Reporting on the Mexican Cartel Drug War

Slaying revealed drug informant's secret life

Sunday, December 4, 2011 |



His family learns the truth after shootout

By DANE SCHILLER, HOUSTON CHRONICLE

Until his violent and public death on the edges of Houston, Lawrence Chapa's mission as a confidential informant was just one of the government's many secrets in its battle to combat Mexico-based cartels pushing narcotics into the United States.

There was no flag-draped casket or official recognition for the Houston-born truck driver many people knew as "Chap," killed in a shootout by supposed cartel gunmen as he moved a load of marijuana in an undercover sting.

Behind the hard voice, bald head and a large gray mustache was a civilian willing to be on "Team America," said one federal law enforcement source. "As far as we are concerned, he was acting as one of us, and very well could have been one of us."

The 53-year-old career trucker could carry himself in shady circles and had a string of arrests, including for cocaine possession, resisting arrest, and assault for an August incident in which he threw punches and a tire at a store clerk.

Family 'disturbed'

Some of Chapa's family are confused about his death and don't see glory in him being an informant.

"It really disturbed me. What is so good about it? He is gone now," his older brother Armando Chapa said.

Authorities won't publicly acknowledge Lawrence Chapa's contribution with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, saying it can neither confirm nor deny whether he had been an informant.

But his brains and rough background were assets.

"He was a good guy, a good guy who had hard times," the law enforcement source said of Chapa.

"His surroundings were somewhat limited. He'd been doing this truck driving thing for the longest, and was trying to make some extra money," the source continued. "These guys aren't priests. If they were, they wouldn't make good informants."

Those who knew him said he'd traveled a long road in life. He was the son of a Pentecostal preacher, and sang and played drums in a traveling church band as a young man.

He apparently started informing a decade ago.

Most recently, he was able to pose as a driver willing to risk hauling drugs from the Mexican border to Houston, long a major hub for sneaking narcotics, cash and guns in and out of the U.S. He didn't have to troll borderland bars for trouble, like many informants hustling to help authorities make a case.

Instead, he went about his business as a trucker and waited to be approached by traffickers with offers of good money for sneaking cargo past Border Patrol highway checkpoints.

He was a regular along the border, as he drove north with loads of sand pulled from the ground by oil companies digging wells.

In it for the cash

He was leading law enforcement authorities further into drug distribution networks on U.S. soil. Unlike many informants, who work to get criminal charges dropped or bust their competitors, Chapa was an informant just for the cash.

"Unless you are talking about white-collar crime, (the informant) is not going to be a pin-striped-suited Wall Street banker," said Larry Karson, a retired Customs Service agent who is now a criminal justice lecturer at the University of Houston-Downtown. "It is going to be somebody who associates with these kinds of people, which tends to include people with criminal records."

In the job that would be his last, Chapa was driving a load of pot up from the border as officers and agents shadowed him.

On Nov. 21, shortly before Chapa was to have delivered the load to waiting traffickers, the tractor-trailer rig he was driving was attacked in northwest Harris County. At least three vehicles carrying members of what investigators said was a cartel-related hit team came with guns blazing.

After the truck careened off the road and came to a halt, the attackers yanked open the passenger cab door and repeatedly shot Chapa, whose hands had been raised in the air.

He was tossed to the street as the startled attackers were soon swarmed by dozens of law enforcement officers.

During the heat of the battle, a plainclothes Harris County sheriff's deputy was shot in the leg, apparently by friendly fire. Houston police said at least one of its officers fired a weapon during the ordeal and as a matter of policy, the incident is being reviewed by internal affairs.

4 suspects charged

Four suspects, including at least three born in Mexico, were charged with capital murder within 24 hours.

Javier Pena, head of the DEA's Houston division, said authorities are going to do whatever it takes to capture others who might be responsible for the attack, which surprised law-enforcement officers for its brazenness.

The motive also is under scrutiny, with authorities evaluating whether the attackers intended to just steal the load of marijuana or if someone knew Chapa was an informant.

"The DEA needs to determine whether or not a cartel source sold out the details of the undercover operation to the bad guys," said Fred Burton, of Stratfor, an Austin-based global intelligence company that monitors the drug war. "If so, the internal leak needs to be found before other drug operations are jeopardized."

For now, the sheriff's office is tight-lipped.

"For us to speculate about anything on such a complex and delicate investigation would be unfair, negligent and, frankly, unprofessional on our part," said Christina Garza, a spokeswoman for the sheriff.

In search of answers

Chapa's brother said he questions whether police should have had more backup to keep his brother safe.

"There are a lot of questions I'd like to ask," Armando Chapa said. "Why was he trying to help them?"

Karson, the retired Customs Service agent, said the dead informant had to know what he was doing could get him in trouble.

"In dealing with major narcotics traffickers, everyone involved recognizes there is a risk, whether it is the informant, an undercover agent or the people handling these individuals," he said.

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39 Borderland Beat Comments:

J said...

I can't cosign this guy, or others like him, they are basically engaged in criminal business, but get paid both ways. They get both sides of it, to me, it's low and 'immoral', to my way of thinking and ethics. You want to be on one side or the other, you don't get to do both. Without taking anything away from the anguish is dead has caused his loved ones, that's how I feel. Get a second job, don't talk to the feds.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting, Reporter Ovemex

Chapa got more than a few back handed complements in this article. It was strange how Dane tried to make "Chapa was an informant just for the cash" sound like a noble thing. Many an informant has stayed high that way.

It gets complicated, eh? Chapa was working for a government that is working for giant corporations who will make money from anything. Around and around we go.

Anonymous said...

Theres TEAM AMERICA for you

xxxxxxxxxxxxx said...

Something else to consider is corruption in law enforcement. Maybe someone in Team America is working both sides of the fence and informed the bad guys what was really going down...

Anonymous said...

I saw a show that was talking about trukers that move drugs up to chicago i forgot what show but i think it was the squeez On msnbc and in it they interview a trucker that was talking about how he moves loads but didnt metion if he was informant he must of bin or else he wudnt be on it talking about what he does. They blured his face and distorted his voice but u can tell he was an old bald badass guy with a deep voice just like the description on this article perhaps that guy on that show could of bin this guy, they must of reconized him

Anonymous said...

Thats the way all informers should end up...

Anonymous said...

he was a pig that did't fly straight

Anonymous said...

It's sad for his family,but he was a fuckin rat.He's mixing with so-called friends,he's making money both ways,no one forced him to carry loads,he voluntarily accepted it,i bet he went looking for work to transport the green across.There is nothing heroic at all in what he was doing,how many times did a load get past and into the community?How many times did he do work without telling the feds?I wouldn't be surprised if this guy "lost"loads as well.People probably found out what his snide game was,and topped his ass.This vato was not cool,he was a snitch of the worst kind,lets be honest.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like a Good Old Mexican "Double Cross" to me and they were just gonna rob him of the load and whatever happened; so be it! Then they
hit the "Fly Paper" when all the cops came out of the woodwork! I doubt very much they'd had the balls to make a hit if they knew he was being shadowed by 1/2 the DEA and sheffifs in
Harris County! This was definately a robbery by
amatures!

Anonymous said...

que bueno , fuck.ing snitch

Anonymous said...

12/05 7:56 AM,
Your an idiot and you have no clue on how things work in a HIDTA grp. Second, although Mr. Chapa's death is a tragedy, as a CI he knew very well the risks involved! He had been doing it for ten years! Also, don't assume Mr. Chapa or any othe "CI" was pressured into becoming a "CI." Some "CI's" actually approach the gov't and volunteer their services and yes they get paid. Again, the drug business is a dangerous endeavor and undercover operations are unpredictable but at least the four assholes involved were caught!! I chalked that up as a victory for "Team America," and trust me there are many more you "blog trolls" don't know about that never make the headlines because of basic security issues.

Anonymous said...

How much money was he making? LOL... I have some very good information about a couple of drug traffickers out of Houston. From what I know they move about 300 kilos of coke a month. The two guys involved are always at the clubs showing off. They claim to be CDG. The look kind of fruity and stand out in the crowd. One of them hires people to stand around him and look "tough". Everybody knows their business except the DEA. Strange... Another rumor about them is that they were giving people up to continue operating. Alot of their friends are in jail except for those two. I guess being a rat is the way to go these days. You get to sell dope and get a govt. check. Brilliant!!!

Anonymous said...

I can't believe the animosity aimed at this poor guy. If it weren't for snitches this blog wouldn't be here. This whole drug biz, from the trafficking to the dealing, to the criminalization to the reporting and reading of said articles, is all due to involvement with these type of characters singing like canaries and cooperating with them on undercover stings. Yall just fail to realize it as you log on to this site for your next 'narco-chisme' fix. God-Damn hipocrites!

Anonymous said...

@12/05 10:17AM,
How long have you known these two jokers? Also, don't assume the DEA doesn't know "what's going on." Investigations into top tier drug operations/investigations can take years..nature of the beast. As far as claiming to be CDG..now that's funny..the CDG is almost extinct highly doubt these two morons are moving 300 kilos a month through Houston! There are great number of people claiming this and claiming that..lol it's bullshit bro real capos don't flaunt shit and remain very low key..it's the only way to survive long term!

Anonymous said...

looks to me like Chapa served his purpose and was disposed of and set up by the DEA.

Anonymous said...

Takes along time to build a case and the govt has to work w/in the "guidelines" Informants don't . The using of informants speeds up the info process and they are not subjected to the same restrictions the Govt's agents are. Makes sense to use a criminal type to catch a criminal.I believe most cops and federal agents will tell u a snitch is a great key.

Anonymous said...

Border bars suck. I doubt snitches get much info from them let alone decent service.

Anonymous said...

