Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Pablo Acosta "El Zorro de Ojinaga" Part 2

Written for Borderland Beat by Otis B Fly-Wheel, with images from Drug Lord by Terrence Poppa and Google

[ Subject Matter: Pablo Acosta Villarreal
Recommendation: Read Part 1 of this article here]

Altruistic benefactor or skill-full manipulator?

Pablo with a local blind woman, he paid for the operation to restore her sight

The Arevalo wars ended up costing the lives of nearly 30 people from both sides. With them out of the frame, Pablo had two roads ahead of him. Would he rule with a rod of iron now that he had total control of the plaza, or would he go down the shorty Lopez route and become, what was considered as customary, a benefactor godfather.

Pablo had been investigated by the major USA law enforcement agencies that deal with drugs, racketeering, and murder. The DEA classified him as " a vicious, extremely dangerous person, who has little regard for human life". Also that when he "gets bored he goes out and shoots someone, slices them open then drags them from the back of pickups". Not exactly what you might class as charitable behavior.

Pablo's upbringing as a campesino, meant he never forgot that life, or its hardships. He genuinely felt for the poor people of his region. I would suggest that Pablo had quite a strong sense of right and wrong, of fair and unfair, and had an understanding of cause and effect. In my book that rules him out as a psychopath, so if Pablo wasn't enjoying killing people a la "El Ondeado" and "El Z-40" or "Rosalio Rhetta", then he was doing it for a reason. But he still had a taint of " a side-winding, horn swogling, cricker-crocker" about him.

Pablo's early history with his propensity for violence when drunk, and when coked out of his head, speaks volumes that only with in the input of drugs including alcohol and their mind altering affect, did violence become acceptable to him. He had to use those to block out the feeling he had that what he was doing was wrong. So I don't buy the DEA " he kills someone because he is bored", scenario. As a person free from influence, I doubt he would kill anyone.

It seems that Pablo had chosen neither of the two roads, and would forge his own route, cross country running parallel to the two established ways of doing things, borrowing what was most effective from the two philosophies and merging them into one. This ability was partly due to his upbringing as a capesino, where any problem had to be dealt with there and then, and so ingenuity, and the ability to solve problems on the fly, and the ability to think on a tangent became a valuable asset.

As Pablo was now the godfather of the Ojinaga Plaza, it was assumed that, anything that happened was with his blessing. Because who would dare do anything and risk the wrath of the "Padrino". So any drug bust in Texas must have been his drugs, any murder drug related on either side of the Texas border must have been at his say so.

The following passage was written by the DEA in a confidential report on the Acosta organization
[" This report focuses on the PAO, believed to be responsible for most of the narcotics flowing into Texas from the Ojinaga, Chihuahua area. The Acosta organization accomplished its smuggling operations mostly by land, and sometimes by aircraft.

Acosta's heroin is noted for its high purity, known to be as high as ninety three percent, which is known as black tar due to its appearance. His marijuana has improved, with most of the recent seizures traced to the organization being high quality tops.

This organization is also responsible for approximately seventy percent of the 4x4 and pickup thefts reported in the Texas panhandle, West Texas and eastern New Mexico areas. Thefts usually involve new and used Ford Broncos, GMC Jimmies, Chevrolet Suburban's, Blazers. These vehicles are driven directly to Mexico and exchanged for drugs.

The PAO is also reported as a major receiver of stolen weapons traded for drugs. There are over 500 known members and associates of the PAO with factions in Amarillo, Dallas, Fort Worth, Hereford, Lubbock, Big Spring, Odessa, Midland, Kermit, Pecos, Monahaus, Fort Stockton, Presidio, El Paso and Big Bend, Texas: and Hobbs, Portales, Artesia and Roswell, New Mexico. Associates in other Texas and New Mexico cities, as well as in Kansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Nevada, Idaho, North Carolina and Michigan, have also been identified.

He pays high level protection to the local Mexican Government and spends close to $100,000.00 per month for this protection.

