Mexican Drug Commandos
KPHO | May 19, 2005
They were the elite "special forces" of the Mexican military, trained in the U.S. at the School of the Americas at Fort Benning, Georgia and sent to "wipe out" one of the most powerful Mexican drug cartels.
But these soldiers deserted and became the muscle for the very cartel they were supposed to destroy.
According to this Department of Justice "Intelligence Bulletin" obtained by the 5i-Team, these rogue commandos now known as "Los Zetas" may be heading our way.
The normally busy streets and busy stores in Nogales Sonora have been a little less bustling lately. Caesar Fierro says, "It's been slow this year." Caesar Fierro says his empty store is the result of rumors about a drug war. Tourists are scared.
Out on the streets, other vendors play down the speculation the Mexican Commandos are already here. Tony Marques says, "The Zetas.. I don't think they'll operate here you know." Marques says, "Maybe in the big cities like Juarez , Tijuana , now you're talking seriously like that."
The Intelligence Bulletin we obtained says the Zetas are responsible for hundreds of violent drug-related murders. It says they've executed journalists, murdered people in Dallas, McAllen and Laredo, Texas. They even detained two DEA agents and recently they've shot at Border Patrol agents. At the Arizona border with Mexico agents are already seeing a major increase in violence.
Jose Garza says, "Last year we had documented only nine shootings against our agents. This year we're up to about 18 shootings already."
Agent Jose Garza says his agents have seen no direct evidence the Zetas are responsible for the shootings here, but as far back as three-years ago, the Zeta-like tactics started to appear.
In March of 2002, U.S. Customs agents were involved in a shootout south of Phoenix with an enemy they had not seen before. Equipped with automatic weapons, body armor, and state-of-the-art communications, in a word - it looked "military."
Kyle Barnette says, "I'd be lying if I didn't say it concerns us."
Now, as a drug war between the Gulf Cartel to the east and the Tijuana Cartel to the west starts to heat up, the Justice Department bulletin warns: "The violence will spill over the Mexican border into the United States and law enforcement agencies in Texas, Arizona and Southern California can expect to encounter Los Zetas in the coming months."
U.S. officials say Zetas (Mexican Commandos) have killed in Texas
Investigators say the feared band of ex-military elite forces are operating in Texas and other parts of the United States. A team of rogue Mexican commandos blamed for dozens of killings along the U.S.-Mexico border has carried out at least three drug-related slayings in Dallas, a sign that the group is extending its deadly operations into U.S. cities, two U.S. law enforcement officials say.
Read the latest headlines about illegal immigration.
The men are known as the Zetas, former members of the Mexican army who defected to Mexico's so-called Gulf drug cartel in the late 1990s.
"These guys run like a military," said Arturo A. Fontes, an FBI special investigator for border violence based in Laredo, in south Texas. "They have their hands in everything and they have eyes and ears everywhere. I've seen how they work, and they're good at what they do. They're an impressive bunch of ruthless criminals." Dallas and federal officials said that since late 2003 eight to 10 members of the Zetas have been operating in north Texas, maintaining a "shadowy existence" and sometimes hiring Texas criminal gangs, including the Mexican Mafia and Texas Syndicate, for contract killings. The Texas Syndicate is a prison gang that authorities blame for several murders statewide.
The Zetas' activities in North Texas were described in interviews with two U.S. federal law enforcement agents, two former Drug Enforcement Administration officials, a former Dallas undercover narcotics officer and two undercover informants. "We're aware of the Zetas' threat to U.S. cities, and we consider it a growing threat," said Johnny Santana, a criminal investigator for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Office of the Inspector General. "We're conducting investigations into several cases statewide to establish evidence. We still don't have those links yet, but the telltale signs are there, and they point to the Zetas." The Zetas' presence in Dallas represents a sharp departure from standard practice for Mexican cartels, which traditionally have kept a low profile on U.S. soil and have sought to avoid confrontations with U.S. law enforcement.
