday on federal charges for allegedly protecting suspected drug dealers in January and March. Deputy Anthony Atwater, 32, is charged with five counts, including extortion and aiding and abetting cocaine distribution. He is accused of protecting drug dealers on two different occasions and of receiving $4,000 for his efforts. He is being held pending a bond hearing next week and is indefinitely suspended without pay.

Law Enforcement: This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A meth dealing Texas deputy and a pill-peddling Missouri jail guard head for the big house. Let's get to it:

In Lubbock, Texas, a former Hockley County chief deputy sheriff was sentenced last Friday to 10 years in federal prison for his role in a methamphetamine trafficking conspiracy. Gordon Bohannon, 53, had pleaded guilty in December to one count of conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute 500 grams or more of meth. A second deputy, Jose Jesus Quintanilla, was sentenced to three years in prison in the same case, which involved interstate meth trafficking by a motorcycle gang.

In Chillicothe, Missouri, a former jail guard was sentenced March 31 to one year in prison for bringing drugs into the jail. Former Ross County Corrections Officer Adam Jones, 26, had pleaded guilty to four counts of illegal conveyance into a detention center. Jones went down after the inmate for whom he had been smuggling Xanax and Oxycontin snitched him out in a bid to cut his own deal. Jones will be eligible for parole after 30 days.

Law Enforcement: This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A police drug lab scandal broadens in San Francisco, somebody stole the drug evidence in suburban Atlanta, a former US Customs agent heads for prison, and yes, yet another pair of jail guards go down. Let's get to it:

evidence room of opportunity
In San Francisco, prosecutors may be forced to drop as many as 1,400 drug cases in a growing scandal at the police drug lab. That number includes as many as 400 cases where people have already been convicted and are in drug rehab programs. Some 500 cases have already been dropped, although prosecutors say they may refile charges in some cases when independent testing is done. The lab was shut down March 9 after the department learned of allegations that veteran lab tech Deborah Madden had stolen and used cocaine held as evidence at the lab last year. Now, police are acknowledging that Madden may have stolen other drugs, including Oxycontin. She has yet to be charged. Other lab techs may have been involved in misdoings as well. Defense attorneys have reported the lab saying it had tested drug samples when it appears that the samples remain untouched. Stay tuned on this one.

In Lawrenceville, Georgia, drugs have gone missing from the Gwinnett County Police narcotics locker. The theft was discovered March 19 after an audit of the locker. The Gwinnett County Police have asked the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to determine who stole the unspecified amount of drugs. In the past year, only 10 police supervisors have had access to the locker, and currently, only three can get into it. Last year, then narcotics and vice unit supervisor Lt. David Butler was busted for a similar theft from the narcotics locker.

In Brownsville, Texas, a former US Customs agent was sentenced Wednesday to 12 years in prison for taking bribes to allow designated vehicles carrying drugs or illegal immigrants pass through his US port of entry inspection lane in Brownsville. Jose Raul Montano Jr. pleaded guilty to bribery, drug trafficking, and immigrant smuggling charges in November. Prosecutors said he made tens of thousands of dollars in the scheme.

In St. Louis, a city jail guard pleaded guilty Tuesday to a reduced charge after being indicted for smuggling heroin into the jail. Marilyn Denise Brown, 54, pleaded guilty to one count of attempting to possess heroin. Brown admitted meeting an undercover officer and accepting a package she believed contained heroin. She was one of three city jail guards busted in a joint effort by the St. Louis Police and the DEA. The other two have already been convicted and sentenced to prison. Brown admitted meeting an undercover officer and accepting a package she believed contained heroin.

In Folsom, California, a Sacramento State Prison guard pleaded guilty Wednesday to smuggling drugs and cell phones into the prison for inmates. Domingo Garcia, 40, admitted receiving a $1,500 payment from one inmate for bringing him pot and $1,300 from another inmate for bringing him cell phones. He pleaded guilty to three felony counts and faces a one-year jail sentence.

Law Enforcement: This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

An Atlanta cop gets nailed, a Tarheel State two-fer and the de rigeuer dope-smuggling jail guard make the hall of shame this week. Let's get to it:

In Atlanta, an Atlanta police officer was arrested Wednesday for participating in multiple cocaine sales and protecting what he thought were cocaine deals, but were actually FBI stings. Officer Lucius Solomon, 31, faces seven drug and weapons counts, including conspiracy to distribute more than five kilograms of cocaine and possessing a weapon while participating in drug sales. He's facing up to 65 years in prison.

In Raleigh, North Carolina, a former Burgaw police officer was sentenced last Friday to 10 years and one month in federal prison after being convicted in December of conspiring to distribute and possess with intent to distribute more than 500 grams of cocaine. Michael Carl Stevenson, 46, went down after traveling to Richmond County to buy a half kilo of cocaine with a convicted drug dealer and the dealer's uncle. All three were arrested during a controlled buy. Prosecutors said Stevenson had taken three Narco test kits from the department to test the drugs and that he had run the license plate of the other vehicle they met at the buy. Testimony during trial also revealed that Stevenson had stored drugs for the convicted dealer at his home and profited from it.

In Durham, North Carolina, a former Durham police officer pleaded guilty in federal court March 18 to a single weapons charge in a plea agreement that saw a drug distribution charge dropped. Sherrod Peace, 35, copped to possession of a firearm in the furtherance of a drug-trafficking crime in return for the dismissal of a charge of distributing less than five grams of crack cocaine. Peace was indicted in January after Durham police received a complaint in October 2009 and investigated further, with help from the DEA. He was accused of selling crack and carrying a firearm while doing so. He is out on bond until he is sentenced in August.

In Chicago, a Cook County Jail guard was arrested March 16 after being caught going to work with marijuana in his boot and the trunk of his car. Jail guard Kenneth Crawford, 33, went down after drug dogs sniffed out the weed, and allegedly struggled with investigators as they tried to take him into custody. He is now charged with possession of contraband in a penal institution, possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver, official misconduct, resisting arrest and battery to a police officer.

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