Acosta's organization is very fluid and many of the members know only the person with whom they deal directly. Because of this, Acosta is well insulated. Being a blood relation or having a long time family or business connection is the exclusive qualification for membership. The organization is extremely difficult to penetrate because of this criterion for membership".]

It seemed that violence was breaking out both sides of the border in the west Texas area, an escalation in the drug violence, when a plaza changes hands is common to many of us today. Just before the death of Fermin Arevalo at the hands of Pablo and his men, two men in Presidio had blasted each other to death in a pickup, leaving a third man between them slightly injured with grazing bullet wounds to his chest, and no doubt in need of a clean change of underwear.

Other deaths followed in Redford, and USA border patrol men were injured by gunfire from across the river,

Pablo realized that he needed to start building bridges and engaging in propaganda, as one way to counter the offensive against him from drug and intelligence agencies north of the border. He would soon meet someone to help him with that....Mimi Webb Miller.

The Sheriff of Presidio County

Rick Thompson was the Sheriff of Presidio County, the sudden uptick in violence was directly  affecting him and he decided that Pablo was probably responsible for most of it. He set up a meeting with Pablo in Mexico as he had heard that Pablo was a reasonable man.

Rick Thompson sent Clayton McKinney who you may remember from a previous chapter in part 1 of this article, had had dealing before with Pablo at the Chihuahua Police headquarters in Chihuahua.

Thompson recalls asking only one thing of Pablo, that any killings or violence was kept out of his county, as he already had a large tally of dead people with apparently no motive for the killings.

In 1983 Pablo met Mckinney on a hilltop outside of Ojinaga. In a typical mafioso display of power Pablo had a bodyguard of eighteen men around the hill. Pablo wanted to set the record straight about the killings on the USA side of the border.

He tried to convince the agent that the rash of killings had nothing to do with him, and that he would comply with requests for information from the USA agencies when that info was not forthcoming from Mexican Authorities

The attacks on USA agency men on the border stopped, Pablo had spread the word that anyone found to have fired at them would be taken care of in the usual Pablo manner. He also briefed his drug mules on the new process if they were busted with a load, that they were to flee and under no circumstances were to shoot at the USA police or other agencies.

Various theories have been expounded for the motives Pablo might have for doing these kind of deals, but at the end of the day, Pablo realized that he at some point, given what happened to Manuel Carrasco, might need to flee to the USA and he wanted contacts in the USA agencies that might be able to help him if he did have to flee and was subject to arrest.

Sammy Garcia

Sammy Garcia had been working on and off with Pablo for some while, first as a mate on roofing jobs, then later running and buying marijuana. Sammy had been put off by the start of the Arevalo wars and had told Pablo that he would work for him but wanted nothing to do with the feud in any way, shape or form, or anything that involved killing anyone.

By 1982, Sammy was moving three or four loads a week for Pablo. Sammy was reliable, did not take risks, and was a lateral thinker like Pablo.

Traditionally the Ojinaga smugglers like the Arevalo's and Manuel Carrasco did not bother to hide their loads very well, Bales of marijuana were put in the back of pickups and covered with a tarpaulin.

Texas law enforcement had stepped up their operation and were taking the threat of the incoming amounts of drugs seriously. Putting people permanently at the Presidio crossing, and because of the increased activity, the Pablo Acosta Organization think tank switched into over-drive.

It had become popular to convert pickups to run on propane. The Saudi oil embargo had raised the price of gasoline. Propane gave better miles per gallon, was in plentiful supply and included the addition of a propane tank mounted to vehicles behind the cab bulkhead in the rear bed.
The Ojinaga think tank came up with the idea to hide the pot inside these propane tanks.

This was the first time, that a Cartel was using this method of smuggling, and it became standard fare for many of the frontiers active smugglers. With the increased usage of this method it was only a matter of time before the authorities cottoned on to the situation. After a few busts, the PAO think tank had to modify their plan.

