Thomas A. Constantine
Drug Enforcement Administration
United States Department of Justice
House Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere
House International Relations Committee
Drug Control in the Western Hemisphere
Rayburn House Office Building
June 6, 1996
Note: This document may not reflect changes made in actual delivery.
Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee: I appreciate this opportunity to appear before you today to discuss narcotics control efforts in the Western Hemisphere. The Drug Enforcement Administration is appreciative of the support that the subcommittee and the entire International Relations Committee have provided us over the years, and we look forward to working with you in the coming months.
Since I last appeared before the Subcommittee in March, there have been some improvements in our cooperative narcotics control efforts with countries in this hemisphere, notably Mexico. However, some major challenges still need to be met before we can confidently say that efforts aimed against the world's most powerful drug traffickers have been effective.
Today's well-financed and sophisticated international narcotics traffickers are the organized crime figures of the 1990's. For over thirty years, Americans have had a view of organized crime as a group of individuals involved in extortion, loan sharking and gambling. Our experience, up until now, has been limited to members of organized crime families like those making up the La Cosa Nostra. Today, we are facing a new breed of international organized criminals whose power and influence make America's mafia look like child's play.
These groups are operating out of Colombia and Mexico, and their leaders control the vast majority of drug trafficking within the United States. There is no doubt that the crime that impacts communities across the United States is attributable both directly and indirectly to organizations such as the Cali mafia, and the groups within the Mexican Federation --- the Sonora cartel, the Tijuana organization, the Gulf Group and the Juarez cartel. Their involvement in narcotics trafficking and the violence which accompanies the drug trade make them responsible for most of the chaos and crime which have transformed so many American towns and cities into virtual war zones.
The relationship of the foreign drug mafias with crime in our communities was clearly demonstrated in May of this year when arrests, made as a result of Operation Zorro, clearly documented the domination of drug trafficking in America by the groups in both Colombia and Mexico. The handiwork that began in the boardrooms in Cali and ended in the housing projects in Richmond, Virginia, employed hundreds of Colombians, Mexicans and Americans to transport and distribute their poison throughout our country was totally controlled by the criminal syndicates. This case is historic because it clearly identifies the absolute dominance of the groups of the cocaine trade in the United States. Zorro II also demonstrated that with a joint effort of the U.S. Attorneys, DEA, FBI , other federal, state and local law enforcement agencies we can be successful by attacking the command and control functions of the drug mafias. More importantly with this strategy combined with continued cooperation allows us to be successful all along the seamless continuum of the drug trade, effectively dismantling the entire network from Cali and Sonora to Rocky Mount, North Carolina.
Zorro II is particularly important because for the first time we dismantled not only the U.S. infrastructure of a Colombian organization producing the cocaine, but also that of the organization from Mexico that provided the transportation. During the course of this 8-month investigation, law enforcement officers coordinated and shared information gleaned from more than 90 court-authorized wiretaps. The operation involved 10 Federal agencies, and 42 state and local agencies across the country, including 11 from California, and 10 U.S. Attorneys' offices. As a result of the operation, we seized over $17 million and almost 5,600 kilos of cocaine, and arrested 156 people.
The leaders of these organizations --- the Rodriguez Orejuela brothers, the members of the Arellano Felix organization, and the Caro Quintero organization, to name a few --- bear responsibility each time a state trooper making a routine traffic stop, or an innocent bystander, is killed by drug traffickers in the United States.
As we learned from our experience with the American mafia over thirty years, organized crime cannot flourish without the corruption of individuals and institutions. Mafia leaders, wherever they operate, are masterful at bribing and intimidating government and law enforcement officials to turn a blind eye towards their activities. Corruption and drug trafficking are synergistic, and all nations, including the United States, must be mindful of the connection between these two plagues.
