Mexican Drug Cartels Working with U.S. Prison Gangs as Drug War Continues to Escalate

Posted on January 3, 2012


It has been known for several years that Mexican drug cartels coordinate with U.S. prison gangs to distribute drugs, launder money, engage in human trafficking, and commit other crimes. But this week, the Houston Chronicle published a has a clear example of how this relationship sometimes operates – and what can happen as a result:

When the Gulf Cartel was looking for tons of marijuana that went missing north of the border in October, it turned to the experts.

The cartel needed people who knew their way around Hidalgo County, where the pot was stolen, and were familiar with local drug dealers. So they contracted members of Partido Revolucionario Mexicano, a U.S. prison gang based in the Rio Grande Valley that was started by Mexican citizens incarcerated in Texas.

The gang members made purchases from people they thought had the cartel’s weed, then kidnapped them and ordered the dealers to reveal where the main stash was.

But on the way to the stash house, something went awry. Sheriff’s deputies stopped the gang members and a shootout ensued. One deputy was injured and a gang member was killed. It was a rare instance of spillover violence in the area.

However, that’s just one (somewhat tame) example of what can happen when two groups of cold-blooded outlaws work together. In the Texas Gang Threat Assessment of  2010, the Texas Department of Public Safety found that the gangs served drug cartels in a wide array of criminal enterprises. The key findings in the report were:

•Transnational gangs represent the most significant organized crime threat to the State of Texas. The Mexican cartels are employing Texas-based gangs to support their criminal operations on both sides of the Texas-Mexico border.

•Gangs recruit new members in our prisons and our schools and routinely engage in murder, kidnapping, aggravated assault, robbery, auto theft, burglary, drug trafficking, weapons trafficking, prostitution, human trafficking and money laundering.

•The Mexican cartels now depend upon these gangs to conduct their drug and human trafficking operations throughout the United States and to provide them additional resources to combat rival cartels and the Government of Mexico. These gangs are enlisted with the promise and delivery of enormous profits.

•Gangs are responsible for a disproportionate amount of crime in our communities, including as much as 60 percent in some areas. They seek to expand relationships with regional and local gangs to increase their profits from wholesale and retail drug distribution in Texas.

•As the Mexican cartels increase their reliance on transnational gangs in Texas to support their criminal operations it is likely that the scope and degree of the gang violence in our communities will increase, especially in our major urban areas.

•A state-wide investigative and prosecutive strategy that combines local, state and federal information and intelligence to support multi-jurisdictional, multi-agency criminal enterprise investigations and prosecutions as a unified effort would maximize the impact on this escalating crime problem.

Although mostly Latino prison and street gangs are the most obvious gangs that cartels work with, the 2011 National Gang Threat Assessment (NGTA) showed how colorblind the drug trade is, with cartels working with ethnic Asian and West African gangs, as well as Cuban and Dominican gangs.

A 2010 NGTA report also noted that cartels work with white supremacist groups, the Aryan Brotherhood. From La Opinión (link to translation by Borderland Beat):

“The cartels are looking for partners, bridges, to connect their activities inside the United States, and the supremacists have become an important force on the streets and inside prisons,” according to Larry Gaines, gang expert and president of the criminal justice department at San Bernardino State University.

Members of the Aryan Brotherhood, the notoriously violent organization founded in the California penitentiary system in 1967, are serving as hitmen for Mexican cartels and offering added protection and intimidation against rival groups, according to a report by the National Gang Intelligence Center.

“Some members of the Aryan Brotherhood (AB) have business relationships with Mexican cartels that bring illegal drugs into California for the AB to distribute. The Aryan Brotherhood is notoriously violent and is often involved in murder for hire,” the report says.

As the criminalization of drugs continues to push the drug trade underground, the ties to criminal elements of society get stronger, and as a result, people are even more at risk and more people suffer as a result.

[Image of Barrio Azteca youth gang members from]

Posted in: Drug War, Texas