Reporting on the Mexican Cartel Drug War

Cartel boss: Everyone from cops to strippers worked for me

Sunday, September 23, 2012 |

Borderland Beat

BROWNSVILLE — The first order of business for the Gulf Cartel's San Fernando, Mexico, plaza boss was to stack the deck, he said. That meant meetings with local and federal police, the mayor, and even newspapers and TV

Rafael "Junior" Cardenas Vela is testifying against childhood friend Juan Roberto "Primo" Rincon-Rincon
In continuing testimony Friday, Rafael “Junior” Cardenas Vela described how he ruled over the city in Tamaulipas, where even topless dancers were on the take, paid to spy on drunken players leaking drug-world secrets. As for U.S. authorities, there always was a Border Patrol agent or Customs officer to be bought, he said, adding: “All of them had to work for me.” 

The nephew of U.S.-imprisoned Gulf Cartel kingpin Osiel Cárdenas Guillén, testified how he had to “put his own people” in City Hall and police headquarters, and make sure the Mexican newspapers didn't “meddle” or “publish anything of me.” 

Cardenas Vela, a heavyset man of 39, is hoping his testimony against cartel rival Juan Roberto “Primo” Rincon-Rincon will save him prison time, laid out the workings of the cartel in a matter-of-fact, at times jovial, tone. 

Prosecutors hope his testimony will convict Rincon-Rincon as a high-ranking Gulf Cartel operative who trafficked in a cross-border cocaine and marijuana operation between 2002 and 2011.

His lawyer is trying to show he was just a low-level player who fled for his life after Osiel successor Jorge Eduardo “El Cos” Costilla Sánchez put him in charge of the Rio Bravo “plaza,” or trafficking corridor. 

The defense is set to cross-examine Cardenas Vela when testimony resumes Tuesday. 

Cardenas Vela seemed unfazed about detailing the underworld to the jury. 

“That's the way it is over there,” he told them. “The one in charge of the plaza is the one who is going to control the city.” 

That meant a monopoly over every bale of marijuana and brick of cocaine that came through a key zone north of a federal drug checkpoint where frequent leadership transfers made bribing difficult. 

Cocaine came from the port city of Tampico in planeloads of 500 kilograms, landing at airstrips Cardenas Vela had carved into the brush of remote ranch and hunting lands. 

Caravans of armored Suburbans carried bosses from the northern plazas, lieutenants of Costilla's that he said included Rincon-Rincon. 

The highways were cleared for the passage, part of the cooperation that earned the head of a local police force about 100,000 pesos, or $7,800 a month, a low-level officer the equivalent of $388 a week and a member of the media $1,550 to $3,876 monthly. 

“Soldiers” were recruited from the police and highway patrol, from the military, and from the street, trained for months in “academies,” and outfitted with weapons and garb that cost about $8,000 each. 

The cartel funded mayoral campaigns, “so if you want to change this one in police, this one in traffic, he would be under my orders.” 

Marijuana, code-called “nacional,” came by river. Cocaine came over bridges. Illegal immigrants were crossed in separate areas than drug shipments. 

“Plazas” were color-coded so as not to reveal goings-on over radio or phone conversations — of which the top guns never partook. The busiest, and most lucrative, ones were by the border: Matamoros, Control, Rio Bravo and Reynosa.

On a giant magnetic bulletin board, Cardenas Vela put pictures of faces in place on the cartel hierarchy starting in 2002, when Osiel ruled over three main divisions led by Costilla, Ezequiel “Tony Tormenta” Cárdenas Guillén, and Heriberto “El Lazca” Lazcano Lazcano. 

Tormenta, Osiel's brother and Cardenas Velas' uncle, was assassinated in 2010. Laczano broke off to form the Zetas, turning Osiel's branch of special forces into a ruthless competitor that has since taken over San Fernando and other smuggling areas. 

Cardenas Vela and Rincon-Rincon had been childhood friends, but Rincon-Rincon was loyal to Costilla while Cardenas Vela sought to wrest control over a camp he said was pulling stunts, such as stealing armored bank cars, that he said was putting heat on what had been a well-organized drug business.. 

The board emptied of faces as battles with the Zetas and the Mexican military under Mexican President Felipe Calderón raged in the years leading up to 2011, when both Cardenas Vela and Rincon-Rincon, by then allegedly the Rio Bravo plaza boss, found themselves fleeing to the United States. 

Cardenas Vela, caught in a traffic stop in Port Isabel, entered a plea deal in March. 