They started experimenting with the propane tanks, and Sammy came up with a new twist. He cut a hole in the bottom of the tank similar to everyone, but instead of leaving it open after the pot had been put inside the tank, he took the original part cut out of the tank and sealed it with car body sealant, ground it down so there was no seam, painted it and ground dirt into the paint.

After he had finished, the tank looked like it had spent years weathering in the back of the truck. This was very successful until a customs agent pressed the pressure release valve on the tank, and got a whiff of Sensemilia instead of propane. Agents were briefed to touch the regulating valve from the tank, if propane had been expanding through it, there would be evaporation, and cooling as a by product so the valve should be cold.

So Sammy went back to the draw board, made a separate section within the tank under in the outlets, which he charged with propane, but left the majority of the tank available for marijuana. The first time it was used, customs agents were crawling all over the vehicle, prodding banging and releasing gas from he valves, in an effort to get probable cause to search the vehicle more stringently. As Sammy said " they went over that tank like a bunch of monkeys trying to rape a football".

They were all fooled, and remained fooled for several years while Pablo got load after load through with virtually no captures.

Harvest time

Ojinaga was always busy around harvest time. People came from all over to meet with Pablo or his associates and cut a deal, Pablo had his customers stay at the Motel Ojinaga or the Rohana Hotel and provided security to monitor their movements. Pablo never let his customers meet, preferring that each deal was done in private after they had selected the marijuana they wanted.

His customers from the USA were not hard to control, as the amount of Police and Army around at this time, frightened most of them into staying in their hotel rooms. Pablo liked to add to this fear, and would stride into their hotel rooms, playing the part of the violent Mexican bandido. He knew that instilling fear in them, would guarantee they paid up on time, especially if they thought he would rather shoot them than talk to them.

They knew the modus operandi of how the Pablo Acosta Organization liked to deal with enemies or those who didn't pay, and that kind of death was not high on their agendas. Pablo had the vehicle in which he was ambushed by Fermin Arevalo, mounted just outside the entrance to Ojinaga, and this served its purpose of endowing Pablo with an indestructible tab.

This is where Sammy Garcia would come in a deliver loads to any of Pablo's associates in the USA town that were connected to him. Sammy was having second thoughts, and wanted to turn legit and start a roofing company. Pablo even encouraged him to do it, saying that he would lend him the money to get the company started.

But at harvest time, Sammy would get the call from Pablo, and would head to Ojinaga knowing there was easy money to be earnt by those with quick wits. It was the violence that had prompted Sammy to retire from drug dealing, and Pablo had discussed with him that he too would like to leave the business and open some restaurants in Tijuana.

After Fermin was killed someone from the Arevalos in the USA offered Sammy twenty thousand dollars to kill Pablo, and while Pablo didn't know of the offer, he himself had offered Sammy a hundred thousand to kill the same Arevalo who had made the offer.

Sammy had avoided the Vietnam draft, but had embroiled himself into another more clandestine war, which none the less was racking  up large body counts. It seemed to him that Sicarios either got killed in combat or became hopeless heroin or cocaine addicts, as had both of Pablo's younger brothers, Hector Manuel and Armando.

Sammy had his mind made up for him, when Hector Manuel turned up shot in the stomach and out of his head on heroin. He and his brother Pedro had been in a gunfight with some indigenous marijuana growers up the mountains of Chihuahua. They were apparently cutting down plants in a field that they had not paid for, that was enough to start the gun fire exchange. Hector was pleading for a lift to his sisters house in Odessa.

Sammy agreed but only on the proviso that Hector would carry neither heroin or weapons on him, he told Hector to get his wife to cross that stuff for him, so Hector agreed and shot himself up with some more heroin before leaving with Sammy, then puked his guts out inside Sammy's vehicle while bleeding profusely.

After this event Sammy himself turned to drugs, crack, and his wife left him after he punched her so hard the back of her head left and indentation in the wall. Things were falling apart for Sammy and Pablo saw it coming and was not that surprised when soon after Sammy got caught transporting a load for La Tia, the wife of Manuel Acosta, who had been arrested in 1984.

