Entries in Drug Cartel (7)


New Zetas Cartel Leader Violent 'to the Point of Sadism'

Stockbyte/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- The new head of the Zetas drug cartel is a former Dallas resident who is labeled as a traitor by many of his own cartel soldiers and mocked as an ex-"car washer" by his enemies.  But he has risen to power thanks to a fearsome reputation for violence.

"[Miguel Angel Trevino Morales] is extremely brutal, to the point of sadism," says George Grayson, an expert on the Zetas.  "He is prepared to advance his interest through unspeakable violence." 

Grayson's recent book on the cartel, The Executioner's Men, opens with a scene in which Trevino Morales slowly beats a female police officer to death, in front of her colleagues, with a two-by-four.

Trevino Morales, also known as El 40 or the Monkey, became the uncontested head of the Mexico's most feared drug cartel when former kingpin Heriberto Lazcano was killed in a shootout with Mexican Marines on Sunday.  Lazcano had been linked to hundreds of murders, including the massacre of 72 civilians, but Trevino Morales is allegedly even more bloodthirsty.  One of his preferred methods of dealing with enemies, say authorities, is burning them alive.

Trevino Morales, 41, was born in Mexico but spent some of his formative years in Dallas, Texas, where authorities say he had a criminal record as a teenager.  He has a dozen siblings and reportedly still has family in the Dallas area.

Trevino Morales joined the Zetas soon after their formation. The Zetas began in the late 1990s as the security wing of the Gulf Cartel.  The 14 core members of the Zetas, including Lazcano, all had military backgrounds, and took ranks based on when they'd joined the group.  Lazcano was known as Z-3.  By 2004, due to the death of Z-1 and the arrest of Z-2, Lazcano had become the leader of the Zetas.

Trevino Morales, who did not have a military background, got the designation 40, with his brother taking number 42.  In 2005, Trevino Morales became the boss of the Nuevo Laredo "plaza," or drug territory.

As a newly minted underboss, Trevino Morales had traditional gangster tastes for fast cars, women and fancy guns, and reportedly liked to hunt game imported from Africa.  He also, however, developed a particular reputation for brutality in a group already renowned for violence.  His favored methods for dispatching enemies were dismembering them while still alive, or making them into a "guiso," or stew -- stuffing them in 55-gallon oil drums, adding gasoline and burning them alive.

By 2009, Trevino Morales had been named in multiple federal indictments in Texas, Washington, D.C., and New York for alleged crimes ranging from drug trafficking, kidnapping and money laundering to ordering a half dozen murders in Laredo, Texas.  The Drug Enforcement Administration offered a $5 million reward for information leading to his arrest or conviction, and accused him of controlling more than 200 operatives and smuggling hundreds of kilograms of cocaine into the U.S. weekly.

Early the next year, the Zetas finally split from the Gulf Cartel after it crossed Trevino Morales.  In January 2010, the Gulf Cartel tortured and killed one of his close friends.  Trevino Morales responded with an ultimatum demanding that the cartel give up the killer.

"Hand over the assassin of my friend," demanded Trevino Morales.  "If you don't comply, there will be war."

The order was ignored and Trevino Morales allegedly began killing members of the Gulf Cartel en masse.  The Zetas, now an independent cartel with Trevino Morales second in command, were soon battling the Gulf Cartel for control of Northern Mexico, and winning.

By 2011, however, there was a schism within the new cartel between Trevino Morales and those loyal to Lazcano.  When Zetas boss "El Mamito," Enrique Rejon Aguilar, was arrested in July, he said that he had been betrayed.  Though he did not name any names, the next month someone uploaded a slickly produced music video to YouTube that bluntly accused Trevino Morales of being a "Judas" who was disloyal to Lazcano and had betrayed Mamito and other Zetas to the authorities.

Addressed to all the members of "the Mafia," every major drug organization in Mexico by name, and to the general public, "The True Story of Z 40" uses a specially written "narcoballad" to detail the alleged offenses of Trevino Morales against his fellow Zetas, especially leader Lazcano.