“The government was really after me, chasing me, wanted to catch me,” Cardenas Vela said of his reasons for leaving Mexico. “I couldn't find any place to hide.” 

Osiel Cadenas Guillén
Gulf Cartel rivals now squaring off in U.S. courtroom

A would-be successor to lead Mexico's floundering Gulf Cartel took the stand against a childhood buddy and rising drug war opponent Thursday as a blood-soaked rivalry played out in a bid for leniency in a staid U.S. courtroom. 

Rafael “Junior” Cárdenas Vela is the nephew of toppled kingpin Osiel Cárdenas Guillén and the assassinated Ezequiel “Tony Tormenta” Cárdenas Guillén. 

Cárdenas Vela was frank about hopes that testimony against alleged Rio Bravo plaza boss Juan Roberto “Primo” Rincon-Rincon would land him the low range of a 10-year to life prison sentence. 

In testimony Thursday, he recalled how Rincon-Rincon was a neighbor in Matamoros, Mexico, with whom he went swimming in nearby canals and played marbles, at which he said Rincon-Rincon tended to cheat. 

The son of a factory worker, he returned to Matamoros after a stint as an illegal immigrant working in U.S. mushroom fields and chicken plants. 
His uncle, Osiel, only reluctantly let him join the cartel, where he took over the San Fernando “plaza,” a key trafficking corridor due to its location north of the last major drug checkpoint before the Texas border. 
His testimony on Rincon-Rincon's two charges of drug trafficking conspiracy dating back to 2002 was to continue today. 

Both Cárdenas Vela, 39, and Rincon-Rincon, 41, fled to the Rio Grande Valley as factional warring within the cartel and the threat of the encroaching Zetas escalated. 

Neither hid out very long. 
Cárdenas Vela, who had been being watched by U.S. authorities, was caught Oct. 20 in a traffic stop in Port Isabel, across the bay from South Padre Island. 

He pleaded guilty in March.Rincon-Rincon, meanwhile, opted at the last minute Monday to back out of a planned plea deal and go to trial. 
Richard Zayas, attorney for Rincon-Rincon, pledged to prove his client was a low-level player who got in over his head. 

A succession of U.S. federal agents testified how Rincon-Rincon was caught Oct. 26 after he and four others bailed out of a pickup truck near the banks of the Rio Grande. 

Homeland Security Investigations Special Agent Moises Gonzalez described being called out late that night to interview someone border agents suspected was a big name in the underworld. 
Rincon-Rincon was able to chart the division between Cárdenas Vela and recently arrested rival Jorge Eduardo “El Cos” Costilla Sánchez, to whom Rincon-Rincon was loyal. 

That morning, Rincon-Rincon had been in what he thought was a winning skirmish against about 100 of “Junior's” men, only to get word that 100 more were coming to outflank him, Gonzalez said. 
Costilla, by cellphone, said it would be days before he could send reinforcements. 

Rincon-Rincon, along with alleged fellow plaza boss Jose Luis “Wicho” Zuniga Hernandez, decided to take refuge across the Rio Grande but were caught. 

Rincon-Rincon quickly gave up his guise of being a run-of-the-mill unauthorized immigrant and farmer, Gonzalez said. 

“He took a deep breath ... and he said, ‘I am Juan Roberto Rincon-Rincon, and I am comandante of the Gulf Cartel,'” Gonzalez remembered. “I said, ‘Thank you. We know who you are.'” 


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33 Borderland Beat Comments:

Anonymous said...

Wait, aren't cops and strippers the same thing in Mexico???

Anonymous said...

Relaje...no nasen...se hasen....

Anonymous said...

I didn't know this trial had started. I like the ending of the story. Thank you for bringing the coverage, Chivis.

“He took a deep breath ... and he said, ‘I am Juan Roberto Rincon-Rincon, and I am comandante of the Gulf Cartel,'” Gonzalez remembered. “I said, ‘Thank you. We know who you are.'”

Not so much to be proud of now with his old buddy swapping, 'spilling the beans,' for two years off his prison sentence.

Anonymous said...

@8:29 Can't speak for all cops in Mexico. I'm police. I go to strip clubs and have given a strip search, not at a strip club and I don't strip for anyone.

Anonymous said...

typical. once they get busted, they wanna cut deals. smh

Anonymous said...

If Mexicans had the same gun rights as Americans people south of the border wouldn't be afraid of confronting these illiterate thugs yet the gov't oppresses them as much if not more as these criminals.

Anonymous said...