She was supplying the heroin that Pablo's younger brothers were addicted to. Nobody else in Ojinaga had a supply. The brothers had been ripping of small amounts of Marijuana from Pablo and exchanging it for heroin with La Tia.

La Tia contacted Sammy and asked him to move a load for her urgently, when Sammy inspected the load he knew it was from Pablo's supply, and refused to move the load but promised to keep quiet about it, and agreed to supply another driver for the load.

The next day Sammy was getting a load of Pablo's ready at a ranch he owned on the outskirts of Ojinaga on the route to El Mulato.

Click to enlarge
Sammy decided on a river crossing, rather than go through the barrage of tests applied to pickups driven by single male drivers wearing jeans and Stetsons that were apparent on the Ojinaga-Presidio bridge crossing.

Sammy got mid-river and his vehicle conked out. He had to get someone with a tractor on the USA side to pull him out of the river. He continued on his planned route through Study Butte, then north on Highway 118.

He got stopped by law enforcement just outside Alpine in Brewster County, sheriffs pulled him up and told him they had suspicions that he was transporting Marijuana. The deputies had a tip off he was coming. Things started to get bizarre, they didn't take Sammy into custody but accompanied him to a local motel and made him pay for a room,

He was kept inside the room with guards outside, and when someone knocked on the door he answered it to find the parking lot filled with DEA agents. One scraped some paint off the propane tank by the outlet, and discovered some body filler. "Arrest him", he was locked up at the local county jailhouse, beaten then asked about the PAO.

He was told by the DEA that if he gave up five operatives from the PAO and a couple of river crossing places at Big Bend, he would be free by tomorrow. Sammy couldn't live with being a snitch, he knew the death he would suffer at the hands of Pablo's men was far worse than the treatment he might receive being prosecuted and imprisoned in the United States. Pablo might be a bandido but he always treated Sammy with respect.

Sammy was given eight years and locked up with Manuel, Pablo's uncle at the El Reno prison in Oklahoma. When he met Manuel, Manuel apologized for the actions of his wife La Tia. Apparently the deal offered Sammy was also offered to her, except the payoff was Manuel's release from prison.

Her modus operandi was to exchange heroin with Pedro's younger brothers for Marijuana, until she had accumulated enough for a load. Then she would find someone to run the load across the big bend, and give up the information to the DEA.

Sammy was convinced she had somehow found out about his intention to cross a load that day, and had informed on him to the DEA. When Pablo found out about it, he saw it as treachery and if she had not been the wife of his uncle she would have been tortured and killed. Pablo banished her from Ojinaga, but she had done it out of love for her husband and not for greed or material gain.

The butcher of Ojinaga

Marco Antonio Haro Portillo otherwise known as "El Carnicero de Ojinaga", had been interesting USA law enforcement since he had been named as the one who finished off Lili Arevalo, starting the "Arevalo war". As Pablo's head of Sicario's Marco was suspected of two murders in New Mexico during late 1983.

The double homicide occurred in a Hobbs shack one night when a man kicked in the door and shot the two male occupants in the head. He was also suspected of a murder in Odessa in 1985, and another in Lubbock.

All these victims were lacking a sense of self preservation as they had taken heroin on credit from Pablo, not paid him back and then boasted about it. Pablo was going to set an example of these men.

He was also well known in Ojinaga as a man to be feared. He had shot three men in a restaurant in downtown Ojinaga.

He had come to Ojinaga in 1976 from Sonora. he had been a bodyguard and driver for a Mexican Government Official in Sonoita, across from Lukeville, Arizona.

He was bringing too much heat on the Ojinaga Plaza and was sent away for a year, he worked for the Mexico City Federal Police, then came back and shacked up with Sammy Garcia's wife. They began growing Marijuana and paying Pablo a cut as piso.