In three days, we will mark the first anniversary of the beginning of the end of the Cali mafia. On June 9, 1995, Gilberto Rodriguez Orjeuela was arrested by the Colombian National Police, setting off a chain reaction which culminated in the arrests of six of the seven top Cali mafia leaders in the last year. As we note this anniversary, we should assess where we are today in the international drug trade, and what our prospects are for success in the long term, as we work with other nations to eliminate major drug trafficking organizations. DEA continues to target the highest levels of the international drug trade in Colombia, Mexico and other countries where drugs are produced and transported.
The Cali Mafia and the Situation in Colombia
The significance of last year's arrests cannot be understated. Masterful police work on the part of the Colombian National Police, working with DEA and other U.S. Government agencies, led to these arrests which represent the most serious blow to international drug trafficking in history. During the months following these arrests, the world learned how influential these traffickers really were within the Colombian Government and Colombian institutions. Dating back to the first series of raids in Cali in 1991 and in particular after the three Cali principals arrests in 1995 thousands of key documents depicting the Cali Mafias financial empire have been seized.
Those documents were the evidentiary basis for instituting sanctions provided for in the Executive Order signed by President Clinton in 1995 pursuant to the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA). Currently, 282 individuals and companies of the Cali mafia have been placed on the IEEPA list. The IEEPA sanctions have had a profound impact on the Rodriguez Orejeula family and their businesses and their ability to conduct business in both the national and international marketplaces. Several major financial institutions in Colombia have terminated all business with the specified Cali mafia front companies.
President Samper and numerous members of his Cabinet are still under investigation stemming from allegations that drug money was used to finance his campaign. The fate of Colombia hangs in the balance. The Cali mafia had operated with virtual impunity for the past fifteen years. Their influence was not limited to Colombia; mafia leaders conducted business from the Cali headquarters, ordering assassinations within the United States and directing business transactions through phone and fax communications. It is critical the pressure be maintained on the remainder of the Cali infrastructure to insure its total demise.
Recently, one of the Cali leaders, Victor Patino Fomeque was sentenced to twelve years in prison on drug and murder charges. He will receive automatic sentencing reductions from these twelve years. While this is considered to be a harsh sentence by Colombian standards, this and the expected even lesser sentences for the Cali leadership are woefully inadequate for the level of criminality by U.S. and international standards. We are also concerned that there is insufficient security in Colombian prisons, as evidenced by the escape of Santa Cruz Londono earlier this year.
Despite the fact that the Cali leaders are in jail, the cocaine trade continues and there are indications that cocaine base production and transportation continues uninterrupted from the source countries of Peru and Bolivia. Traffickers from Mexico have taken a greater role in cocaine trafficking to the United States during the past year and new more violent groups are emerging in Colombia vying for control of the cocaine empire.
As I noted earlier, the Cali Mafia, which fashioned itself after the Sicilian Mafia and the La Cosa Nostra, became far more sophisticated and successful than its predecessors. However, in the transition stage since the Cali arrests, we have seen the same patterns of violence we observed in the La Cosa Nostra when the families fought to claim territory from fallen family leaders. Just recently William Rodriquez-Abadabia, the son of Miguel Rodriguez-Orjuela was wounded and six body guards killed during an ambush in Cali. Early intelligence reporting indicates Young Turks vying for control may well have been responsible.
Between the growing sophistication of the trafficking groups from Mexico, the remnants of the Cali mafia, and the young violent groups emerging in Colombia cocaine production, transportation and trafficking are still flourishing. Complicating the Colombian situation is the fact that a very high percentage of heroin for sale on the streets of a number of major American cities is of Colombian origin. This heroin is relatively cheap with a purity of 90% in some cases.