Exact reason I don't cheer for police or cartels. Too much corruption, they are both to be feared. This will always go on in MX and its a damn shame. A once beautiful place gone to waste.
ElCoChiLoco2012

Anonymous said...

Jr will be a popular person when he makes it back to MX after his little courtroom bulletin board presentation. No honor amongst the evil ones.

Anonymous said...

@11:36-Don't want to pick a fight. But It wasn't Chivis for once. Thought I'd mention, says Havana put it here. But thanks for all you do do Chivis. And you too Havana.

Anonymous said...

I don't know about rincon, but"junior" and "wicho" aka, comandante "W" were a piece of shit. they had it comming, i wish they will never get out.

Anonymous said...

Junior said he had to hideout in america as the Gvt wanted him very badly! Apparently El Coss paid the marinas to go after his CDG rivals. It sure was working.

Anonymous said...

Very interesting, love articles like this. I have heard time and again, from the halcones all the way up to the bosses, it's all about women, bling and money at first, but it always degenerates into living hell. Even if your uncles are the top dawgs.

Anonymous said...

Pls stop leaving funny name it's makes me LOL

Anonymous said...

Wait shouldn't you be playing call of duty instead of reading stuff mature people??

Anonymous said...

All I know is that I'd pretty much rather be anyone else, anywhere else in the world but him. Crime doesn't pay after you're caught most times unless you are caught in Mexico. Then they may not sentence you or they might leave the front door of the jail open so you discover it on the way back from the laundry duty.

Anonymous said...

let's see if he gives up the names of the border patrol officers that were working for him

Chivis said...


yes...my buddy Havana posted this article ...thank you!!!

Anonymous said...

Don't give that chump no break. He's still bragging and ratting on a childhood friend...talk about garbage...and as soft as a marshmello. You wanted to play the game...he knew the possible consequences. Take it like a man. Heard his uncles osiel cut a deal with the gov also and that his other uncle gave up some info to help nab coss. Anyone know if there's any truth to that?That's crazy, this family was suppose to be the sh&!. No honor, only selfishness. Abrego, the boss before osiel prefered life then to rat anyone out. If these guys couldn't handle it, they never should have got in the game. What gets me is how these &!@$?%*#! would act all badass and all the things they had done and they go out like this.

Anonymous said...

Typical trafficker turned snitch. 'Yes Your Honor, I'm a Golfa, but can I tell you something about my uncle and his friends???????? Damn! What a SNITCH!!!!!!! I hope he gets a life sentence to think about all the bad things he and his friends were doing to innocent people.

Anonymous said...

The mustachioed Mexicano in the 2nd pic labeled "Rafael “Junior” Cardenas Vela" is Osiel, not Jr. Also Junior had an estate in Rio Hondo, TX. The type of place that if you saw it you'd think a narco lived there. The pic of Jr. at the top of the article is really old, the years have not been kind to that scumbag. There's a more recent pic floating around out there, I know i've seen one.

Anonymous said...

very interesting....its all coming out to the light now,wow.....looks like CDG is been run by a skeleton crew now.

Anonymous said...

this old as shit and the cdg keeps on rolling the guerras are still in Moros so chupen y agan fila perros arriba matamoros y arriba Tamp.....

Anonymous said...

Love call of duty

Anonymous said...

So how true is it that el Lazca almost died in San Luis Potosi a while back because el 40 put the finger on him. In that encounter he was shot and was left on a wheel chair? I read he was in a shooting in SLP and he almost died but only was left handy capped and now lives in Pachuca near an army base which he has bribed for protection?

i read this on a CDG page in which a member that apparently knows a lot put that as a message

Anonymous said...

Lots of shit going on in Matamoros that we dont hear about,only by word of mouth.Almost everyone there is bought and at the same time backstabbed.

Havana said...

@6:47
By God that is so right! I added to show time isn't kind to narco, not to show you turn into your uncle. I'll adjust that thanks

Anonymous said...

Ralph Cardenas is a rat

Anonymous said...

Call of duty...yeah love that game haahaa

Anonymous said...

life of a boss... while the east burns us on the west will prevail... SLRC is the city

Anonymous said...

where is R1?????? is he suppose to be in charge?

Anonymous said...

LoL @ guy saying this is for mature people. This is for sick individuals.

Anonymous said...

Well ofter all this is a good article....I like every ones opinion
Let's see who are those border patrols guys that take inn big money from the cartels.....as a good pay....all these agentes aduanales are in a big messssss

Anonymous said...

Both are disgusting rat's that need to be taken down to the butcher shop for work! With love of course.

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