They had a visit one day in their fields from Pablo, they had Mariachis, roasted a goat, drank cases of beers. Becky Garcia spoke imperfect Spanish and Marco at the time wanted people to call him El Principe de Leon, the Prince of Leon, Becky thought they were saying Pinche Pelon, and so the "Fucking Baldy" nickname stuck.

The Butcher of Ojinaga
Marco was unpredictable and would kill people at the slightest provocation, like non payment of debt on the day it was due. If the debt was one dollar or a hundred thousand dollars, to Mario the disrespect was the same and so was the punishment. Becky saw him kill several people at close quarters, he shot one debtor in the forehead from two feet from her then calmly got back in the car as though nothing had happened.

Becky asked him once if he felt any regret, lost any sleep, or had bad dreams over the people he had killed, all those grieving relatives, he simply replied "no they had to die".

The difference between Pablo and Marco is plain to see here, Pablo while playing the part of the bandido psychopath, was doing exactly that, playing the part because it fulfilled a business necessity for him. Marco just enjoyed killing people.

Thinking bigger with the Columbus air force

Becky had some contacts in the USA that could assist Pablo with logistics. Pablo realized that if he wanted to expand his business he needed to start thinking aircraft. Becky's friend Sal stole aircraft as part of an insurance scam. He and three pilots from " the Columbus air force", who were Vietnam vet pilots and could land just about any aircraft on any type of landing strip, and were well known by traffickers for the efficiency of what they did and the skill of their pilots.

They intimated their willingness to work with Pablo who they knew was the Padrino of Ojinaga. Sal stole a Cessna 182, changed the tail plane letter designations, then flew it down to Ojinaga and dropped it off to Pablo. The Columbus air force operated their own fleet of planes including vintage WW2 aircraft.

Despite his busy schedule Pablo managed to meet two of the pilots from the Columbus air force in Ojinaga at the Casa Chavez, one of his drug storage warehouses. The building was full of Pablo's gunmen armed with the normal tools of the trade, AR-15's, Ak 47's, Uzi's, .45 pistols and knives. Their job to stare with intense hostility at the visitors.

The pilots had been receiving $10,000 dollars US per load they had been moving from other traffickers but they had worked out a package for Pablo that would cost him $40,000 per load.
This would involve them picking up half a ton of marijuana per time, in Mexico and flying it north to the USA in a twin engine aircraft.

They would arrange a crew to load the drugs in Mexico, a crew to unload and store the drugs in the USA until Pablo had arranged for its delivery. They would also deliver it to its final destination for an extra fee.

The Columbus air force knew the risks, at this time the Mexican Customs dept. had a fleet of pursuit aircraft that were shooting down drug dealers flying loads north and the commander of the Department was known by the nickname "The Red Baron".

The pilots bartered with Pablo for the price per load, Pablo was only interested in paying ten for the first two loads, then if they could deliver on their promises, he would pay them the forty they asked.

Becky intervened to ask the pilots not to interrupt Pablo, and they disrespected her. Marco immediately switched into hit man mode, but Pablo waved him off. Pablo left the meeting there, and said that he would speak to them another time. In the vehicle on the way back to the Ojinaga motel, the pilots said of Pablo, "you made his sound like he owned northern Mexico. He is just a penny - ass border punk".

Marco who was driving, eye's lit up with hatred, a sign Becky had seen many times, Becky reminded them not to speak about Pablo in that manner, while Marco removed his .45 from his waistband laid it next to him on the centre console and tapped the barrel near the receiver.

Marco exploded when he and Becky got to their hotel room, he wanted to kill them so bad he could taste it, in reality Pablo couldn't give a fuck if they were from the USAF, if they wanted to run drugs for Pablo they would take five thousand each for the first two loads, then forty thousand for the third plus the extra ten thousand missing from the first two load payments. They finally agreed to Pablo's terms.

Pablo Acosta "El Zorra de Ojinaga" Part 3 coming soon.