From the daily archives: Thursday, August 12, 2010

When Violence Hits Too Close to Home

Emerging from the port of entry’s administrative offices into a sunny San Diego morning, Special Agent Dean Giboney spoke in fluent Spanish with the man whose temporary U.S. visa he had just helped renew. The man was smiling, happy to be out of Mexico, even though he understood that being on U.S. soil was no guarantee of safety from the Tijuana drug cartel that has put a price on his head.

A kidnapper's holding cell.
Kidnappings Escalate

Kidnappings by the cartels and the gangs who work for them have become a serious problem in several U.S. cities on the Southwest border. In the past, kidnap victims were usually rivals in the drug trade. Sometimes victims were kidnapped for revenge, sometimes to intimidate. And paying a ransom was no guarantee the victim would be released.

But when the gangs realized how easy—and profitable—kidnapping could be, they started abducting anyone who looked wealthy enough to command a hefty ransom, and that included Americans on either side of the border.

In the Texas border town of McAllen, for example, the rate of kidnapping has nearly quadrupled. Between October 2008 and September 2009, 42 people were kidnapped in the McAllen area, compared with 11 the previous year. And many kidnappings go unreported because the victims may be involved in illegal activity and don’t want to contact authorities.

The kidnappings, beatings, and murders that mark the extreme drug-related violence of Mexican border cities such as Tijuana and Juarez have increasingly spilled over the border. Agent Giboney is hoping the man—we’ll call him José —can provide information that will help in the Bureau’s efforts to dismantle the cartels and the criminal enterprises they fuel.

A few years ago, José started working for the Arellano Felix Organization (AFO) in Tijuana to earn extra money. But when he saw how routine the act of murder was for the cartel—leaders thought nothing of having even their own people killed for real or perceived insubordination—he started to fear for his life and contacted the FBI to help him flee the country.

Sources like José are just one of many ways the Bureau gathers intelligence to combat border crime. Agent Giboney is particularly interested in gaining information regarding fugitives in the Los Palillos case, one of San Diego’s most notorious examples of so-called “spillover violence.”

Los Palillos—the “Toothpicks”—was a rogue spinoff from the AFO. From 2004 to 2007, the San Diego street gang carried out a brutal crime spree in which 13 people were abducted and nine were killed. Bodies turned up in cars, on jogging paths, and inside houses in quiet, residential neighborhoods.

The group’s leader, Jorge Rojas-Lopez, is serving a life sentence without parole for the crimes, and several of his henchmen are also in prison. But five members of the gang are still at large.

Rojas-Lopez—a former AFO member—was fighting the cartel for a piece of the billion-dollar drug trade, but he was also fighting for revenge, because the AFO had ordered the murder of his brother.

About This Series recently visited the Southwest border region for a firsthand look at what the Bureau and its law enforcement partners are doing there to combat crime.

Part I: Border Crime | Gallery | Video
Part II: Public Corruption | Video

By the Numbers graphic By the Numbers
The Southwest border crime problem measured in numbers.
View infographic

“This level of extreme violence is very typical of the way the cartels operate south of the border,” Giboney said. Unfortunately, Los Palillos is not an isolated case north of the border, either.

What explains this level of brutality? “The cartels and the gang members they employ want to be Al Pacino in the movie Scarface,” Giboney said. During raids on the homes of cartel members, he has seen movie posters of the machine-gun-wielding Pacino, who played a vicious drug kingpin. “They want to live that lifestyle—the nice cars, going out to clubs, throwing money around. But once you’re in that lifestyle,” he explained, “it’s hard to get out, even if you want to.”

José understands how difficult it is to get away from the cartel. The “narcos,” as he calls AFO members, are powerful as well as ruthless, and their influence is felt at every level of Mexican society. “Whatever they want to know about you they can find out,” he said. “They will stop at nothing to protect their interests, even if it means crossing the border.”


Today’s passage by Congress of the Border Security Appropriations Bill provides $196 million for the Department of Justice to surge federal law enforcement efforts in high crime areas in the Southwest Border region, announced Acting Deputy Attorney General Gary G. Grindler.