ON TO MEXICO
Organized criminal drug syndicates in Mexico are versatile and well-established, having been engaged in heroin, marijuana and cocaine trafficking for the past thirty years. Previously, traffickers from Mexico transported Colombian cocaine to the United States. During the late 1980's Cali traffickers turned to transportation groups in Mexico to assist them in smuggling their multi-ton loads of cocaine into the United States. This change in modus operandi was due in large part to successful enforcement and interdiction operations in south Florida and the Caribbean. Smuggling groups in Mexico were a natural choice for the Cali leaders since they had been smuggling heroin and marijuana across the southwest border since the late 1960's. Early on, the Mexican transportation groups were paid $1000 to $2000 for their services. They would receive the cocaine in Mexico from a Colombian transportation group and smuggle it in to the United States and turn it over to a Colombian distribution cell. In the early 1990's they reached an agreement with the Cali infrastructure to receive payment for their services in cocaine. They began receiving half of every shipment of cocaine they transported. This had several immediate effects: first, it increased their profits by approximately 1000% and necessitated the expantion of their own distribution networks and commenced competition with Colombian distribution cells in the United States. More significantly it launched these already formidable crime syndicates on the road to enormous fortunes.
As I previously mentioned Zorro II gave an insightful look at the success and sophistication of these new distribution cells controlled by the members of the Mexican Federation. What we saw were parallel Colombian and Mexican distribution organizations operating with equal sophistication, controlling wholesale distribution of cocaine in a wide variety of locations throughout the United States such as Richmond Va., receiving their cocaine from the same Mexican transportation group who were supplied by Cali traffickers.
In order to appreciate the magnitude of Mexico's importance in the international drug trade, it is estimated that approximately 70% of the cocaine available in the United States transits Mexico. Traffickers from Mexico are also heavily involved in methamphetamine production and trafficking, the devastating effects of are spreading across our country. Methamphetamine is a very potent and toxic drug. The common thread that runs throughout the methamphetamine trade is violence. From binge users to manufacturers to wholesale and retail distributors, violence is attendant to methamphetamine.
Methamphetamine has become a serious law enforcement and health problem, especially within the last two or three years. Methamphetamine production and trafficking were previously confined to the West Coast where outlaw motorcycle gangs were responsible for the bulk of the methamphetamine available in the United States. Traffickers from Mexico have now taken over the trade, in some cases obtaining the necessary chemicals from Asia and Europe, and manufacturing the product from and controlling distribution, again maximizing their profits.
Methamphetamine seizures along the U.S./Mexico border rose from 6.5 kilograms in 1992 to 665 kilograms in 1995. There is an enormous amount of ephedrine, an essential ingredient in methamphetamine production, being shipped to Mexico. In an eighteen month period between June, 1993 and December, 1994, approximately 170 metric tons of ephedrine was diverted from the international commercial trade to Mexico. This amount of ephedrine is capable of having produced an estimated 119 metric tons of methamphetamine.
The impact of methamphetamine trafficking and use has been devastating to many cities and rural counties in the United States in areas as diverse as Iowa, Georgia and Florida. Deaths from methamphetamine have risen dramatically:
The production of methamphetamine, a substance which requires many chemicals, has a tragic impact on the environment. Many of the labs are often operated by individuals who have direct links to organizations based in Mexico, and these labs pose a hazard to both law enforcement officers investigating them, and also to residents in communities surrounding the labs.
The Mexican Federation
There are four major groups from Mexico operating under the umbrella of the Mexican Federation, an organized crime group which operates in many parts of Mexico.
The Tijuana Organization is headed by the Arellano Felix brothers, Benjamin, Francisco and Ramon. It is headquartered in Tijuana, Baja California Norte. This group controls smuggling across the border to California and is arguably the most violent of the Mexican organizations and has been connected by Mexican officials to the killing of Cardinal Juan Jesus Posadas-Ocampo at the Guadalajara Airport in 1993.During 1993, this group was engaged in a turf battle over methamphetamine territory in San Diego. 26 homicides were committed during one summer as rival groups battled over trafficking regions.