One of the first images in the five-minute video is a picture of Judas whispering in the ear of Jesus.  It then shows repeated images of Trevino Morales with the words "El Judas" under his face, and displays arrest photos of all the Zetas bosses he has allegedly betrayed, who were "captured because they trusted Z 40."  Intended as a warning to Lazcano, it asks "El Lazca" why he thinks so many of his underlings have been arrested.

The video also mocks Trevino Morales as a former car washer for the Los Tejas gang, and plasters his face onto photos of police officers and a shiny-suited pop idol.

Rival groups have also disparaged Trevino Morales as a car washer.  In March, Joaquin Guzman, AKA El Chapo or Shorty, the head of Mexico's other dominant drug organization, the Sinaloa Cartel, sent his men into Trevino Morales' territory to murder and dismember Zetas soldiers.  He issued a public challenge to Trevino Morales on huge banners above the body parts of his victims.

One banner, accompanied by seven severed heads, accused Trevino Morales of failing to use his own head, and of being Lazcano's jockstrap. 

"You will always be a car washer to me," said the banner, which was signed "El Chapo."

Another mocked Trevino Morales as a shoeshine boy, car washer and traitor who killed innocent people.

In the summer of 2012, Trevino Morales' brother Jose, a U.S. citizen, was arrested in the U.S. for moneylaundering after allegedly channeling the Zetas' drug money through a successful horseracing operation.  Not long after his arrest, the split within the Zetas apparently cost 14 lives.  The survivor of a mass execution in San Luis Potosi state in mid-August said that the victims and the killers were Zetas.  Authorities believe the massacre was revenge by Trevino Morales on "El Taliban," a leader opposed to EL 40's ascent.

By the end of August, U.S. officials began saying that Trevino Morales seemed to have merged as the winner in the Zetas' civil war, and had officially taken operational control of the Zetas in Mexico from Lazcano.

High-ranking Zetas then began to fall.  El Taliban was arrested in late September, "The Squirrel" just last Saturday. Lazcano, who was attending a baseball game with two other men, died in a firefight on Sunday.

Grayson speculates that Trevino Morales may have shared information with U.S. authorities to get better treatment for his brother Jose, who is in U.S. custody.

Trevino Morales must now direct the Zetas against the combined strength of the Gulf Cartel, the Sinaloa Cartel and other players, who have united to drive the Zetas from their "plazas."  Grayson says that with Lazcano's death, El Chapo Guzman of the Sinaloa cartel will be aided in his primary goal of taking control of Nuevo Laredo, El 40's home base.  Guzman has already dispatched what Grayson calls "shock troops" to help the Gulf Cartel fight the Zetas.

El Chapo's troops will be facing younger, less experienced, and less disciplined Zetas plaza bosses than in the past, says Grayson.  But he also notes that the Zetas new leader, in addition to being more violent than his predecessor, may be more cautious and wily as well.

"El 40," says Grayson, "would never have been at a baseball game."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Drug Cartel Rivals Behead Zetas on Camera

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- In the latest example of Mexico's warring drug cartels taunting each other with gruesome online videos, footage posted on a popular cartel-tracking blog shows members of the Gulf cartel interrogating and then beheading at least three members of the Zetas cartel.

The grainy three-minute video, which appeared on Wednesday, depicts five shirtless men on their knees, their chests painted with large black "Z"s, surrounded by masked members of the Gulf cartel wielding machetes.

Each Zeta prisoner states his name for the camera, at the prompting of an unidentified voice behind the camera. When asked who sent them, each responds "Z-40." "40," as he is known within the Zetas organization, is Miguel Angel Treviño Morales -- the cartel's second-in-command. The U.S. has offered a $5 million reward for information leading to the capture of "40," and he and his two brothers are also under federal indictment in Texas for alleged laundering of cocaine profits through a U.S. horseracing venture.

"You find yourselves here because you came to f*** us," says the narrator of the video, after the hostages have finished speaking. "Pay attention, men."

Then the slow and bloody process of hacking off their heads begins. "This is how all your filthy people are going to end," says the narrator as the victims plead for mercy.

Over a minute later, the video ends with masked Gulf members holding up three severed heads for the camera. "Very good, very good," says the narrator. The two other Zetas prisoners are not shown.

According to, the video was shot in Río Bravo, Mexico, on the U.S. border just south of McAllen, Texas in the state of Tamaulipas. Río Bravo is six miles from the Donna International Bridge border crossing. No date is given for the creation of the video.