“I commend Congress for passing the Border Security Appropriations Bill to add important resources to bolster security on our Southwest Border,” said Acting Deputy Attorney General Gary G. Grindler. “These assets are critical to bringing additional capabilities to crack down on transnational criminal organizations and reduce the illicit trafficking of people, drugs, currency, and weapons.

“This bill will help strengthen the Department of Justice’s historic security efforts on the Southwest Border. Over the past 18 months, this Administration and this Department have dedicated unprecedented personnel, technology, and resources to the border, with unprecedented results, and we will continue to focus our efforts on disrupting criminal organizations and the networks they exploit,” said Acting Deputy Attorney General Grindler.

Acting Deputy Attorney General Grindler was joined in the announcement by Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer of the Criminal Division; Deputy Director Kenneth Melson of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF); U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Acting Administrator Michele M. Leonhart; Assistant Director Kevin Perkins of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division; and U.S. Marshals Service Director John Clark.

Specifically, the funding will allow for more than 400 new positions and the temporary deployment of up to 220 personnel along the border as part of the Justice Department’s broader Southwest Border Strategy, including:

  • ATF Project Gunrunner Teams: Establishment of seven ATF Project Gunrunner teams comprised of special agents and industry operations investigators to target firearms trafficking along the Southwest Border;
  • Target Drug Enforcement Efforts at the Cartels: Enhancing and increasing intelligence operations against drug cartels as well as adding 50 new positions in Southwest Border offices;
  • FBI Hybrid Squads: Creation of five additional Hybrid Squads on the Southwest Border dedicated to combating the violent crime threat along the border and expanding intelligence collection efforts;
  • Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF): Increased funding for the Southwest Border region including its seven OCDETF Strike Forces in the area to support investigations and prosecutions of high level Mexican drug cartels;
  • U.S. Attorneys: Deployment of more than 30 prosecutors in targeted locations to provide additional prosecutorial resources dedicated to combating Southwest Border firearm and drug trafficking, and bulk cash smuggling;
  • Criminal Division: Creation of 26 positions to review wiretap requests, along with mutual legal assistance treaty (MLAT) and extradition requests as well as to provide additional support for the investigation and prosecution of transnational gangs, firearms, and drug traffickers, and money launderers operating along the Southwest Border;
  • USMS International Investigations: Deployment of more than 20 Deputy U.S. Marshals to support its international investigations, including establish offices in Mexico to address cross-border investigations and enhance USMS presence at El Paso Intelligence Center (EPIC) to facilitate more intelligence-driving investigations;
  • Immigration Litigation: Increased funding for Immigration Judge Teams to expedite the adjudication of removal proceedings involving criminal aliens;
  • Prisons and Detention: Increased funding for contract beds and USMS personnel to accommodate prisoner levels; and
  • Training for Mexican law enforcement: Additional funding to support Mexican law enforcement operations with ballistic analysis, DNA analysis, information sharing, technical capabilities, and assistance.

The Southwest Border Strategy, led by the Deputy Attorney General, uses federal prosecutor-led task forces that bring together all law enforcement components to identify, disrupt, and dismantle the Mexican drug cartels through investigation, prosecution, and extradition of their key leaders and facilitators, and seizure and forfeiture of their assets. The Department of Justice is increasing its focus on investigations and prosecutions of the southbound smuggling of guns and cash that fuel the violence and corruption and attacking the cartels in Mexico itself, in partnership with the Procuraduría General de la República (PGR) and the Secretariat of Public Security (SSP).

The latest resources and funding announced by the United States build on the framework of expertise and experience that have been announced during the last year, as well as the successes these resources and funding have achieved, as part of the Obama administration’s support of the fight against the cartels.

As the largest law enforcement presence in Mexico with offices throughout, and a decades-long history of working with the Mexican government, the DEA has a strategic vantage point from which to assess the drug trafficking situation in Mexico, the related violence, its causes and its historical context. Currently, DEA has nearly 29 percent of its domestic agent positions dedicated to combating drug trafficking organizations in the Southwest Border region. Project Deliverance, announced in June 2010, led to the arrest of more than 2,200 individuals on narcotics-related charges in the United States and the seizure of more than 74.1 tons of illegal drugs as part of a 22-month multi-agency law enforcement investigation.

Through ATF’s Project Gunrunner, agents gather intelligence from federal firearms licensee records, ballistics and other laboratory analysis and trace data as well as use traditional methods of intelligence gathering to deny the “tools of the trade” to the firearms trafficking infrastructure of criminal organizations operating in Mexico and throughout the United States. As a result of Project Gunrunner, ATF seized 2,589 firearms and 265,500 rounds of ammunition destined for the Southwest Border in FY 2009.

ATF has significantly expanded its efforts by deploying GRIT teams to target areas along the border. As a result of the first GRIT team deployment to Houston, agents researched and completed more than 1,000 investigative leads resulting in the initiation of more than 275 firearms cases and seizure of more than 440 illegal firearms. GRIT teams also completed more than 1,100 federal firearms licensee (FFL) inspections.

Recovery Act funding provided Project Gunrunner with $10 million to hire special agents, industry operations investigators and others to staff new offices in McAllen, Texas; El Centro, Calif.; and Las Cruces, N.M. (including a satellite office in Roswell, N.M.,) to target the gun traffickers that enable weapons to make their way to violent criminals.

ATF has also expanded its successful eTrace initiative, which allows law enforcement agencies to identify firearms trafficking trends of drug trafficking organizations and other criminal organizations funneling guns into Mexico from the United States, as well as to develop investigative leads in order to stop firearms traffickers and straw purchasers (people who knowingly purchase guns for prohibited persons) before they cross the border.

In addition to the five new Hybrid Squads, the FBI is continuing to operate its National Border Corruption Task Force, with representatives from the FBI, Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General, U.S. Customs and Border Protection – Internal Affairs and TSA to guide and oversee border corruption programs across the country.

USMS has stepped-up its efforts along the Southwest border, deploying 94 additional Deputy U.S. Marshals and sending four additional deputies to Mexico City to assist the Marshals Service Mexico City Foreign Field Office in FY 2009. Twenty-five new Criminal Investigators-Asset Forfeiture Specialists have been placed in USMS asset forfeiture units in the field. The new positions are unique in that they are solely dedicated to the USMS Asset Forfeiture Division and support U.S. Attorneys Offices and investigative agencies in investigations of cartels and other large-scale investigations.

Extraditions from Mexico reached an all-time high in 2009, with 107 individuals extradited from Mexico to the United States to stand trial for alleged crimes committed in the United States.  The Criminal Division’s Office of International Affairs has already achieved the extradition of 54 fugitives from Mexico in 2010, 22 of whom have been for drug trafficking offenses. This included the extradition from Mexico of Mario Ernesto Villanueva Madrid, the former governor of the Mexican state of Quintana Roo.

In addition to increased resources and funding, the Department of Justice has continued to support Mexican law enforcement through training initiatives. The Criminal Division’s Office of Overseas Prosecutorial Development Assistance and Training (OPDAT) and others are providing real time hands-on training through seminars for investigators and prosecutors in Mexico on the investigation and prosecution of complex cases, as Mexico transitions to an adversarial system. The training of 5,462 Mexican prosecutors and investigators at the state and federal level and in the executive and judicial branches has already occurred, and the department is on target to reach 9,261 trained by the end of 2010.

In addition, the OCDETF program has increased its analyst personnel along the Southwest Border and the Office of Justice Programs invested $30 million in stimulus funding to assist with state and local law enforcement to combat narcotics activity coming through the southern border and in high intensity drug trafficking areas.


As of Wednesday, August 11, 2010, the Calexico City Council reached an agreement with all city labor unions to implement furlough days for staff. This was done in an effort to balance the City’s budget during a state of fiscal emergency. In order to implement the furlough days agreed to, City hours of operation will be affected. From August 13, 2010 through June 3, 2011, the following City offices will be closed every Friday:

City Hall

Camarena Library

Carnegie Technology Center

Recreation Department

General Services Department

Administration at Police Department

Administration at Fire Department

Public Safety staff will continue to provide services throughout the City of Calexico twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. The City water treatment plant and wastewater plant will continue operation without interruptions in service to the community.

