Police agencies have long known that Mexican drug cartels help supply Europe’s nearly US$10 billion annual cocaine habit, but acknowledge they have little idea about the workings of these highly organized and well-financed operations.
But now, a recent Italian police investigation, code-named Operation Halcon, has provided the most in-depth look yet into how Mexico’s leading drug traffickers, the Sinaloa Cartel, do business in Europe. IrpiMedia, OCCRP’s Italian partner, obtained access to police files and surveillance reports that show the cartel’s methods in unprecedented detail.
Operation Halcon started in early 2019, at a time when Europe was being flooded with cocaine from Latin America. The Sinaloa Cartel, a global leader in cocaine sales with operations in at least 50 countries, was looking for new routes into Italy as a way to expand its European presence. Mexican cartels already sold synthetic drugs such as methamphetamine on the continent, but Colombian, Albanian, and Italian organized crime have historically dominated Europe’s cocaine trade.
Most drugs arrive in Europe by ship, usually to large ports with good connections to other major cities. Sinaloa wanted to establish another route: Bulk shipment by private planes flying into small airports in Southern Italy, with the drugs then trans-shipped to other parts of the country.
Catania, a mid-size city on Sicily’s eastern coast, was chosen for a test. The area, which was rapidly becoming a tourist destination, offered an international airport and a special draw: an airport official willing to help.
The cartel’s plan didn’t stay secret for long. The Organized Crime Investigation Group (GICO), the anti-mafia unit of Italy’s financial police in Catania, learned from an informant in January 2019 that Sinaloa was planning to fly in cocaine from Colombia.
The tip seemed odd. Catania isn’t known as a hub for international drug trafficking, and direct drug flights using private planes are generally unknown in Italy. Catania–Fontanarossa Airport had only limited international service, while the local port sees relatively little commercial traffic.Credit: Notiziecatania/PixabayCatania from above, with Mt. Etna in the background.
But the local head of the GICO, Captain Pablo Leccese, took the report seriously. In less than three months, the unit identified the cartel’s players in southern Italy: Guatemalans Daniel “Tito” Esteban Ortega Ubeda and Felix Ruben Villagran Lopez. The airport insider was identified only by his nickname, Don Señor.Credit: Guardia di FinanzaFelix Ruben Villagran Lopez.
Ortega and Villagran were working with another Guatemalan, Luis Fernando Morales Hernandez, alias “El Suegro,” or “The Father-in-Law,” who would make arrangements for the shipment in Colombia.
The police informant added more names to the file. The cell operating in Catania was under the direction of a shadowy Sinaloa leader known as “El Flaco,” or “Skinny,” whom police identified as second-in-command of the entire cartel after drug lord Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada Garcia.
El Flaco was soon to meet Don Señor to work out the logistics for handling the cocaine flight and the distribution of its cargo to buyers from various organized crime groups who would come for it.
On June 1, 2019, El Flaco landed in Catania with a female companion. After the couple checked in at the luxury seaside Romano Palace Hotel, the police learned his real name for the first time: José Angel Rivera Zazueta.
The following day El Flaco, Don Señor, and their associates met in a hotel restaurant to go over the plan. A private plane would fly from Mexico to Cartagena, Colombia, where it would be loaded with cocaine. After refueling in Cape Verde, it would land in Catania, where Don Señor would shift the drugs to a vehicle, avoid customs, and head to northern Italy — likely to Verona.
Two elements of the plan were a surprise to the financial police: The contraband was to be flown by a pilot usually entrusted with similar tasks by Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán Loera, the legendary former Sinaloa leader. And the size of the “test” was staggering.
“We know this Sinaloa cell had already imported cocaine to Europe and that they already had 1.5 tons of cocaine ready to be sent after a couple of hundred kilos of trial,” Leccese told IrpiMedia.
On arrival in Italy, the drugs would be sold to the Calabrian mafia, the ’Ndrangheta, which is widely considered to be Europe’s most powerful cocaine distributor. Mafia involvement made sense. Sinaloa is known to forge partnerships with existing organizations, rather than trying to steamroll its way into new markets.