The Gulf cartel has been operating out of Tamaulipas state since the 1970s. In 2010, when the Zetas cartel, which had once worked as the Gulf cartel's security force, went into business for itself, violence in Tamaulipas and the neighboring state of Nuevo Leon soared, with 2,000 dead in 2010 alone. Multiple mass graves have been discovered in the region and beheadings, hangings, and other forms of torture are common.

In January, Los Zetas released a video in which they hanged two members of the Gulf cartel. Last month, another video showed 49 decapitated bodies of migrant workers being dumped on a highway by alleged members of Los Zetas, with warnings to other cartels to expect similar treatment.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Drug Cartel Attacks U.S.-Owned Potato Chip Company

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(GUANAJATO, Mexico) -- Mexican authorities arrested four alleged members of the Knights Templar drug cartel after a series of firebomb attacks on a potato chip company owned by the U.S. food company PepsiCo, the first attack on an American multinational firm in Mexico's ongoing drug war.

Five warehouses and parking lots owned by the popular Sabritas brand were attacked over the weekend in the states of Michoacan and Guanajato. Witnesses said masked men had thrown firebombs and incinerated warehouses and dozens of delivery trucks. No one was injured in the bombings, according to authorities.

The attorney general of Guanajato, Carlos Zamarippa Aguirre, alleged that the men arrested had confessed that the motive of the attacks was extortion. Aguirre said the suspects gave false names but were identified by fingerprints and at least one, the alleged cell leader, was already wanted on charges of kidnapping.

Emails that circulated in Michoacan, however, suggested the attacks may have been revenge attacks by members of the Knights Templar who believe that Mexican authorities use the snack-food trucks to spy on the cartel. The company has nearly 15,000 delivery trucks in Mexico, many featuring a smiley face and the slogan, "You can't eat just one." Cheetos, Fritos, Ruffles and Doritos as well as Sabritas potato chips are sold under the Sabritas name in Mexico.

PepsiCo released a statement Sunday that emphasized the company's trucks are used only for company business. "We repeat that in accordance with our code of conduct, all of our operations are carried out in the current regulatory framework and our vehicles and facilities are used exclusively to carry our products to our customers and clients," said the statement.

The company also said that it was already taking steps to "restore operations" and that the safety of employees is always its highest priority.

The Knights Templar drug cartel is a relatively small and new entrant in Mexico's drug war, and is active in the Pacific coast states of Michoacan and Guanajato. Formed two years ago as an offshoot of Christian-tinged La Familia Michoacana cartel, the "Caballeros Templarios" model themselves on the original Knights Templar, a Christian military order established in Europe 900 years ago that was active in the Crusades.

The original Knights Templar, known for white tunics with large red crosses, fought to protect Christian pilgrims to Jerusalem and to recover the mythic Holy Grail, from which the disciples of Jesus supposedly drank during the Last Supper.

During initiation ceremonies, recruits to the drug cartel wear helmets similar to those worn by medieval knights and common in Mexican Easter ceremonies. Cartel members swear blood oaths and are issued Templar rulebooks. The cartel issued a very public call for a ceasefire during Pope Benedict's visit to Mexico in March.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Female Hit Squad Leader Linked to 20 Murders Arrested

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(MEXICO CITY) -- Mexican police say they have arrested a female drug cartel assassin whose hit squad carried out at least 20 murders, including a hit on a policeman.

Maria Jimenez, AKA La Tosca, or "The Tough One," allegedly led a group that included men, women and teens and was paid $1,700 a month by Los Zetas, Mexico's most violent and second-biggest drug cartel, to carry out hits in Monterey, Nuevo Laredo and other cities in Northern Mexico.

According to the Mexican newspaper El Milenio, police said Jimenez "was directly involved" in the murder of Detective Antonio Montiel, who was killed in his pick-up truck by a fusillade of .9 mm bullets. Jimenez allegedly used an ATV to cut off Montiel's vehicle and force him to stop.

Jimenez, 26, and her alleged accomplices were arrested in a stolen gray van on May 1 in Monterrey.