The Calexico City Council is proud of City staff for the spirit of cooperation they displayed in accepting the furloughs; resulting in a savings to the city in salary costs. We apologize for the inconvenience that may have been caused to the public and employees by closing City offices every Friday. Your continued patience and cooperation during these challenging economic times is greatly appreciated.


City of Holtville

Monday, August 9

The caller’s ex-boyfriend came to her residence drunk, the caller stated that the drunken ex-boyfriend was trying to win her back but he was just out of line and would like him to be sent home. The subject left in a four door vehicle, the caller was advised to call back should he return.
The caller’s aunt is in his residence and is refusing to leave, after a brief argument the caller’s aunt was sent on her way. The caller stated that his aunt was under the influence of an unknown substance, she wanted to crash at his place, though he’d just rather avoid getting in any sort of trouble, the caller was advised of his options.
It was reported that the caller’s family has just gotten out of a family, though it was not a physical fight, the caller is worried that it might escalate towards one. The young woman was contacted; the family was counseled and advised on how to handle future squanders.

Tuesday, August 10

An unknown male broke into the caller’s vehicle by smashing through the driver’s side window. The robber ran off with a pair of aviator sunglasses and a couple of college text books, the caller were advised of his options.
It was reported that a verbal dispute broke out between the caller and her ex-boyfriend, they were fighting over the fact that he also harasses her family, and threatens with child custody. Both parties were counseled, the caller was advised to call back should he return.
A couple was having an intense argument, though it wasn’t known what the argument was about. Both seemed to be getting real aggressive, they were both contacted; the male subject stated that he would sleep at friends for the night.
It was reported that the caller’s boyfriend is now throwing items at the caller’s window, no damage was done to the window. The caller wished to take care of the problem she just wanted this incident documented. The caller was advised to call back should he cross the line.

Wednesday, August 11

An unknown subject hit the caller’s vehicle damaging the left rear bumper, the damage was only moderate. No eye-witnesses were available to describe the subject; the caller was advised on his options.
It was reported that someone has shattered the driver side window, the caller did see a mini-van drive off soon after the incident, the caller has no idea who the van belongs to. The caller was advised of his options, he was asked to call back should the van return.

City of El Centro

Friday, August 6

A fight between two friends had broken out at the caller’s apartment, unable to stop the two subjects from fighting each other, the caller was able to keep them from breaking objects in the room, and an officer did arrive and was able to counsel them.
A male subject in his mid twenties was over at his locale some time last night, the caller stated that he subject had broken a few windows to his residence before driving off in an older model F150, a report was taken, and the caller was advised of his options.

It was reported that the caller’s neighbors down the street are having a loud party, when contacted the neighbor started that they are having a birthday party; they complied with turning the music down.

Saturday, August 7

It was reported that a male subject who was also under then influence of illegal drugs, the subject was causing problems with the people around him, and making a lot of ruckus the subject soon left the area.
An unknown male subject was in the caller’s backyard prowling around, the caller stated that he did not known the subject nor did he appear to be stealing anything, an officer was sent to the locale but the subject was never found

Sunday, August 8

Two male subjects were hiding behind the caller’s home, the caller then noticed that one of them even kicked her dog; they both fled the scene before an officer arrived, and the dog appeared to be alright.
It was reported that the caller and his neighbor have just gotten out of an argument, when contacted the caller stated that he believes his neighbor is vandalizing him home with graffiti, its an on going problem, he was advised of his options.
The caller’s daughter who was removed from one location for harassing her has now come to her workplace to harass her some more, the young lady was asked to leave; the caller was advised on attaining a restraining order.

Monday, August 9

The caller’s sister is on the locale, the caller stated that she is not wanted there, they have had problems in the past but does not wish to resort to extreme measures such as a restraining order, the subject left  the area in a blue mini-van, the caller was advised to call back should she return.
The caller is fed up with the mental and verbal abuse she gets from her husband, the caller states that she is weary of him, she was advised of programs that can help in such circumstances, she was also advised to call back should he keep it up.

