Border Patrol air boats on the Rio Grande
photo taken by: Leni C.
photo taken by: Leni C.
By Lynn Brezosky -
McALLEN — Heavily armed Mexican freshwater pirates have been shaking down U.S. boaters on Falcon Lake, a reservoir and bass fishing haven that straddles the Rio Grande.
At least three such incidents have been reported since April 30, the latest on Sunday, according to a Texas Department of Public Safety warning issued Tuesday that linked the muggings to northern Mexico's increasing lawlessness.
According to descriptions of the incidents, the robbers — in at least one case posing as Mexican federal law enforcement officers — searched fishermen's boats for guns and drugs, then demanded cash at gunpoint.
One of the incidents reportedly occurred on the U.S. side of the lake.
“The robbers are believed to be members of a drug trafficking organization or members of an enforcer group linked to a drug trafficking organization who are ... using AK-47s or AR-15 rifles to threaten their victims,” the DPS statement said. “They appear to be using local Mexican fishermen to operate the boats to get close to American fishermen.”
It was unclear why sport fishermen were targeted, but the warning comes only a few weeks before bass fishing tournaments that are among the South Texas border region's biggest tourist draws.
DPS spokesman Tom Vinger said the warning was issued in part because of the upcoming tournaments.
Zapata County Sheriff Sigifredo Gonzalez said he would be discussing security concerns with tournament participants and has been reviewing protective measures with the DPS Border Security Operations Center and the region's Fusion Center, a federal information clearinghouse for terrorism prevention and response.
Reported victims included:
• Five people in two boats who were approached by four tattooed men April 30 claiming to be “federales” near the church at Old Guerrero, a once-submerged town on the Mexican side of the lake. The men boarded their boats, demanded cash and asked “where are the drugs?” They then took $200 from the Americans and followed the boats until they re-entered U.S. waters.
• Three fishermen who were approached May 6 by a boat containing two men who pointed AR-15s — the civilian version of the U.S. military's M-16 assault rifle — at them. One boarded the fishing boat, searched for drugs, cash and guns, chambered a round in his rifle and told the fishermen he would shoot them if they did not give him money.
• Boaters on the U.S. side of the lake who were approached by a boat containing five armed men on May 16, according to second-hand reports that reached law enforcement officers. The DPS said it couldn't confirm if the boaters had been robbed.
Tuesday's notice urged fishermen to stay as far as possible from any of the Argos-type boats typically used as fishing vessels by Mexican fishermen, which DPS said had large prows, small outboard motors without cowling and no identification numbers on the hulls.
Boaters on the lake also were urged to stay within U.S. waters and file a float plan with family members.
Falcon Lake is an approximately 60-mile-long reservoir on the Rio Grande fronting Starr and Zapata counties on the Texas side and shared between the United States and Mexico. It was formed by a dam in 1953 to conserve water for agriculture and control downstream flooding.