The Zetas, who are accused off carrying out killings and acting as drug couriers for the cartel, are regarded by U.S. law enforcement officials as expert assassins who are especially worrisome because of their elite military training and penchant for using AR-15 and AK-47 assault rifles.
"The Zetas are bold, ruthless and won't think twice about pulling the trigger on a cop or anyone else who gets in their way," said the former Dallas narcotics officer, who asked not to be identified.
"And they like to take care of business themselves or, when forced to, hire their own assassin." Gil Cerda, a spokesman for the Dallas Police Department narcotics division, said he had personally not heard of the group and could not comment.
Mexican authorities have downplayed the threat posed by the Zetas, saying that a major government crackdown has left the group leaderless and on the run.
José Luis Santiago Vasconcelos, the country's deputy attorney general for organized crime, suggested that many of the crimes attributed to the group may have been committed by outsiders emulating the group's violent tactics. "There are many Zetas wannabes," he said.
Still, Fontes of the FBI and other U.S. law enforcement officials said the former commandos are both a potent threat and are bolder and more ambitious than their predecessors.
They are extending their reach and violence beyond the Nuevo Laredo-to-Matamoros border area into Dallas, Houston and San Antonio, where they blend into burgeoning Mexican immigrant communities, state and federal officials said.
The group may have ventured as far as Nashville, Tenn., and Atlanta, Ga., the officials said.
"These guys are anything but wannabes," said Fontes. "They're the real thing, and they're a threat to law enforcement officers on both sides of the border." Dallas and federal law enforcement officials have linked murders and drug violence in Dallas during the past 18 months to cocaine and marijuana trafficking in Laredo and Nuevo Laredo, a base of operations for the Zetas. Dallas and federal investigators have blamed at least three Dallas killings on the Zetas, and some officials said that more than a dozen violent incidents can be attributed to the group.
Federal and Dallas authorities have blamed the following incidents on the Zetas: At 1:20 a.m. on Dec. 5, a gunman stepped out of a red sports car with a semi-automatic weapon and opened fire on three suspected drug traffickers as they played pool in the open garage of a home in the 5100 block of Mimi Court in Oak Cliff. Christian Alejandro Meza, 26, alias Juan Antonio Ortega, a parolee from Wichita, Kan., who was wanted on weapons charges, died of multiple wounds to the abdomen. Two other men were severely wounded and are being held on drug charges.
Law enforcement officials said the men were attacked because they allegedly worked for a rival drug lord, Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán, who escaped from the maximumsecurity Puente Grande prison in Jalisco state in January 2001, hidden in a laundry truck.
RIVAL GANG FIGHT
Guzmán is reputed to be a leader of the Juárez cartel, a rival of the Zetas' employer, the Gulf cartel, and is wanted in the United States, said Fontes, the FBI agent.
Dallas police seized 45 kilos of cocaine said to have been smuggled from Monterrey with a street value of US2.5 million and about 300,000 in cash from the Oak Cliff home and one next to it.
"The hit was a message to Chapo Guzmán, and the killer is believed to have been a Zetas member," said the former Dallas narcotics officer. "The gunman was very meticulous, didn't shoot a lot because he didn't have to." The case is under investigation, and the gunman remains at large.
On Sept. 28, police found the bodies of Mathew Frank Geisler and Brandon Gallegos, both 19 and from Laredo, in a burning 1996 Chevrolet Tahoe in a field near the corner of Morrell Avenue and Sargent Road, in the Cadillac Heights area of Oak Cliff. Both men had been shot, and the case probably involved drugs, according to police accounts.
A federal investigator said that "without a doubt" both incidents were carried out by the Zetas.
"We're seeing an alarming number of incidents involving the same type of violence that's become all too common in Mexico, right here in Dallas," said the former Dallas narcotics officer. "We're seeing executionstyle murders, burned bodies and outright mayhem. It's like the battles being waged in Mexico for turf have reached Dallas."