Cops bugged a restaurant where the narco traffickers would meet, and settled in to listen. What they heard was a revelation. Italian law enforcement seldom gets an inside look at Mexican cartels, but now El Flaco was laying it all out for his associates, unaware that his tutorials were reaching the ears of the police.
Catania police heard boasts of 35 small planes each week leaving Venezuela to Chetumal, a resort town on the border of Mexico and Belize. Each allegedly carried 500 to 800 kilograms of cocaine — more than half of the world’s total annual cocaine production — and all with the blessing of the Venezuelan military.
The flights likely came from San Felipe, in northwest Venezuelan state of Zulia, where there are so many traffickers that locals call their town “Sinaloa,” according to the InSightCrime website.
The restaurant talk also turned to more personal news. The traffickers spoke about Villagran’s family, which was said to handle two to three tons of cocaine per month. They spoke of “El Sordo” (The Deaf), who is now part of Mexico’s Guardia Nacional, and of “El Calvo” (The Bald), a key cartel operative in Canada.
Tales were told about El Flaco’s two girlfriends, one a relative of the late drug lord Amado Carrillo Fuentes, and about his father, who supposedly owned thousands of currency exchange shops, as well as his alleged contacts in the CIA.
Although the Italian investigators couldn’t confirm much of the restaurant talk, they were fascinated.Credit: Amrai CoenA Sinaloa Cartel member testing a weapon after repairing it in a small town in Sinaloa, Mexico.
A Little “Help” From the Police
In mid-June, the informant told police that El Flaco had a 300-kilogram test shipment ready in Colombia and would send it to Catania as soon as the cartel could line up a facilitator in Cartagena.
On June 18, Don Señor met the cartel members in Rome. As police listened in, El Flaco offered to follow the test run with another 1,500 kilograms via private jet from Cartagena, through Mexico, to Catania.
But the cartel encountered unforeseen problems. It had trouble finding someone in Cartagena to facilitate the shipment. The whole operation was accumulating delays.
So the police decided to “help” them.
Working with the Antidrug Central Directorate, a police body that coordinates antidrug operations in Italy, and the Italian antidrug attache in Bogotá, Captain Leccese brought in two Latino informants based in Italy, code-named Rodriguez and El Cholo, along with a Colombian Dirección de Antinarcóticos undercover officer, known as Lucas, to pose as drug dealers.
In late August, Villagran and Morales took El Cholo and Lucas to meet suppliers in the mountains in southern Colombia’s Cauca region. After passing through a checkpoint, where they were likely photographed, they reached a place in the jungle where traffickers confiscated their cellphones. From there, they walked through the jungle to a cocaine refinery.Credit: Guardia di FinanzaCocaine prepared by Colombian suppliers.
El Abuelo, “The Grandfather,” a former member of the now-defunct Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas, showed them around, displaying drugs being cooked and shipments ready to go out.
Meanwhile, Rodriguez was halfway around the world, meeting El Flaco in Kaohsiung, Taiwan. Police in Catania had learned that El Flaco lived mainly in Asia, where he managed an important part of the cartel’s synthetic drug business.
The undercover operation soon encountered logistical problems of its own. The Colombian cocaine cooks delayed shipment to the cartel until October. Still more time was lost when a national strike closed Colombia’s airports.
Once again, the Italian and Colombian police stepped in to help. The informant, El Cholo, offered to provide a “better alternative” using his contacts at the Bogotá airport to place the drugs on an airline flight.
Finally, on January 9, 2020, around 400 kilograms of cocaine arrived in Catania aboard a passenger flight. Don Señor moved it to a safe house at the edge of the city.
Don Señor, Ortega, Rodriguez, and El Cholo were on their way to inspect the cargo when El Flaco called from Cancun for an update. Again, police listened in as Ortega checked the shipment and produced El Flaco’s written instructions about how the drug should be distributed.
“So the compensation is 32,” he said, referring to the number of cocaine bricks Don Señor would get for his labor. That much cocaine would be worth nearly $1 million in Europe.
“The compensation is better than a payment,” Rodriguez said with a laugh.
Cartels like to compensate collaborators outside their organization by giving them product, rather than money. Cash payments would mean the smugglers would have to divulge business information, such as profits, to outsiders.
“My uncle told me he needs 20 in Genoa,” Ortega continued. “And we need three in Verona if possible.”
