Readers I found this in draft, although an older article I though it worthy of posting...C
Corruption and kickbacks on both sides the Los Indios International Bridge
On the U.S. Side: Cash quotas started at $20 a shipment and grew to $450
CDG behind the threats
“They have called me. They've threatened me, and sometimes past, they have kidnapped some of my clients,” said a woman we’ll call “Martha.” She’s one of the U.S. transmigrante business owners who spoke to the CHANNEL 5 NEWS I-Team.
Transmigrantes are Latin Americans who buy used goods in the United States and take them through Mexico to Latin America to sell. The Mexican government states transmigrantes can only cross at the Los Indios International Bridge.
Several wait by the road for inspectors to clear their shipments before crossing into Mexico. Transmigrantes must get through U.S. customs and Mexican customs.
They hire a U.S. transmigrante business to help them through the port of entry. The business assists with getting vehicle titles and filling out various forms. The U.S. transmigrante business must also work with the customs broker in Mexico to get the necessary Mexican paperwork ready.
Some U.S. transmigrante business owners said they’re forced to pay cash quotas, or bribes, to keep operating. One business owner said the “quotas” started in 2006. A man we’ll call “Juan” said the head of one local transmigrante company told all the others they would have to pay “quotas” to get the required paperwork from Mexico.
“He tell us that we have to pay the money here. … They was charging the money inside the USA,” said “Juan.” He told us the payments started at only $20.
The toll kept growing. “Juan” said now transmigrante companies must pay $450 for one shipment.
“George,” another U.S. transmigrante business owner, told CHANNEL 5 NEWS, “We're basically obligated to do our work for free. We're living on the little we can charge our clients.”
“Juan” added the people demanding bribes raised the stakes in December. He said physical threats were made against him and others.
“We're afraid. We're scared for that,” he said.
“Martha” claimed the threats are coming from the Gulf Cartel. “He threatened us, saying that he's going to kill one of the owners, so that way they will stay quiet and that's what he wants,” said “Martha.”
Since the physical threats began, “Juan” and some others are refusing to pay the quotas.
“Juan” claimed if a company tries to cross a client into Mexico without paying, someone will call an office in Mexico and stop the company’s clients from crossing for weeks.
A complaint filed at the Cameron County Sheriff's Office in February states the owner of Transmigrante Cats, a business in Los Indios, admitted to collecting payments on behalf of a Mexican customs broker.
She collected from her competitors, other American transmigrante businesses. Sandra Medina told deputies someone in Mexico set the fees. She said collecting them "caused her nothing but problems," and she would no longer collect those payments.
Cameron County Sheriff Omar Lucio said his office can do nothing to help. “It’s not a violation in this country. It's a violation in another country,” he said.
CHANNEL 5 NEWS went to Transmigrante Cats for answers. We spoke to a clerk, who said she didn’t know about the payments collected for Mexican customs. The owner of the business hasn’t returned calls.
Transmigrante business owners CHANNEL 5 NEWS interviewed said they’ve tried complaining to Mexican authorities about the payments and threats. “We contact Mexican customs. We contact the marines. We contact the federal police in Mexico. They don't do nothing,” one of them told us.
In addition to the business owners, transmigrantes themselves are caught in the web of extortion. Sources told us members of the Gulf Cartel meet transmigrantes near the center of the bridge, on the Mexican side, and demand cash.
One transmigrante agreed to be interviewed, and then a man standing nearby issued a warning. “That guy works for the other people on the other side,” said the transmigrante.
CHANNEL 5 NEWS contacted Mexican federal authorities multiple times for answers on how the transmigrante system works. We’re still waiting for answers.
The monetary stakes are allegedly enormous. One source said weekly amounts for shipments total more than $207,000, which adds up to more than $10.8 million in one year.
The website for the U.S. Consul General in Matamoros states there are no duty payments for the transit of goods through Mexico. It adds Mexican customs agents will charge a fee for their services.
The website lists five customs agents in Matamoros. CHANNEL 5 NEWS tried contacting them by phone, but we still have no answers as to how those companies set their fees.
A federal spokesperson said Homeland Security Investigations is aware of what they call "the Brownsville matter." CHANNEL 5 NEWS contacted U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the U.S. Consulate in Matamoros for their reactions. We’re still waiting to hear back from them.
The FBI is aware of allegations of criminal conduct regarding this matter. While FBI and DOJ policy prohibit us from discussing the outcome of our review of this particular matter, it's worth noting that, generally, many claims the FBI receives are assessed to have merit but do not indicate a violation of federal criminal law, or there may be hints at a federal violation but insufficient evidence to support that possibility beyond a reasonable doubt.
Unable to get help from local or federal authorities, “Juan” and the other transmigrante business owners are left wondering how they will continue to make a living.