The Zetas cartel, which controls the drug trade in much of north and east Mexico, is considered the main rival to the Sinaloa cartel for dominance. The cartel was formed by a group of former soldiers hired in 1999 as a private army by the Gulf Cartel who then split off to form their own rival drug trafficking organization. Many members have police or military backgrounds, including some soldiers who have special forces training.

The Zetas, who also operates in Guatemala, have been a major target of Mexican President Felipe Calderon's attempted crackdown on drug cartels. More than 50,000 people have died in the crackdown, and the Mexican Attorney General estimates that 7 percent of the casualties are military or police officers.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Mexican Drug Smugglers Tunnel Into Arizona Parking Spaces

Smugglers in Mexico have tunneled their way under metered parking spaces in the border town of Nogales, Arizona. ABC News(NOGALES, Ariz.) -- Drug smugglers are endlessly creative when it comes to inventing ways to move marijuana, cocaine and other contraband from Mexico into the United States.

In the latest innovation uncovered by law enforcement, smugglers in the border town of Nogales, Ariz., were bringing drugs into the U.S. for the cost of a quarter.

The parking meters on International Street, which hugs the border fence in Nogales, cost 25 cents. Smugglers in Mexico tunneled under the fence and under the metered parking spaces, and then carefully cut neat rectangles out of the pavement. Their confederates on the U.S. side would park false-bottomed vehicles in the spaces above the holes, feed the meters, and then wait while the underground smugglers stuffed their cars full of drugs from below.

When the exchange was finished, the smugglers would use jacks to put the pavement "plugs" back into place. The car would drive away, and only those observers who were looking closely would notice the seams in the street.

In all, U.S. Border Patrol agents found 16 tunnels leading to the 18 metered parking spaces on International Street. The pavement is now riddled with neat, symmetrical patches.

"It's unbelievable," Nogales mayor Arturo Garino told Tucson, Ariz., ABC affiliate KGUN. "Those are the strides these people take to get the drugs across the border."

Past methods of smuggling have included catapults that launch bales of drugs across the border fence. "The [smugglers] have tried everything," said Garino, "and this is one of the most ingenious [methods] of them all.

The city, advised by Homeland Security, has agreed to remove the parking meters. Nogales stands to lose $8,500 annually in parking revenue, plus the cost of citations.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Mexican Authorities Name 18 More Suspects in Deadly Casino Fire

Dario Leon/AFP/Getty Images(MONTERREY, Mexico) -- Mexican authorities have identified another 18 suspects in a Monterrey casino fire that killed 52 people last month, and are offering $1.3 million for information leading to each of their arrests.

A federal prosecutor says the suspects are members of the Zetas drug cartel.  

Authorities have already made several arrests linked to the fire, including a police officer and other members of the cartel, according to BBC News.

The attack took place Aug. 25 when gunmen entered Monterrey's Casino Royale, poured fuel throughout and set fire to the place before panic erupted among its patrons, BBC News reports.

Mexican President Felipe Calderon initiated a crackdown on drug cartels in 2006, according to BBC News, but since then, the gang violence has persisted.  The casino's arson attack is one of the deadliest acts of the violence.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Americans Advised Not to Travel to Mexican Border Town for July 4

Lifesize/Agri Press(AUSTIN, Texas) -- Americans are being advised against travelling to Nuevo Laredo, Mexico over the Fourth of July weekend, as authorities warn that a Mexican drug cartel plans on committing criminal acts against visiting Americans over the weekend.

“We urge U.S. citizens to avoid travel to Nuevo Laredo this weekend if it can be avoided,” Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steven C. McCraw said in a statement.

Both the Texas Department of Public Safety and the Webb County Sheriff’s Office say they have received credible intelligence that members of the Zetas Cartel are planning on committing crimes against Americans travelling to Nuevo Laredo.

“According to the information we have received, the Zetas are planning a possible surge in criminal activity, such as robberies, extortions, car-jackings and vehicle theft, specifically against U.S. citizens,” said McCraw.

Officials say there is also a possibility of crimes being committed against U.S. nationals in suburbs that surround Nuevo Laredo.

Authorities in Texas say there isn’t any indication that cartel-related criminal activities will occur within that state, but in the event that it does, they are fully prepared to respond.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio