Reporting on the Mexican Cartel Drug War

‘Vicious, Violent’ Drug Cartel puts Chicago Area on ‘Mexican Border’

Tuesday, November 1, 2011 |

By: Frank Main
Chicago Sun-Times

This is a photo of the base camp where the workers ate and slept near a marijuana plot discovered in the North Woods of Wisconsin. Authorities eradicated the pot last year.

Chicago’s new Scarface is a shadowy Mexican drug kingpin nicknamed Chapo — “Shorty” in Spanish.

His cash crop is marijuana, which his cartel sells by the ton and protects with horrific violence.

If you thought Chicago’s Italian mob was the worst of the worst in organized crime, think again, federal agents say.

“Chapo Guzman would eat them alive,” said Jack Riley, head of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s office in Chicago.

The 5-foot-6 Joaquin “Chapo” Guzman rules the Sinaloa Cartel, which allegedly smuggles marijuana and other narcotics in planes, trains, ships, trucks, cars and even submarines.

Most of Guzman’s leafy product comes from Mexico, but some is grown alarmingly nearby — deep in Wisconsin’s North Woods, whose pristine lakes and pine forests are a paradise for weekend campers, hunters and anglers. Authorities suspect much of that Wisconsin-grown pot is destined for here.

Although Chicago is in the U.S. heartland, in the marijuana trade, “We are on the Mexican border,” Riley said.

Mexican marijuana dominates the Chicago market at a time when local police and prosecutors are trying to devise a better way to deal with the tens of thousands of people arrested here every year for possession of small amounts of pot. Most of those misdemeanor cases get dismissed in court, so several area towns, including Chicago and Carpentersville, either have recently proposed or passed ordinances allowing officers to write tickets for minor marijuana possession.

But police and prosecutors say they won’t stop trying to prevent cartels such as Guzman’s from shipping their huge loads of marijuana to Chicago.

“The Mexican cartels have totally taken over the majority of the marijuana trafficking here,” Riley said. “It’s their cash crop. It’s the drug that really allows them to do all of their other criminal enterprises: heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine. That’s why it’s so important to us.”

A photo taken inside the train car shows packages of marijuana

North Woods pot
A man scouting locations to hunt bears near the Chequamegon Nicolet National Forest stumbled upon one of the Sinaloa Cartel’s secret North Woods marijuana operations, officials said. The hunter called authorities, who notified the DEA.

A federal investigation uncovered about 10 grow sites that ranged in size from a suburban backyard to a football field in the national forest and other remote areas of northern Wisconsin. Suspected cartel workers were tending to about 10,000 plants that would have been worth millions of dollars on the street, officials said.

Twelve men were nabbed last year in the investigation and all the plants were destroyed. Agents also recovered an AK-47 and other weapons.

These backwoods pot farms — first discovered about three years ago — are more sophisticated than what local cops there have encountered in the past.

Trees were clear-cut to 3 feet tall and marijuana was planted in between the stumps. Workers dug water wells and ran irrigation hoses to the plants.

The men slept and cooked under plastic tarps, where they stored their pots and pans, sleeping bags, fertilizers, pesticides and trash. They lived on the sites until harvest. “Luncheros,” or supply workers, brought them food and growing supplies.

National Forest Service district ranger Jeff Seefeldt said he has suggested that fellow employees bring along law enforcement officials on visits to remote areas of the 130,000 acres of forest he oversees. Oconto County Sheriff Michael Jansen said he doesn’t know of any cartel-related violence in his rural community. But he’s worried that other heavily-armed marijuana grow operations might move into his backyard.

“The national forests in the mountainous states — Oregon and California — have been dealing with this for years,” Jansen said. “They’re looking at a map and seeing other national forests besides those out West. And they’ve put their finger on Wisconsin.”

Mexican drug cartels are growing marijuana in the Chicago area, too, but on a lesser scale, said Larry Lindenman, executive director of the Lake County Metropolitan Enforcement Group.

