Borderland Beat-Thank you to the reader who gave me a heads up on this story
At the time of his capture last week, Miguel Angel Treviño, the notorious leader of the Zetas Mexican cartel, had built a criminal business empire that stretched from the Southwestern United States to Central America.
Treviño, better known as Zeta-40, had $2 million in cash and eight fire arms with him when he was detained on July 15 in the northern Mexican state of Tamaulipas. Given his violent tendencies, it was surprising to many that he did not put up any resistance.
The illegal nature of the Mexican cartel’s activities makes it difficult to estimate their leaders’ wealth. But a 2009 indictment against Treviño by the U.S. Eastern District of New York may offer some insights into his fortune. According to the 16-page indictment, which charges Treviño with 11 criminal counts, the Zetas assumed responsibility for the safe passage of the Gulf Cartel’s cocaine and other drugs moving through Mexico into the United States.
In addition, the Zetas collected a tax, or “piso,” from drug trafficking organizations seeking to transport drugs through areas under the Gulf’s control. Around 2007, the Zetas split from the Gulf Cartel and under the leadership of Heriberto Lazcano (killed by Mexican authorities in 2012) and Treviño Morales, they became the largest players in the border region, the most profitable turf.
If convicted, the court will seek $2 billion in criminal forfeitures for six of the 11 counts filed against him. This amount is derived from property and proceeds obtained from the criminal activities Treviño is charged with and that cannot be located, have been sold, deposited with a third party, or placed beyond the jurisdiction of the court.
The $2 billion in money judgment requests does not necessarily mean Treviño may be a billionaire, but rather that the Court would rather err on the side of too large when estimating the value of his property in order to allow themselves to seize everything that he owns.
The New York Court stated that Treviño was the “principal administrator, organizer and leader” of the Zetas, obtaining “substantial income and resources, in excess of $10 million in gross receipts” in a twelve month period for the “manufacture, importation and distribution of cocaine” alone.
According to Stratford, a private intelligence firm based in Texas, the Mexican cartels can buy a kilogram of cocaine for $2,200 or less in South America and sell it for $24,000 or more to their associates in the United States. U.S. counternarcotics officials report that the Mexican cartels are the largest players in the global cocaine trade, with billions of dollars in profits.
The Zetas also collect large amounts of money from 16 different lines of business, including human trafficking, kidnapping, prostitution, pirated merchandise, weapons trafficking and immigrant smuggling. Authorities believed that the Zetas are responsible for the kidnapping or illegal detention of tens of thousands of migrants, demanding ransoms of $3,000 each. The Zetas are also suspected to have stolen and smuggled $46 million worth of oil from Pemex, Mexico’s State owned oil monopoly, to sell it to U.S. refineries.
In a separate 2012 indictment in the Western District of Texas, Treviño was charged with channeling $16 million to his brother in the United States to buy, train, and race horses. José Treviño, his brother, was found guilty of money laundering in May.
The Texas indictment said that Miguel Angel coordinated the “receipt of bulk currency shipments into Mexico from the United States.”
Treviño’s arrest was welcomed by the Obama Administration. He is suspected of ordering the assassination of ICE agent Jaime Zapata in 2011 and other American citizens in Northern Mexico. President Obama said that Treviño’s detention shows that the Mexican administration “is serious about continuing” to fight the drug cartels.
The DEA called Treviño, “the head of the notoriously violent and vicious Zetas cartel” and a “wanted man for years.” It is expected that at some point the U.S. government will request Mexico for Treviño’s extradition.
Experts believe that the weakening of the Zetas that could result from Treviño’s incarceration, might strengthen former billionaire Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzman, leader of the Sinaloa cartel and the Zetas main criminal adversary.
Source: Wall Street Journal by Dolia Estevez