@12:36

Ive known them more than 10 years. I'm suprised they lasted this long. I know of atleast 5 people that were close to them and are now in federal prison. About the 300 thats true. I can't explain how I know. These dudes are soft but they do have money and sell to soft people like them from Houston and out of town. I doubt they are in a cartel but they know people. I guess the people trust them because they know they won't try anything. They get most of it on credit. LOL... Most people think the people moving weight are all gangster and violent. Not these wimps... Something is up they have had it too good for too long!

Anonymous said...

He was smart to sell his information to the highest bidder. In this case, law enforcement. If he was better paid hauling drugs to begin with then he never would have worked for the government in the first place! You think he's hauling drugs for the love of it? For the fun? Hell no--for the MONEY!

Anonymous said...

Smart??? Hes freakin dead! Lol!!! The Cartels won't lock you up they will turn you into fertillizer!!!

Anonymous said...

@ December 5, 2011 2:23 PM .You might think they wimps,till shit pops off,they cant be that stupid if they been going for ten years,they doing something right,what do you think?300 kellog,is no joke,if true,and that's a month?They must be able to get backup when needed with that kind of dough,and they must be snitches,if they as loud and on top as you say.Anyway,they doing what it takes to make money in this life,and that's all that matters...If someone tells you different,they selling something,or they broke.

Texcoco said...

You people called him a rat or a snitch because you think that silence and integrity is the same thing, but is not.

Was he a good man? I don't know. But one thing is for sure he did have more balls than many people on this blog that's for sure.

Anonymous said...

the game would be over if the fed didnt have snitches and all idiots that boast they know people that deal 300 kilos a week only help the feds with the bullshit made up or not so keep that in mind snitches

Anonymous said...

Pendejos on here worried about snitches. Like if they have something to worry about? God forbid someone should tip the feds and tell them about the dime bag of weed you have stashed. Fucking clowns!!!

Anonymous said...

5:41 you sound like one yourself!!

Anonymous said...

you got robbers drug dealers police gold diggers snitches bck stabbing friends brand new cars plenty cash prison blah blah etc etc. its All part of the GAME!! play at ya awn risk.....

Anonymous said...

@2:23 yeah cdg are in houston and the zetas,they move everything except heroine and meth.CDG has been moving drugs through houston more than thirty to fourty years.Mexicans sell cocaine all in schools like $20 bumps and in clubs,we can get anything and it is possible to move 300 keys a month,but i doubt it,if you knew then someone else knows.I know this because we dont get weed up from up north its easier and cheaper to get from the border,i knew someone whos brother made like $6000 a week sellin drugs in a plaza called little mexico and the feds even busted the plaza once

Anonymous said...

death to cartel scum

Anonymous said...

more supcts were caught and no info is being release from the if ya like to know let me know and they didnt know he was an informant and also theres cops who are helping and informing drug cartels of the cars being watch ppl cops should release that info to. alfredo gomez was the shooter and hes now in custody also 3 ppl that were detain are innocent and were caught up in the mes because of the stupidity of the officers and who really did it is like nothing has happend

Siskiyou_Kid said...

If Chapa had been working as a CI for 10 years, then A LOT of people knew he was a snitch, including all of the peripheral people around when the people he turned in were busted.

I'm sure Chapa knew that "snitches are a dying breed"

The people who gave the order aren't following the rules of civil society, but hey, this IS NOT a civil society. Chapa burned people, and then went back for more, time and again.

Buh, bye.

Anonymous said...

SNITCHES GET STICHES, MR CHAPA THIS IS WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU GET INVOLVED WITH THE DRUG CARTELS AND SUDDENLY WANT TO "CHANGE" AND BE A "GOOD BOY"

Anonymous said...

Fuk this old guy! Hes a snitch n aint nothing worse then a rat!

Anonymous said...

I am laughing at the idiot zetas who face the DEATH PENALTY now......ha, ha, ha. Isn't America Great!

Anonymous said...

Just heard that a gang of possible zetas are robbing Houston area gaming rooms.....

Anonymous said...

DEC.7,2011 4:36PM- Nothing against u but them crackheads dont got a chance down here in the H, but where did u hear that at? @H-TOWN@

Anonymous said...

http://www.khou.com/news/local/HPD-Police-impersonators-using-fake-raids-to-rob-illegal-game-rooms-135144963.html

Anonymous said...

DEC.7,9:39PM-Thanx 4 the info, i just seen the video on the police impersonators, an also they said that one suspected already turn himself in, an yea HPD thinks they might be Zetas, Y I DONT KNOW Y THEY THINK THAT NOW.(now every crime is going 2 b Zeta related after Chapas death) Let me know if u get more info on this; y do they think is the Zetas hitting the game rms????? @ H-TOWN @

Anonymous said...

Isn't the Harris County Sheriff/DEA/ICE/whoever else suppose to notify U. S. Department of Transportation/Interstate Commerce Commission about a mercenary driving an 18 wheeler on a public highway loaded with a controlled substance?

Anonymous said...

Well it all makes a little more sence to me. I'm not a snitch and I'm not an informant! But I can see how easy it is to fall in that catagory after being in the military. But the last thing anyone wants call me is a snitch, because I will $&@" you up!!!

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