Lindenman suspects a cartel was responsible for a marijuana field discovered in 2008 in Waukegan across the street from property owned by Abbott Laboratories.

“They had tents. They would work and live on the site. They even made a building out of plastic bags and used a generator-powered heater to dry the harvested plants before shipping,” he said.

The operations the feds have busted in Wisconsin and northern Illinois are proof Mexican cartels will grow marijuana anywhere they can to ensure an uninterrupted supply of marijuana makes it their best-selling markets, including Chicago.

Still, their local grow operations are a sideline — just a “small part of the pie” ­— in the drug business, Riley said.

‘Most dangerous’
In recent years, Chicago and Atlanta have become key transportation hubs for the cartels, Riley said. Most of their marijuana comes to Chicago in trains and semi trucks.

A lot of that weed is being shipped here by the Sinaloa Cartel and protected with unthinkable violence, Riley said.

“Chapo Guzman, now that Osama is dead, is in my opinion the most dangerous criminal in the world and probably the most wealthy criminal in the world,” he said. “Guzman was in the Forbes Top 100 most wealthy people in the world. His ability to produce revenue off marijuana, we’ve never seen it before. We’ve never seen a criminal organization so well-focused and with such business sense, and so vicious and violent.”

In Mexico, feuding drug cartels are suspected of tens of thousands of murders, some of them gruesome beyond compare. They have been known to kidnap, torture, kill and mutilate their enemies. Here’s an example: The Juarez Cartel got blamed for what happened to a 36-year-old kidnapping victim whose skinned face was stitched onto a soccer ball in Sinaloa, Mexico, in January 2010. Cartel members, including a hit squad called the Scorpions, are believed responsible for murders in Chicago, too, a police source said.

Fear of cartel violence, as well as rampant bribery, has prompted many officials in Mexico to look the other way while tons of marijuana and other drugs cross the border. But the cartel bosses aren’t just ruthless killers. They’re also seasoned businessmen who run their operations with a logistical know-how that rivals corporate giants in the U.S.

Cartels have even secretly hired students attending elite U.S. universities to engineer their marijuana for increased potency, a police source said.

Vicente Zambada-Niebla, the alleged head of logistics for the Sinaloa Cartel, claims the DEA allowed the cartel to operate without interference for years in return for providing DEA agents with information about rival cartels, including the location of their leaders. He says the DEA offered him immunity in exchange for information, which the agency vehemently denies.

Zambada-Niebla, Guzman and their co-defendants are charged with smuggling tons of heroin and cocaine to Chicago and elsewhere in the United States. Zambada-Niebla is in a federal lockup in Chicago, but Guzman remains a fugitive.

Although that federal case focused on cocaine and heroin, authorities believe the Sinaloa Cartel and rival drug cartels also are responsible for tons of marijuana that police and federal agents have seized in recent years.

Last year, DEA agents in Chicago Heights stopped a delivery of nearly 11 tons of marijuana from Mexico packed in six rail cars. The cars were supposed to be carrying titanium pigment, according to shipping documents.

And in August, Chicago police conducted surveillance on a west-side warehouse and saw workers preparing to move large containers from a tractor-trailer to six white vans. Hiding on rooftops and in weeds, the officers watched workers pull the six containers from the semi truck.

Each container contained a ton of marijuana. Some of the packages of weed bore the label “AK-47.”

“You will see people getting shot, being beheaded back in Mexico because of this,” said one undercover narcotics officer involved in the bust. “But for every truck you stop, 12 get through.”

‘Narcotics 101’
The high season for shipping cartel marijuana to Chicago is in January, February and March — the key harvest times in Mexico.

Marijuana often is hidden under fruit or other food products in a tractor-trailer.

If a truck hauls a ton of marijuana to Chicago, the dealer who bought it from the cartel might earmark four 500-pound packages for particular customers.

Once the truck is unloaded in Chicago, the weed doesn’t sit in a warehouse very long — an hour or two, tops.