Tuesday, August 10

It was reported that the caller’s 17 year old son is wanting to hit her husband, the caller stated that she didn’t know why their son was feeling this way, he had left the residence to go stay at a friends house, the young man would be counseled at a later time.
It was reported that someone has been breaking into the caller’s shed, the thief took two bikes, a weed whacker and an electric scooter, a report was taken.
Someone tried to break into the caller’s residence, though the back door did fend off the intruder, some damage was done to the Washroom door, the door had apparently been kicked in, a report was taken of the incident, and the caller was advised of his options.

City of Brawley

Friday, August 6

The caller’s neighbor is not treating his dogs according to the temperatures of the Valley’s climate. The caller states that the dogs aren’t being hydrated enough and that shade isn’t made available to them as much as he’d like. The dog owner was contacted, he was advised on his options, and he complied to do his best for his dogs.
The caller’s mother is keeping his aunt at bay by not letting her into the house. The caller stated that his aunt is under the influence and is out to cause trouble for his family. The aunt was contacted, she was sent on her way via taxi, the caller and mother were both counseled and advised to call back should she return.

Saturday, August 7

A separated couple met at the local gas station to exchange their young daughter. The problem began when the male subject’s new girlfriend arrived, things got a little heated. The two parties were separated; the exchange was viewed under a watchful eye as both parties left the gas station.
It was reported that the neighbors are bothering and throwing objects the caller’s dog. The caller also stated that the neighbors are drinking. The neighbors were contacted, they complied to leave the dog alone, and the caller was advised of his options.
It was reported that a subject is under the influence and is causing a disturbance in the area, the subject who was asked to keep it down only got louder and reacted rudely to them, the subject was asked to turn in, which he did.

Sunday, August 8

It was reported that the caller’s son was throwing things around the residence, the young man who was out of  control for an unknown reason  was counseled and calmed down, he was advised to listen to his mother and father.
A verbal dispute broke out between the caller and her ex-boyfriend. The caller stated that he was being pushy once again and refused to go out with him that evening; the young man was sent on his way. The caller was advised of her options and to call back should he return.

Monday, August 9

It was reported that a prowler was found on the caller’s garage, the suspect fled the scene when the caller turned on the lights. The caller was unable to identify the suspect; he was advised of his options.
A group of three young men walked into the local gas station only to run out with three-twelve packs of booze. The caller said that it happened too fast, he was unable to get a good look at the three men, and the caller was advised of his options.

Tuesday, August 10

It was reported that a female subject (the caller’s ex) wants to come inside of his apartment. The caller did ask her to leave the area but she refused, the woman then began pounding on the door and started yelling. The young lady was gone before an officer arrived; the caller was advised of his options.

City of Calexico

Friday, August 6

Someone has vandalized the caller’s locale, upon inspection it was found that someone had broken the caller’s house windows; the caller does suspect a group of kids who were loitering behind a brick wall, the young kids were not found in the area, the caller was advised of his options.
It was reported that there is a mom and daughter  having a loud argument, when contacted it was found that the mother had been drinking, the mother was counseled, she was put to bed, the daughter was advised of her options and to call should any problems arise.
It was reported that a group of teenagers are playing on the site; the caller stated that the area they are in is under development. The young teens were gone before an officer arrived, the caller was advised to call back should they return.

Saturday, August 7

It was reported that an unknown subject tried to enter the caller’s residence sometime last night while the house was empty, though no windows were broken the door was found to be damaged, particularly around the hinges and door knob, the caller was advised of his options, a report was taken of the incident.
Two homeless male subjects were in the area making a mess in the dumpsters, the caller did ask them to go elsewhere, but they simply ignored him, an officer was able to have them move to another location, the caller was advised of his options.

Sunday, August 8

It was reported that a mother and daughter couple are having an argument, the caller stated that they seem to be having a lot of issues lately, an officer did come by to check on them, they had resolved their issues, the officer did counsel and advised them.
Someone attempted to climb into through one of the opened windows to the residence, the caller stated that he saw a subject trying to slither up the wall of his neighbors. The subject did leave soon after giving a few tries, the caller was advised of his options, and the resident owners will be contacted at a later time.