Again, the traffickers’ work didn’t go smoothly. An emissary of a Chinese criminal organization based near Milan but with ties to Mexico, already angry at the delayed delivery, demanded a kilogram to test. If his organization liked the quality, he would want 50 kilograms upfront.
The Mexicans stalled. “Charlie,” an Italian working for a mysterious figure referred to only as “Tocayo,” was their priority for this load because he wanted to make a far bigger purchase.
The plan, Ortega told El Flaco in a call, was to take three kilograms to Charlie in Verona, followed by deliveries of 20 kilograms at a time, for a total sale of up to 300 kilograms.
On January 16, Ortega and Villagran flew to Verona to meet “El Arquitecto,” an important cartel figure who was coming from Mexico to oversee the sale, and met Don Señor, who had brought his order. Again, Italian police managed to listen in.Daniel “Tito” Esteban Ortega Ubeda and Felix Ruben Villagran Lopez in Verona, where they traveled from southern Italy for a cocaine deal.
An indictment later filed in Catania describes El Arqui as El Flaco’s representative, sent to guarantee the quality of the Sinaloa cocaine. Villagran told his associates that El Arqui wanted to test the product before delivering it.
But the traffickers couldn’t catch a break. El Arqui and Charlie were delayed by snow. On January 22, they reached Milan and went straight to meet the buyer, Charlie’s boss. Later, they delivered 35,000 euros for the initial three kilograms to Ortega and Villagran near Verona.
Italy’s Financial Police, who were watching both groups all along, arrested Ortega and Villagran in Verona. They were charged with international drug trafficking and distribution and taken into custody, but have not yet been put on trial.
The police also set up a roadblock as an excuse to stop the Milan contingent’s Mercedes E350 and identify — but not arrest — El Arqui and Charlie.
El Arqui proved to be Jalisco-born Salvador Ascensio Chavez. Charlie is Mauro Da Fiume, an Italian from San Remo. Both are experienced drug traffickers.
Records obtained by The Cartel Project show that El Arqui, identified by Canada’s iNFOnews as a Mexican architect married to a Canadian, served a three-year prison term in Canada after being convicted for importing 2.2 kilograms of cocaine in 2001. His record was erased after he was granted a pardon.
In 2010, El Arqui was caught smuggling 97 kilograms of cocaine hidden in a fruit-grinding machine imported from Argentina, and was sentenced to more than seven years in prison in 2014. In 2017 he was granted release and deported to Mexico.
In a Canadian parole board document, authorities summarize El Arqui’s admission of guilt and his promise to go straight: “You admitted associating with cartels and/or organized crime in Mexico,” the Canadians wrote. “You told the Board that you have a large positive community support in your country and are planning to design and build homes.”
The document doesn’t mention plans to supervise Sinaloa cocaine sales in Europe.Credit: Guardia di FinanzaA map put together by Italian authorities investigating Mauro Da Fiume, an experienced Italian drug trafficker.
Da Fiume owned a restaurant and two import-export companies in Barcelona. His involvement in the deal suggests the drugs were destined for one or more ’Ndrangheta clans.
Spanish police arrested da Fiume on February 4 on behalf of Catania authorities for being part of a “criminal association aimed at drug trafficking and possession” which planned to move “huge amounts of cocaine” through “a criminal organization operating in Italy, Colombia, Mexico and Spain.”
A list maintained by the police agency puts Da Fiume among “people linked to the ‘Ndrangheta,” and identified him as having ties to the Sinaloa Cartel.
Mauro Da Fiume was allegedly associated with a long-running operation trafficking cocaine between Italy, France, Spain and Morocco. That operation, exposed in 2015 by the Genoa anti-mafia bureau’s “Operation Trait d’Union,” dealt with the Piromalli-Molè clan’s infiltration of Genoa and the movement of drugs through the French Riviera.
Da Fiume was not arrested in Operation Trait d’Union, but was identified as the right-hand man of clan boss Antonio Magnoli.
Ascensio Chavez, El Flaco, and Morales remain at large. They will soon be tried in absentia in Catania for international drug trafficking.
Antonio Baquero (OCCRP), Marco Oved (Toronto Star), Mathieu Tortlieur (Proceso), and Paolo Frosina (IrpiMedia) contributed reporting.