“Now it’s up to the independent dealers in the area with their own customer base that might supply the local guys with 50 pounds here and 50 pounds there,” an undercover narcotics officer said.

The cartels deal almost exclusively with high-level, Spanish-speaking smugglers in Chicago.

There are rules for how the pot is distributed here, authorities said.

A guy who buys a ton of marijuana won’t sell less than 500 pounds to anyone. A guy who buys 500 pounds won’t sell less than 50 at a time. And the guy who buys 50 pounds will “pound out” 5- or 10-pound amounts to his customers. At the bottom of the pot-dealer chain, low-level Hispanic drug dealers sell marijuana to the street corner salesmen who deal in ounces and grams.

“It’s Basic Narcotics 101,” said Chicago Police Cmdr. James O’Grady of the narcotics unit. “Don’t try to buy a kilo from a guy who sells ounces.”

A guy who sells ounces will think you’re stupid and rob you. Or he’ll think you’re an undercover cop and avoid you — or worse, O’Grady said.

Riley, the head of the DEA here, said he thinks a lot of pot smokers are unaware the bag of weed they buy is directly connected to the violence and corruption of Mexican drug cartels and their local associates.

“The guy sitting on the patio in Hinsdale — smoking a joint with his friend and having a drink — better think twice,” Riley said. “Because he’s part of the problem.”

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25 Borderland Beat Comments:

Anonymous said...

Some unsuspecting hiker is going to be brutally murdered one of these days, just legalize the stuff.

Anonymous said...

“The guy sitting on the patio in Hinsdale — smoking a joint with his friend and having a drink — better think twice,” Riley said. “Because he’s part of the problem.”

Bullshit. That guy probably knows the grower, or has a connection to get quality weed. Only when there is a dry out, do people smoke that shit weed. Face it, the baby boomers and all those people who were into coke in the 80's (45ish age) like their weed. And they treat it like wine. Eventually it will be decriminalized, despite all the money they blow to fight it. Coke and Meth are the big problem, not the guy who pays his taxes and pays good money for quality smoke. Imagine the resources they could have, and the freed up courts and jails to go after the coke and Meth.

And another thing. Mexico likes to blame the US for their love of drugs, but they kill each other for the routs to smuggle it. Why doesn't our government start pointing fingers at Mexico for flooding our streets with addictive drugs? It's not as if they are smuggling tile, or chickles gum! They are flooding the US with CHEAP drugs that are stronger than they have ever been. In the 80's, coke was expensive and bikers were the only people you saw using speed. (and housewives). Why don't we call up Calderon and tell that asshole that we are tired of it, and for him to clean up his shit instead of crying about the guns flowing south. You know how easy it is to get INTO Mexico? If Mexico was serious, why don't THEY build a fence and secure the border to keep out the guns? Shit, they are the kings of building fences! It just seems that a secure border on BOTH sides would solve everyones issues. But we get too much money to fight it, and Mexico gets too many kickbacks to actually give a shit. Mexico doesn't give a shit about how they are bleeding us dry, trashing our lands, and reeking havoc on our society; but for some fucking idiotic reason, the left in our country is afraid to hurt their feelings.

Anonymous said...

^ its supply and demand, USA demands, cartels supply. simple as that. cut the demand and theres no one to supply

Anonymous said...

@11:16

If you don't like it... Leave! I'm sure there are one-way tickets back to Europe... Isn't that where you came from before your people stoled, raped, killed, The Real Americans? Silly Gringo... Die slow, bitch.

Anonymous said...

What will legalization do? It will kill the drugs business. The drug trade is a business & Mary-J is were the cash is made. No wonder that anybody in Latin America speaking up in favour of legalization is murdered instantly: THE BIGGEST THREAT TO THE DRUG-LORDS IS LEGALIZATION!
Also, the biggest threat to the police and prison system: LEGALIZATION!

Anonymous said...