Monday, August 9

It was reported that the caller has ran into her ex-boyfriend whom she has a restraining order against, the caller stated that they both got into an argument which only escalated into disturbing the peace, the caller was contacted even though the ex-boyfriend was gone on arrival, the caller was advised of her options.

Tuesday, August 10

It was reported that a loose dog is in the area, the dog does have a chain lease round his neck which he is dragging on the street, the dog was not found in the area, the caller was advised to call back should the dog return.
It was reported that the caller’s neighbor’s dog is dragging dirt onto her yard, the caller requested for close patrol, the caller was advised of her options, the neighbor was asked to keep his dog on a leash or in the backyard.
It was reported that the caller can hear a prowler in her locale, the caller then stated that the subject is on the roof of her home, the area was checked for intruders, no one was found in the area, the caller was advised of his options.


Taking the Fun Out Of Flying

(Reprinted from the Aug. 14, 2008 issue.

Anybody whose had to fly lately can relate. The vacation season is winding down and we will have more on Valley business next week).
WE JUST RETURNED FROM A VACATION trip which required us to change planes once in Atlanta, Ga.
This doesn’t seem to be  too much of an ordeal to get huffy and puffy about.
But, since the airlines have competing internet sites booking cheap tickets and the airlines have been ordered to cut back on flights, flying is no longer a good time.
In fact, negotiating the aisles to get onto a plane has become an ordeal in itself. You used to have a few good seats that would be empty and the chances of having an empty middle seat were high.
Not so anymore.
Now, thanks to all those dot-com ticketing agencies, there is never an empty seat anywhere. Even to little know places with low interest levels. If the dot-coms don’t fill them, then stand-byers at the airport looking for a cheap fare do.
Us paying passengers are guaranteed a seat. But nobody said it had to be comfortable. going out the airlines stuffed a man in his seventies, complete with cane and carry-on. So the three of us were stuffed into a space that would have held two comfortably and spent the three and a half hour flight elbowing each other and jostling for position and leg room.
On the next leg, our guaranteed seats were one row apart and I had the pleasure of having a crying baby right behind me for the whole flight.
On the return trip we got put into two seats next to each other that would have comfortably held one of us.
Airplanes have been divided into three classes these days – first class, business class and coach class.
Unfortunately, the last one accommodates the most passengers and more planes have the most of those seats available.
Under these circumstances you can imagine traveling by bus over the Andes Mountains to Peru in third world comfort. Or you can conjure up visions of the ancient slave ships, packed neatly with row upon row of slaves.
If you actually brought some of your own food along, getting to it is the equivalent of a contortionist trying to squeeze into a three foot by three foot cube.
If you are claustrophobic, you might try driving to your destination
Space aboard the plane has  actually gotten better since the airlines have insisted you only have one piece of carry-on luggage.
But what constitutes “carry-on” is left up to the carrier. Some of those bags could hold a month’s supply of C rations for a mountain battalion.
The rations provided by the airlines have shrunk from a full meal for breakfast, lunch and dinner, to a sandwich tray, to a package of cheese and crackers and a diet Seven-Up. Tasty.
What is a rational human being to make of all this? Flying has become the mass transportation of the 21st century. It’s a bus ride from point A to point B with maybe a stop or two along the way.
It’s still the fastest way to get anywhere if you want to travel long distances in a short time. We traveled over 3,000 miles in less than a day.
But until someone steps in and tells them they can’t, the airlines will keep jamming in more and more people to less and less space to accommodate all those discount fares.
So, the next time you book a trip through a dot-com travel agency, remember you’re doing your part to make the world a whole lot less pleasant place to share space in.
Somebody out there do something or I’ll be stuck in the back of the  plane forever!
SOME PEOPLE ARE STILL OUT running around trying to drum up support for their causes, even as summer draws to a close. My advice to them – take a vacation.
There will be plenty of time for politics when you get back. And the kids will enjoy the time off.
We’ve spent a lot of time in San Diego this summer, including last weekend when we took a tour of the USS Midway aircraft carrier at Seaport Village.
It was a great experience for people like me who like looking at such monuments to our military history.
Do yourself a favor if you haven’t taken a tour, go there on a weekend and get educated at the same as learning something.
It’s worth the trip.

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