Benjamin Arellano Felix was indicted on May 2, 1989 in San Diego on charges of a continuing criminal enterprise which involved the importation and distribution of cocaine. Arellano Felix is frequently seen in Mexico and has never been arrested on these charges. Francisco Rafael Arellano Felix, his brother, was indicted in San Diego in 1980 for possession and conspiracy to possess cocaine.
The Sonora Cartel is headed by Miguel Caro Quintero, and operates out of Hermosillo, Agua Prieta, Guadalajara and Culican, as well as the Mexican states of San Luis Potosi, Sinaloa, and Sonora. Rafael, Miguel's brother, is in jail for his role in the killing of DEA Special Agent Enrique Camarena in 1985. The Sonora Cartel has direct links to the Colombian mafia and operates routes into California, Arizona, Texas and Nevada. Miguel Caro Qunitero was indicted in Arizona for shipping two tons of cocaine from Mexico to Arizona, and he has been indicted twice in Colorado. He continues to be a fugitive.
The Juarez cartel is headed by Amado Carillo Fuentes, the most powerful figure in the Mexican drug trade. His organization is linked to the Rodriguez Orejeula organization in Cali, and has family ties also to the Ochoa brothers in Medellin, Colombia. For many years, this organization ran transportation services for the Cali mafia and used aircraft including 727's to fly drugs from Colombia to Mexico. He also used to move drugs from regional bases in Guadalajara, Hermosillo and Torreon.Carillo Fuentes has been indicted in Dallas and Miami, and has been a fugitive for eight years.
The Gulf Group was headed by Juan Garcia Abrego and is based in Matamoros, Tamualipas State. It distributes cocaine in the United States as far north as Michigan, New Jersey and New York. DEA has reports that this organization smuggled in excess of 30 tons of cocaine into the United States. Humberto Garcia Abrego, Juan's brother, was arrested in October, 1994 by Mexican authorities. Juan Garcia Abrego, one of the FBI's Ten Most Wanted, was arrested on January 14, 1996. After his arrest Mexican authorities worked quickly to expel Abrego to the United States to face charges of conspiracy to import cocaine and the management of a continuing criminal enterprise.
The capture of these powerful drug traffickers, and the dismantling of their organizations operating on both sides of the border are the top priorities of the Drug Enforcement Administration.
Cooperation with the Government of Mexico
Both President Zedillo and Attorney General Lozano are committed to fighting narcotics and eliminating major drug trafficking organizations. They are cognizant of the negative consequences that unchecked cocaine trafficking has had in Colombia, and they are working to ensure that traffickers in Mexico do not become as well-entrenched and powerful as they had in Colombia during the past decade.
There are many obstacles facing the President and the Attorney General in their efforts, but despite these, some important steps are being taken by the Mexican Government to address problems created by major drug trafficking organizations. President Zedillo pledged in his State of the Union address that Mexico would pass comprehensive organized crime legislation. The Mexican legislature has passed, subject to the approval of the Mexican States organized crime legislation authorizing, for the first time, a witness protection program, judically-approved electronic surveillance, undercover operations, conspiracy prosecutions, controls on the production of precursor chemicals and an interagency financial investigative unit, as well as providing for asset seizure and forfeiture for the proceeds of crimes covered by the Organized Crime Bill.
The Mexican Government has recently criminalized money laundering under the penal code. This new money laundering penal provision in effect since May 14, 1996 provides for sentences for violation of its terms, as well as a 50% enhanced sentence when the violator is a government official in charge of the prevention, prosecution, or investigation of money laundering offenses. In addition, the public official likewise is barred from public office for a period equal to the sentence.
Additionally, asset seizure and forfeiture provisions of the Organized Crime legislation have been approved by the Mexican legislative branch, and are awaiting approval from the Mexican states. These provisions cover the forfeiture of assets if it is determined that they were amassed as a result of organized crime or criminal activity.