This article was produced in collaboration with “The Cartel Project,” an investigation coordinated by Paris-based Forbidden Stories. It involves 60 journalists from 25 organizations in 18 countries and involves various aspects of Mexican cartel violence, including the murders of journalists in Veracruz state. Forbidden Stories is a nonprofit group dedicated to continuing the work of journalists silenced by homicide.
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The following document was obtained from a website associated with the Regional Information Sharing Systems Program.
IDENTIFYING MEXICAN MAFIA MEMBERS AND ASSOCIATES
- 1 page
- Law Enforcement Sensitive
- April 8, 2014
(U//LES) Humming bird and Marilyn Monroe tattoos may have a nexus to the Mexican Mafia, while “G Shields” (Aztec warrior shields) and mariposas (butterflies) may be decreasing in popularity. As certain tattoos sported by Mexican Mafia members and supporters become mainstream, and because California Department of Corrections is known to use certain tattoos as validation points, Mexican Mafia members may introduce new tattoos to make it difficult for law enforcement and correctional officers to identify membership or affiliation with the group. Tattoos are also increasingly disguised within other tattoos, which can make them more difficult to easily identify.
(U) INDICATION OF MEXICAN MAFIA MEMBERSHIP
(U) Black Hand
(U//LES) Only la EME brothers are allowed to obtain the black hand tattoo. It is considered an honored privilege, but not a requirement, to display the black hand. Inspired by La Costra Nostra’s (Italian Mob) Black Hand of Death.
(U) la EME
(U//LES) Translates to the letter “M” in Spanish; a shorthand or secretive way of displaying allegiance to the Mexican Mafia.
NOTE: “EME-SA” indicates membership to MS-13, not Mexican Mafia.
(U//LES) Abbreviation can be potential indication of association or membership to the Mexican Mafia without directly identifying the organization.
(U) INDICATION OF POSSIBLE MEXICAN MAFIA ASSOCIATION
(U) 13 (and variations)
(U//LES) Signifies the 13th letter of the alphabet, M, which is pronounced “la EME” in Spanish. Can also be spelled out as “trece.”
(U) Aztec Numbering and Kanpol
(U//LES) Kanpol—directly translating as “south great”—references Aztec numbering and “Sureño.” Lines in Aztec numbering represent 5, and dots represent 1; two lines and three dots add to 13. Tattoos of the Aztec word “matlactomei,” which translates as thirteen, may also be used.
(U) Aztec Warrior Shield
(U//LES) Both Norteños and Sureños identify with Aztec culture and beliefs, but the Aztec warrior shield is most commonly found on Sureños. Advocates an ideology that Sureños are warriors or soldiers, rather than criminals, participating in a worthy cause for their race and culture.
(U//LES) Possibly a covert method that may signify 13 and loyalty to Mexican Mafia: the bottom lip is similar in shape to 1 while the top lip is similar in shape to 3. The color blue is an indication of loyalty to Mexican Mafia.
(U) Marilyn Monroe
(U//LES) May indicate association with or membership to Mexican Mafia, as Marilyn Monroe’s initials represent “MM.” Recent reporting suggests this tattoo is most likely found on non-validated associates.
(U) Hummingbird and Mariposa
(U//LES) Emerging reporting suggests a shift toward using hummingbird tattoos to portray Huitzilopochtli, an Aztec god of war, to represent being a soldier of Mexican Mafia. Mariposas may also indicate association or membership to Mexican Mafia. Curving of butterfly wings may represent “MM.” Most likely to be seen on “first generation” Mexican Mafia associates.
(U//FOUO) Recent FBI intelligence from multiple FBI HUMINT sources indicates a shift in Los Zetas recruiting methods and reliance on non-traditional associates. Past, accurate FBI reporting indicated Los Zetas previously focused its recruitment on members with prior specialized training, such as ex-military and ex-law enforcement officers, and not on US-based gangs or US persons in order to maintain a highly-disciplined and structured hierarchy. This hierarchy, which resembled a military-style command and control structure, facilitated drug trafficking operations and maintained lines of authority. However, current FBI reporting indicates that Los Zetas is recruiting and relying on non-traditional, non-military trained associates—US-based prison and street gangs and non-Mexican nationals—to perform drug trafficking and support operations in Mexico and in the United States. The FBI judges with high confidence that Los Zetas will continue to increase its recruitment efforts and establish pacts with non-military trained, nontraditional associates to maintain their drug trafficking and support operations, which may increase violence along the Southwest border posing a threat to US national security.
