CLANDESTINE NETWORK CONTROLS DRUG PASSAGE
Detective Robert Alvarez, who heads a two-man gang intelligence unit at the Edinburg Police Department, says Mexican drug cartels use local gangs, which are heavily made up of male juveniles and young adults, to move their drugs. But a number of people -- businessmen, teachers, truck drivers -- also peddle illegal substances to supplement their incomes.
The cartels are designed so local drug traffickers don't know who the people in the supply chain are, Alvarez said. That way, if one group of runners is busted by the police, they can't rat out the rest.
Cartels do not call themselves cartels, said Rosalva Resendiz, a criminal justice professor at the University of Texas-Pan American who informally studies the drug trafficking culture. It's a label given to them by the media and law enforcement.
Basically, a "cartel" is a loose organization of people, she said.
"You know you are part of it, but you don't really think about it," she said.
The two major Mexican drug trafficking organizations are the Gulf Cartel and the Juarez Cartel, and they have a kingpin in each major Mexican city, said FBI Supervisory Special Agent Jorge L. Cisneros.
The city boss knows what is being trafficked through his territory at all times. Mules -- independent runners who can be illegal immigrants, gang members or just connected individuals like truck drivers -- must pay the kingpin to use the routes through his city, Cisneros said.
Trevino said the independent runners' loyalty is to the cash, though, not to the cartel. And vice versa, the cartel does not contract, per se, with only local gangs.
Nor do drug traffickers hire local gang members solely because they are gang members, Hidalgo County Sheriff Lupe Trevino said. Those people are just available and the trafficker knows through experience that they can get the job done. No one is on the payroll; they're more like free agents.
The heavy drug-related violence occurring in Hidalgo County, for the most part, is not the result of turf battles, unlike in other parts of the country.
"How can you fight for turf in Hidalgo County? Hidalgo County is a transshipment point," Trevino said. "How do you fight for turf? The dope just runs right through here."
He and Cisneros agree violence occurs when a trafficker on the shipping chain loses a load to law enforcement or another gang, or if that person owes money or drugs to someone. Retaliation for backstabbing also can be a reason for violence.
"It's all because of a bad business practice," Trevino said.
Drug smuggling is a business, he said, and that business has become more sophisticated.
"A lot of the drug smugglers, instead of paying cash to their smuggling people, security people, stash-house people and for the transporters, they were paying in kind," Trevino said.
Imagine a transporter is hired to take 1,000 pounds of marijuana from Point A to Point B at $1 per pound, he said. The supplier will give a transporter five pounds of the dope from load and call it even. The supplier, who gets his stuff cheap, perhaps is paying a transporter only $250 worth of drugs. The transporter could take that in-kind payment and sell the drugs himself for about $500 a pound, depending on the selling location. He likely would make much more than if he had transported the load for cash.
"I'm paying you less, but you are making more," the sheriff said. "A lot of the stash people are keeping the dope here in the Valley and selling it locally. They are tripling their money. We picked up on that two or three years ago."