The Mexican Government has also reformed the Penal Code to modernize provisions against the smuggling of precursor chemicals. Additionally, in March, 1996, the Mexican Government's Public Security Law became effective. This law helps Mexico professionalize law enforcement throughout the country, and includes provisions which direct law enforcement agencies to conduct comprehensive background investigations, adopt a code of ethical behavior and rotate personnel to help minimize corruption.
Cooperation between the United States and the Government of Mexico is improving. In May of this year I attended the Bi-National Commission meeting in Mexico City. As a result of the meetings held that week, the Government of Mexico has recently committed to providing additional training, equipment and financial support to the Bilateral Border Task Forces located in Tijuana, Cuidad Juarez, and Monterrey. These Task Forces, comprised of Mexican investigators working jointly with DEA and FBI agents are targeting specific major traffickers and their organizations. The Government of Mexico has proposed establishing an additional Task Force in Mexico City to target methamphetamine and precursor chemical movement throughout the country.
It is imperative for the Government of Mexico to arrest and incarcerate all the major traffickers who are significant players in the global drug trade. While the Government of Mexico has made some important improvements in their legal and penal codes, and has worked more cooperatively with the United States in recent months, some endemic problems, such as corruption and the enormous influence of the major traffickers, continue. Within the last several months, three top former law enforcement officials from Tijuana have been assassinated. These killings are indicative of the impunity with which the Mexican crime syndicates feel they can operate and consistent with the intimidation and narco-terrorist methods of the Cali and Medellin Mafias.
We are encouraged that the Government of Mexico is working to professionalize their law enforcement organizations, a critical prerequisite for taking effective actions against the major traffickers and their organizations. This professionalization is already paying dividends. Just last week a Mexican military unit on their own initiative recovered a major portion of a shipment of cocaine that had been stolen by a corrupt INCD agent. Five individuals had been tortured and murdered in the Colombian traffickers attempt to recover the stolen cocaine prior to the military s arrest of seven individuals and recovery of the cocaine.
Because the United States Government has no formal diplomatic relations with the Cuban Government, and because Cuba is such a closed society, DEA and other U.S. agencies receive little human intelligence about the extent of drug trafficking in Cuba. Approximately 90 miles from the southeastern coast of the United States, and a four hour flight from Colombia, Cuba could be strategically convenient for drug traffickers transporting loads to the U.S. mainland.
Throughout the 1980's, both the Medellin cartel and the Cali mafia used airdrops and boat-to-boat transfers throughout the Caribbean and south Atlantic to facilitate the movement of cocaine into the United States. As the law enforcement pressure in the Caribbean increased, and with the growing strong ties between the Cali mafia and Mexican traffickers, the Colombian organizations increasingly used Mexico as the preferred route for cocaine trafficking to the United States in the late 1980's and early to mid-1990's. It is possible that increased law enforcement pressures along the Southwest Border, and with a new second-tier of members of the Cali mafia whose ties to the Mexican traffickers are less secure than their predecessors', the importance of the Caribbean will increase once again.
DEA reporting indicates that smugglers stay within the 12 mile limit of Cuban territory, where they cannot be pursued, in order to avoid law enforcement action by Operation BAT (Operation Bahamas, Turks and Caicos). Cuban naval or Coast Guard vessels take no action to prevent smugglers from using their waters for concealment.
Pilots utilize Cuban airspace to mask their routes. The DEA office in Nassau, the Bahamas reported that during the last two years, 28 flights positively identified as carrying cocaine crossed through Cuban airspace enroute to their drop-point. Three of these occurred in 1996.
While DEA has reported these incidents, there is no evidence that the Government of Cuba is complicit in these smuggling ventures. At the same time, we have no information about the extent to which, if at all, the Cuban Government acts to detect drug flights, and deny them access to Cuban airspace.
DEA is committed to working closely with officials of source countries as well as those in transit countries such as Mexico to incarcerate those responsible for the spread of their poison throughout the United States as well as the dismantling of their distribution organizations in the United States. Again, I would like to thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today, and I will be happy to answer any questions that you might have.