(U//FOUO) Current FBI reporting has indicated an increase of recruitment and contracting of US-Based gangs to conduct daily drug trafficking activities and support operations in the United States.
( U//FOUO) As of October 2010, a corroborated collaborative FBI HUMINT source with excellent access showed that Los Zetas had contracted the Texas Mexican Mafia, a Texas-based prison gang, and tasked them to collect drug debts, carry out hits, and traffic drugs in and through Laredo, Texas.
(U//FOUO) As of September 2010, a corroborated collaborative FBI HUMINT source with excellent access indicated that Los Zetas attempted to recruit US-based members in Houston, Texas, to join Los Zetas’ war against the Gulf Cartel on both sides of the border.
(U//FOUO) A corroborated collaborative FBI HUMINT source with indirect access indicated that as of August 2010, Los Zetas was buying AK-47’s from the Tango Blast Gang, a Houston, Texas-based street gang. The weapons were moved from Houston to Laredo, Texas, and were subsequently smuggled into Mexico.
(U//FOUO) As of April 2010, an established source with excellent access, much of whose reporting has been corroborated over the past ten years, indicated that the McAllen, Texas Los Piojos Drug Trafficking Organization (DTO) procured vehicles for Los Zetas through thefts, carjackings, and auto auctions held in McAllen, Texas. Los Piojos also operates a street gang in Mission, Texas who assisted with the acquisition of vehicles and vehicle parts for Los Zetas, and in some cases those parts were used to build armored vehicles for them.
(U//FOUO) FBI reporting indicates that Los Zetas is also recruiting or contracting US person Mexican nationals to conduct drug trafficking operations in the United States.
(U//FOUO) As of October 2010, a corroborated collaborative FBI HUMINT source with indirect access indicated that US person Javier Medina, a resident of Zapata, Texas, is an alleged Los Zetas recruit. Medina worked for Juan Pedro in Guerrero, Tamaulipas, Mexico. Juan Pedro was allegedly affiliated with the shooting of the US person on the Jet Ski at Falcon Lake near Zapata, Texas.
(U//FOUO) As of September 2010, a corroborated collaborative FBI HUMINT source with excellent access indicated that Los Zetas contracted a US person, identified as Alejandro, to steal vehicles in Laredo, Texas, and transport them to Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, Mexico to use for its operations.
(U//FOUO) As of March 2010, an FBI contact with excellent access whose reporting is limited and whose reliability cannot be determined indicated that Los Zetas contracted US person Alma Delia Martinez to collect smuggling fees from smugglers crossing illegal aliens across the Rio Grande River.
(U//FOUO) The FBI San Antonio judges with high confidence that Los Zetas will continue to increase their recruitment efforts and establish pacts with other Mexico and US-based prison and street gangs, as well as non-Mexican nationals to maintain their drug trafficking and support operations. FBI San Antonio believes the Los Zetas’ shift in recruitment efforts will most likely not increase its membership numbers drastically, as recent reporting has indicated that these new members lack the training and skills to elude GOM law enforcement and military, which result in many Los Zetas casualties or captures.
(U//FOUO) FBI judges with moderate confidence that Los Zetas will likely pose a higher national security threat to the United States, based on their demonstrated capabilities for violence, their recent murders of US citizens, increased kidnappings of US citizens on both sides of the border, and their continued participation in the US drug trade. With the GOM military counter-narcotic operations and turf battles against other DTOs, Los Zetas violence and criminal activity will most likely increase.
(U//FOUO) In order to adequately assess the threat to the United States, FBI San Antonio would need information that indicated larger-scale or multiple plans to attack are being planned. With the recruitment of new members, Los Zetas have lost part of their disciplined command and control structure needed to maintain order within the organization, which is likely to hinder their ability to carry out complex attacks and could increase the likelihood that GOM officials may learn of planned attacks or operations. High-level Los Zetas members with minimal command and control authority have hindered their operations, and caused countless casualties and captures. Furthermore, new members are often undisciplined, which has led to recruits failing to follow orders and has gained the Los Zetas unneeded attention, as evidenced in the Falcon Lake shooting.
