Fort Worth

Cartel emerges as most dominant in North Texas

The leaders of the Jalisco New Generation cartel, which has the strongest presence of all cartels in North Texas.
The leaders of the Jalisco New Generation cartel, which has the strongest presence of all cartels in North Texas. Drug Enforcement Administration

Overall drug cartel activity has increased in North Texas over the last year, federal authorities said Wednesday, and the cartel named by a suspect in an extortion plot last week has become the dominant force.

The Jalisco New Generation cartel possibly involved in the extortion episode also was linked to a drug bust in Dallas in September that included a super lab that manufactured methamphetamine.

While instances of cartel violence rarely occur in North Texas, the area has long been a key drug distribution point with access to several major interstates.

The older Sinaloa and Beltran-Leyva organizations in Mexico have had distribution cells here that report directly to high-ranking cartel members, said Elaine Cesare, the DEA spokeswoman for the Dallas division. Remnants of the Los Caballeros Templarios, Gulf and Los Zetas cartels also have a presence in North Texas.

The Jalisco split off from the powerful Sinaloa cartel — which had been led by Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman until his arrest last year— in 2010 and quickly became one of the most powerful Mexican drug trafficking organizations, according to the DEA’s annual threat assessment report.

The DEA has identified six organizations as being the top Mexican cartels. Several of their leaders, including Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman of the Sinaloa cartel, have been arrested in recent years.

The Jalisco cartel primarily sells methamphetamine but also deals cocaine, heroin and marijuana. It smuggles drugs into the United States through key border crossings such as El Paso and Laredo, the DEA report said.

The cartel has been able to maintain a presence largely because of strict adherence to dealing only with known members within the organization, making it difficult for law enforcement to break up cells, Cesare said.

The September bust came when a federal grand jury indicted eight members of the cartel accused of trafficking meth and other drugs in Dallas over the last year, authorities said.

The suspects got the drugs from a “super-lab” and used homes in Dallas and DeSoto as laboratories to recrystallize the meth, according to a federal indictment. They also are accused of using a used car dealership as a front to sell the drugs.

Authorities also arrested Jalisco members on drug trafficking charges in North Texas in 2014, the Dallas Morning News reported last year.

In the Fort Worth extortion case, the victim, a North Richland Hills man, began receiving calls from an unknown man in Mexico who said he had kidnapped the victim’s two brothers there. The caller demanded money and claimed he was working with Mexican police and the “Jalisco cartel,” a criminal complaint said.

After the victim dropped off $20,000 at a 7-Eleven in north Fort Worth, the caller provided the location of the victim’s brothers, who had been tied up in a motel room in Mexico.

Several days later, the victim received another call from the same man, who demanded more ransom money and told him to drop it off at the Home Depot off I-35W and Basswood Boulevard, the complaint said.

The victim reported the threat to authorities, who coordinated a controlled drop. After the victim dropped off the money, FBI agents arrested a juvenile who tried to pick up the cash. The agents also arrested three men who were in the car that the juvenile had exited.

The caller who claimed ties to the cartel has not been identified in court documents.

Lisa Slimak, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s office for the Northern District of Texas, said authorities “have not verified the Jalisco cartel claim yet.”

“It certainly could be cartel-related,” said Fred Burton, a former federal agent who is now the Chief Security Officer for Stratfor, an Austin-based intelligence firm. “The other explanation is, could these just be street criminals trying to scare people?”

Burton said that practice — non-cartel members using a cartel’s name as a scare tactic — was common several years ago along the U.S.-Mexico border during the rise of the Zetas cartel, which is notorious for violence.

“It was quite common for this same crime to happen in the Rio Grande Valley by the Zetas,” Burton said. “[Imposters] would call and use a similar kind of fear tactic. It kind of puts the fear of God in you when you hear that.”

At border towns, cartel drug smugglers are only limited by their imagination, often hiding drugs in secret compartments within vehicles.

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