11:16@ you are perpetuating the elitist myth; "me and my friends don't smoke that Me ican bunk, we smoke home grown chronic". Re-read the article. This time believe what you read. I hear this assertion alot but have yet to see a 'made in America' label on weed. Also the article points out Mexican controlled grow operations on U.S. Soil. The cartels may gore bunk in some areas of Mexico but know that with all the risk it is better to maximize profits with good weed. Legalization would be cool in a way but stoners themselves make it an unlikely ideal. Getting killed by a drunk driver running a red light is just as deadly as getting killed by a stoned driver stopping at a green light. Also there is not a good 'breathalyzer' type test to determine intoxication level. Not to mention that the guy working on your brakes might be stoned and forget to tighten the bleeder valve. Yeah, no thanks!

Anonymous said...

It will cost the U.S Goverment more money to try and stop these Mexican cartels than what is costing right now in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Just let 'em be as long as they are not harming innocent U.S. Citizens wIth violence,, plus most invest and create good jobs here in America believe it or not.

Anonymous said...

To legalize pot would make money for the IRS and government in small amounts,as it is they make a lot more with it being illegal,they ell the buds destroy the leaves and branches.I saw a burning once in Ky. with 15-20 foot plants very ripe,skunk smell but with no buds on it.Wonder where they went?

Anonymous said...

@11:16
You gringos are funny. You are the main customer , sure you don't want the supply to stop. And I'm glad you're scared. Just as you stole the land from real natives and stole half of Mexico you go on and try to tell us what's right. For every new immigrant and Mexican baby born just know... We are taking back our land slowly but surely. Your kids will be fluent in Spanish.

Anonymous said...

@6:57

this gringo doesn't want the supply to stop. Who cares about taking land back and shit like that because don't you realize if we don't start caring about each other (2 countries, but face it one has a direct affect on the other) we will never solve a problem.

Face it, the problem is here. Who cares about main customer and supplier either way it causes problems on both sides of the border and can't be solved by just one side so f*ck it why not work together and get over the usa / mexico whos fault blah blah blah

people need to think on a bigger scale than that to solve anything

Anonymous said...

@9:52 AM Right on!

@6:57 AM
Come on! I know it's early but Wake up! Let go of that ancient history and live in the present. You can't be banging that same drum forever without sounding like a bitter, broken record. Things are a little different now in 2011 and there won't be any more land grabbing so relax. There is NATO and a UN now. It is a big global world, we are neighbors (even if you do hate us) and many of us have hispanic blood. So, get over it, get on with it and be part of the solution instead of the bitter past. The more kids fluent in Spanish and English the better. Not in a generation but now, Spanish and English should be a prerequisite to kindergarten.

Anonymous said...

I dont hate America, I Love this country... Im not worried about the past, i only worry about the future... so stop it, with things that happened 300 years ago, its dumb to worry about the indians now, the indians should have defended theirs lands better...

Anonymous said...

I can't believe we're still blaming whitey in November 2011.

You ever live in a run down neighborhood and then a new guy moves in next door. He starts selling crack to the teens and young adults... gets them hooked. Now there's a demand. Yea, you know the crackheads should've known better, but you know that if you would've just murdered that scum drug dealer when he first moved in, this whole mess would have been avoided.

Keep up with all your gayass "die slow bitch" stuff. You sound so serious about finding a solution.

It's a problem of BOTH supply and demand. But don't blame America forever, because the going rate for coke is 2x as much in Europe. Seems like you guys just love moving into town and hooking everyone on your poison.

Anonymous said...

HERE IN COLORADO WEED IS LEGAL....WE HAVE DISPENSARIES THAT PROVIDE THE BEST OF THE BEST!!! WE GET KUSH HERE AND AS LONG AS YOU HAVE A MEDICAL CARD (WHICH IS EASY TO OBTAIN) YOU ARE IN THE CLEAR AND CAN SMOKE IT LEGALLY....YOU CAN CARRY IT ANYWHERE TOO! WE HAVE MORE MEDICAL MARIJUANA DISPENSARIES THAN WE HAVE STARBUCKS COFFEE SHOPS HERE IN THE DENVER METRO AREA. SOUNDS LIKE COLORADO HAS IT TOGETHER MORE THAN ANYWHERE ELSE......