(U//LES) This bulletin provides information regarding the role females, who are not members, play within California gangs. Because females often avoid detection by law enforcement, to mitigate detection, male gangs leverage females to further their criminal activity.
(U) KEY JUDGMENTS
(U//FOUO) The STAC assesses with high confidence that gangs will continue to use females to conduct criminal and non-criminal activity on their behalf because females tend to be overlooked during police encounters with male gang members.
(U//FOUO) In some gang cultures, females are viewed as inferior to their male counterparts or as property; in other gang cultures, females may hold positions of esteem or act on behalf of a “shotcaller.”
(U) SUPPORTS ILLEGAL ACTIVITIES
(U//LES) Females usually start their association to earn respect but often find themselves being used for sex, drug or weapon couriers, and as the admiring audience of the male gang members.1 Female supporters serve additional purposes within gangs, including intelligence gathering. Sometimes they have legitimate sources of income but they may also commit crimes to provide additional financial support for the gang. Gangs commonly employ women to conduct the following:
- courier weapons, contraband or drugs;
- facilitate communication among gang members in jail, in prison, or on the streets;
- smuggle messages, narcotics, or money into jail or prison during visits;
- launder money;
- sell counterfeit goods;
- commit identity and credit card theft;
- petty or grand theft;
- prostitute themselves.
As a communications facilitator, females may use their address or a Post Office Box as a central mailing destination where mail then gets repackaged and rerouted to other male gang members. They may also redraft letters on behalf of one gang member and send it to another.
(U) A FEMALE’S ROLE IN DIFFERENT GANG CULTURES
(U//LES) Predominantly Hispanic gangs often give their females, wives, or girlfriends much more latitude than other gangs. Women are typically given the power to run things on behalf of their “man.” They might be used in lieu of the actual shotcaller. The wife of a Mexican Mafia (EME) shotcaller is often referred to as “La Senora” – Mrs. or “La Madrina” – Godmother. A sister or biological daughter might also hold this title. While they are not involved in the commission of criminal acts, they can order gang members to commit the deed. An order given by “La Senora,” is considered equivalent to an order coming directly from the EME shotcaller; a soldier (gang member) cannot disobey her. The wife/girlfriend will often act as a liaison between street members and an incarcerated EME shotcaller to keep him apprised of what is happening on the streets. She also usually controls the gang‟s money (taxesb paid by gang members) and bank account(s).
(U//LES) Among skinhead gangs and outlaw motorcycle gangs (OMGs), women do not typically hold as much prestige as their counterparts associated with Hispanic gangs. OMG women are typically considered to be, referred to as and treated as property. A girlfriend may be shared among members; however, as a wife, she is no longer shared but earns the privilege of patching her riding gear with “Property of” her husband. Another term used by OMGs and skinhead gangs to refer to their girlfriends or wives is “old lady,” indicative of their perceived inferiority. OMGs also use their women to carry weapons or drugs.
(U//LES) In some instances, female skinhead supporters are more dedicated or “down for the cause” than male skinheads, but they are still considered to be disposable.. In one case, an Aryan Brotherhood gang member used a gun, which he borrowed from a female supporter, in the commission of a robbery. When the female confronted the gang member about his illegal use of her gun, he killed her.
(U//LES) The National Gang Intelligence Center (NGIC) assesses with medium confidence that street and prison gangs are expanding their criminal activities to include schemes to obtain illegitimate tax refunds, as it has proven to be very profitable and a low-risk crime.
(U//LES) According to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), incidents of tax return fraud have increased in recent years, and gang involvement in this criminal activity mirrors that trend. Gangs perpetrate tax return fraud by utilizing facilitators, such as employees of tax preparation companies. Prison gangs often employ females or other facilitators on the street to assist them, and communicate by legal mail to avoid law enforcement detection. While some of the fraud is committed using gang members’ information, gangs are also threatening and/or paying individuals a fixed amount for the personal identifying information and committing identity theft. The illicit revenues from these schemes are subsequently used to supplement traditional criminal activities and in overall furtherance of the gang.
