Monday, August 24, 2009

The cartel war around the corner

By David Heinzmann

Two tons a month.

Cocaine, that is. That’s how much the Flores brothers were allegedly moving into and through Chicago’s streets over the last several years. The 28-year-old twins were just the local wholesalers for two Mexican cartels trafficking the stuff. And they got into a jam when the cartels went to war with each other along the Mexican border and each threatened the Flores twins if they didn’t pick sides. Stuck in a dead if you do, dead if you don’t fix, they turned to the feds.

The result, last week, was the biggest narcotics trafficking indictment ever in Chicago, and one of the biggest in the country. More than 40 people were charged, though the top players are still on the loose, honchos of the Mexican cartels involved an ongoing bloody war for control of U.S. supply lines. The indictments went all the way up the ladder to three international kingpins, including Joaquin “el Chapo” Guzman-Loera, a billionaire on the Forbes richest list.

Covering crime in Chicago, these glimpses into the economic engine that drives the killing and misery on this city’s streets are relatively rare. Most of the drug busts are at the retail level—Chicago street gangs distributing and selling the stuff on street corners, and shooting each other when something goes wrong.

But the details of this case go a long way to explaining why Chicago has had a hard time reducing its homicide rate to levels that New York and Los Angeles have achieved. The drugs moved by the Flores twins weren’t just staying in Chicago, they were being cut up and moved across the continent, from Philadelphia to Vancouver. Because of location, and highways, and the size of its growing Mexican population, Chicago has emerged over the last several years as the major distribution center of drugs across the U.S.

A few years ago I wrote a story about the police patrol beat with the most murders in the city. The city is parceled into about 280 patrol beats, so each one is just a few square miles. That year, the deadliest beat wasn’t in Eglewood or Garfield Park, traditionally the most violent parts of the city. It was Beat 1413 in Logan Square, the gentrifying hipster hot spot on the North Side. With its mix of young yuppies, real estate speculators and working-class Mexican families, Beat 1413 had 10 murders that year.

Part of Logan Square’s edgy appeal for some, is the grip the Hispanic gangs still hold over some of its streets. But the crime that put it over the top was a drug murder, but not a gang murder. In a garage on a quiet Belden Avenue alley, police found three bodies, a .45 and $97,000 in cash. The victims were from L.A., San Antonio and a quiet neighborhood near Midway Airport. The killer was in the wind. It wasn’t gang crime. It was cartel crime.

Police believed the men were cartel couriers who had been transferring drug proceeds back to Mexico, and had stopped at the garage on Belden to divvy it up. Something went wrong. The rest was a mystery.

Law enforcement experts say the murderous cartel wars going on along the Mexican-U.S. borders will eventually trickle into American cities. The Flores case shows just how that might happen on a grander scale than the triple murder in Beat 1413 a few years ago.

Last week’s indictments accused the traffickers of using garages and warehouses all over Chicago, from the South Loop to Palos Hills Hills to Hinsdale. See for yourselves.,0,4228031.story Maybe there’s location near you.


Doug Riddle said...

Three dead bodies, a .45 and cash in a garage....sounds like a Marcus Sakey novel

Barbara D'Amato said...

Decriminalization anyone?

Doug Riddle said...

Decriminalization really isn't the answer to this part of the drug problem. This is a War of Drugs, not part of the War on Drugs. This is a war to control the supply and profits, and decriminalization will only increase the violence because with decriminalization the market will increase. Bigger market = Bigger Profits = More violence to control = Bigger Profits.

We have a failed nation on our border that see's more torture, death and violence in a month then Iraq saw in years.

Please do not take that statement to mean we should invade Mexico, but we should not continue to ignore a problem in our own back yard.