Anonymous said...

A harmless weed. used for thousands of years. made illegal by crooked industrialists and one little government dirtbag in DC trying to make himself into a big deal. A scammer who has brought untold misery unto thousands of innocent people.

With one stroke of the pen the entire problem goes away. Legalize. Leave it alone. Government got no more business in this than carrots or tomatoes or roses.

A harmless weed which can grow anywhere, by anyone, any time, any place. It's impossible to turn this into a big money maker except by corrupt government interference. Left alone, who would pay more than a few pennies for something they could grow themselves for nothing?

Stupid people should be shunned out of politics forever.

John said...

All those trying to imply that most of the high-quality marijuana in this country is not grown IN this country (the United States) have no idea what they are talking about. At least 80% of it comes from the United States, of that number I'd say at least 75%+ comes from California. The other 20% is the "BC Bud" that many people think is "high quality" but it is usually not and also from Tennessee and other regions.

There were 7.9 MILLION plants seized in California alone in 2010. And if you don't know, no one wastes their time growing poopy weed in California. That's a good strategy to make zero money. So think about that -- if they were able to find and seize 7.9 million, how much do you think they didn't find? That's probably not even 10% of the years crop. And if you don't know, take it from someone who does, there was no "drought" of high quality weed last year or any drought for the last 5 years I can remember. That 7.9 million they were able to find didn't even begin to have any effect on the supply.

Anonymous said...

Poor addicts. We need to save them!!! Brown people from the south are putting drugs in them and taking their money!!! They need to be stopped and put in cages for profiting from their "illness". Its pathetic... People know they can't go around hanging from power lines or drinking bleach. If a person wants to ruin their lives let them! Stop spending money on saving people that dont want to be saved.

Anonymous said...

OK the USA is a dope dependent society thats alright I Can't change it so just get rid of the welfare state and nobody will care. So long as dopers hold jobs,raise their children responsibly, are productive,contribute,pay taxes, and don't take my money ,Hell I Love them.

Anonymous said...

lol blaming it on " a new neighbor moving in and selling hoojing teens on drugs". HELLO did u teach ur kids to say no? If they go along with it then A. You didnt do a good job raising them or B. They wanna do drugs and theres your demand! one can always day NO!!

Anonymous said...

anyone that believes that chapo guzman is behind this weed cropping is a stupid, somebody was trying to make some money, got busted and what he does: just blame the mexican narcos, come on, chapo's been smugling all kinds of drugs for years, some stories, just don't make sense, they already killed osama and now are saying the chapo is already here, to keep people in fear, and still some idiots fall for that

Anonymous said...

If you think cartels are not grown/taking over ops here in california you're crazy. And not just Mexican ones, the Russian cartel is the most feared by all and continue to strong arm growers.

Federal legalization would go a long way but prob. never happen, too much right wing Christian "family values" bullshit. Until then normal pot smoking Americans will remain afraid to have their own little closet grow in their home and will continue to have low visibility to where there weed comes from and who grows it.

The Feds are now cracking down in CA and dispensaries are shutting down everywhere and lots of people are out of work and lots of farm supply places are seeing huge drops in bussiness. So much for trying to create new industries and putting people to work to pay taxes.

Chapo is celebrating as we speak...

Anonymous said...

@ November 2, 2011 1:28 AM

Yeah just like how all your ancestor came and killed, and raped all the Indians in MX and south america? Takes a hypocrite to know one I guess.

Anonymous said...

LEGALIZE IT!!

Anonymous said...

Bad thing to see the US selling weapons to the "narcos" (drug-dealers) it just show the two faces one that says what should be done and the other one doing the opposite hypocrisy at his best

Anonymous said...

For every 13 dollars the Mexican goverment put in this war against "Narcos" USA puts only one dollar, so Mexican Goverment of Calderon is defending better the Americans that do drugs than their own Goverment !

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