• (U//LES) According to FBI source reporting in July 2011, new inmates are constantly threatened by the Arizona Aryan Brotherhood (AAB) to provide their social security numbers and other personally identifiable information to file fraudulent tax returns. Female counterparts on the streets file the returns on their behalf, and they use legal mail to avoid detection. The source also reported that the AAB will continue to perpetrate income tax fraud schemes because it generates significant revenue for the gang.
• (U//LES) According to FBI source reporting as of June 2011, money derived from an income tax fraud and identity theft ring in Statesboro, Georgia is being used to purchase guns and drugs for the Bloods street gang. Individuals involved in the scheme are collecting personal information of people they encounter in their places of employment and storing it until the following tax season, when a tax return is filed using the stolen information.
• (U//LES) According to FBI source reporting as of May 2011, income tax fraud is widespread amongst Gangster Disciple sets in western Tennessee. Gang members work with at least one outside employee of a tax filing company to submit fraudulent federal income tax statements despite having no legitimate work history or earnings.
• (U//LES) In December 2010, prison staff at California State Prison-Corcoran found a Black Guerilla Family (BGF) gang member at disseminating information to other inmates outlining the process to file fraudulent tax returns. The inmate was also directing that they use the “legal mail” process to avoid detection by staff.
• (U//FOUO) In May 2010, an FBI source indicated that a member of the AAB was committing fraudulent income tax schemes for members of the AAB and Arizona Mexican Mafia (AMM), by creating false W-2 forms and placing tax refunds on prepaid credit cards to be used by AAB and AMM members accordingly.
• (U//LES) According to source reporting as of April 2010, inmates at Clallam Bay Corrections Center with ties to the Aryan Family are funding drug purchases with money obtained by committing federal income tax fraud. To perpetrate this criminal activity, inmates’ personal information and power of attorney forms are mailed to outside facilitators to file the tax returns and cash the refund checks. The proceeds are split between gang members and facilitators and are subsequently used to smuggle methamphetamine into the facility through legal mail to avoid monitoring by corrections personnel.
(U//LES) Instances of tax return fraud committed by gangs will likely increase as they seek out opportunities to commit low-risk crimes and as they become aware of the fraud’s potential profits. Gangs may initially perpetrate this crime by filing returns for themselves or other gang members; however, once it is determined to be a financially viable endeavor, gangs will likely resort to intimidation tactics, committing identity theft, and forming alliances of opportunity with individuals and other criminal enterprises to continue to receive illegitimate refunds. Furthermore, gangs may seek out individuals such as employees of tax preparation companies to use their tax knowledge and expertise to identify and exploit new methods and tactics to commit tax fraud.
The El Paso Intelligence Center DEA/CBP Gang Intelligence Unit has been providing intelligence reports on many National gangs affecting this region such as the Surenos, Mexican Mafia and the Nortenos. These reports are condensed and include a short history of the gang, identifiers and current trends for the purposes of providing quick reference and concise information to the street officer that may encounter these individuals throughout the course of their duty.
In 2009, the National Drug Intelligence Center (NDIC) assessed that Mexican drug trafficking organizations (DTOs) were operating in the U.S. in at least 1, 286 cities spanning nine regions. Moreover, NDIC assesses with high confidence that Mexican DTO’s in at least 143 of these U.S. cities were linked to a specific Mexican Cartel or DTO based in Mexico—the Sinaloa Cartel (at least 75 cities), the Gulf Cartel/Los Zetas (at least 37 cities), the Juárez Cartel (at least 33 cities), the Beltrán-Leyva DTO (at least 30 cities), La Familia Michoacán (at least 27 cities), or the Tijuana Cartel (at least 21 cities). NDIC assesses with high confidence that Mexican DTOs will further expand their drug trafficking operations in the United States. Due to the rise in violence throughout the Southwest Region and Mexico, members of the Cartels, their associates and their families have been suspected of moving into many U.S. cities along the border. As a result, agencies are requesting information on ways to identify those involved with drug trafficking organizations. The information included in this report is not set in stone as many of these criminal organizations are dynamic and will alter their methods and trends frequently to avoid detection by law enforcement.
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