Subject Matter: Marcia Manuela Duarte Medina "Nina", Sinaloa Cartel, Mexicali
Recommendation: No prior subject matter knowledge required
A cell of the Sinaloa Cartel ordered the construction of a narco tunnel between Mexicali and Calexico. the woman in charge of the planning and operation, Marcia Manuela Duarte Medina "Nina" had already trafficked drugs through a tunnel from Sonora to Arizona. On this occasion, she involved her mother, her brother and her nephew, sought out strawmen and acquired properties with the value of 360,000 US dollars. Her apprehension made vulnerable the structure of a narco trafficker identified as "I.A." by United States authorities.
Reporter: Ines Garcia Ramos
At the end of 2013, Marcia Manuela Duarte medina "Nina" received a very sensitive instruction, from her boss. You must search for a property in Cexlico to connect to a tunnel being dug from Mexicali, this based on an inquiry based in the Office of the Attorney General Prosecutors Office of the United States.
On the Mexican side, the restaurant "El Sarape", localized at the crossroads of Nicolas Bravo and Callejon Madero in Mexicali, serving as the hiding place for the subterranean passageway.
Mexican authorities attribute the trans-frontier excavation to the work of the Sinaloa Cartel. With a length of 379 meters, the tunnel was discovered searched by both Federal US Agents and the Research Division of the Federal Police, on Wednesday, 23rd of March 2016.
Two men were arrested in Mexicali, in possession of marijuana and inside the house were the tunnel was found. SEIDO has been put in charge of the investigation.
In a parallel manner, the investigation started by the United States authorities reveals that this criminal organization, planned, financed and operated the tunnel in order to traffic more than a ton of marijuana.
Woman of total trust
The first registration of Marcia Manuela Duarte Medina "Nina", as a member of a cell dedicated to narco trafficking dates to September of 2013 in the Department of National Security (DHS).
Since then, telephone calls, text messages, journeys and meetings of the 37 year old woman, have been documented in inquiries, search warrants, and arrest orders have been issued by Federal Courts in the United States, these records provide the material for this article.
When in Nogales, United States officials from Arizona commenced surveillance of a house used to store drugs, "Nina" surfaced as one of the principal names in the criminal organization.
In February of 2014, the agents obtained a search warrant to enter the house and discovered the tunnel that crossed the frontier with Sonora. Conforming with information gathered, they found out that "Nina" is the person authorized to cross drugs through the passageway.
This started a penal investigation, accepted by the District Federal Court of Arizona on 18th March of 2016.
This same document signalled that between February and June of 2014, "Nina" had been collecting money from multiple dealers between California and Arizona. With this money she would buy the property instructed by her superior.
The woman then was in charge of depositing thousands of dollars, always under the $10,000 that would bring scrutiny, in bank accounts of Wells Fargo in the name of her nephew "Tinki" Cruz.
Hence the money flowed both in cheques and bank transfers to a trust for the purchase of a plot of land in Calexico, California. They also hired the services of real estate companies Chicago Title Company and Casa Bonita Realty.
Later between November and December of 2014, "Nina journeyed on several occasions from Arizona to Calexico, accompanied by her nephew "Tinky" Cruz.
The objective was to find a place where they could hide the exit of the tunnel constructed from Mexicali, by direct instructions from her boss, a narco trafficker identified with the initials "I.A." in Federal investigations of the United States.
In January of 2015, the woman and her nephew found a property at number 902, third street in Calexico for a price of 240,000 dollars. The only building in the venue was a blue wine vault with a collapsed roof.
The site was found to be 219 meters from the frontier wall and 379 meters in a diagonal line from restaurant El Sarape in Mexicali, from where the tunnel advanced. The woman informed her boss and he approved the purchase.
|El Sarape in Mexicali|
Deliveries of cash to "Nina" by various members of the criminal organization, continued from January to April of 2015. The amounts ranged from 60,000 to 100,000 always in cash.
The meeting points included private meetings in Los Angeles, California, the home of her boss, the drug trafficker "I.A.", in Casa Grande, Arizona and even a branch of Peter Piper Pizza in Tuscon, Arizona.
Since then, Federal Agents had fitted all her vehicle with GPS trackers, authorized by a Judge. "Nina", without knowing it, had surveillance on every journey and every communication.
Her Nephew, the strawman and his mother the driver
The records of Imperial County, California, Agustin Enrique Cruz, just 22 years old, appears as the owner of land to the value of $240,000 - more than four million pesos, with Federal agents identifying him as a strawman.
On the 1st of July of 2015, the property transferred to the name of Agustin "Tinky" Cruz. Days before, "Nina" and her superior had spoken of plans to construct a house in the acquired land, and within that house, the end of the tunnel that was already well under way.
To justify a gap in the foundation of the house, "A.I." ordered "Nina" to buy a safe 50 x 50 cm and show it to the contractor.
To leave a space in the ground floor slab, both the dimensions and location of the hole match perfectly the exit of the narco tunnel.
According to information of the Attorney General of the United States, the narco trafficker "I.A" crossed to Mexicali to meet the contractor, who also demolished part of the wine store that was already constructed on the property.
For November of 2015, the construction of the nut colored house was finished. However they lacked an adequate connection to the tunnel. In December of 2015, the group rented tools to adjust the tunnels exit and new tiles were placed above to disguise the passage.
The tunnel is now ready, but they require more people for its operation. On the 18th of December of 2015, Agustin "Tinky" Cruz recruited Rosario Bejarano Zepeda in La Garita West of Calexico.
This woman identified also with the nicknames "Ross", "Chaya" and "Dianna", according to reports of telephone intercepts by the United States authorities, she was in charge of maintenance of the house and to advise of any police activity together with a house keeper called Manuel Gallegos Jimenez.
Meanwhile the mother of "Nina", Eva Duarte de Medina received $10,000 to move between Nogales, Arizona to Calexico, California and to take charge of coordinating the transfer of drugs in vehicles from the house where the tunnel was to its storage place.
Agents said this was a second property utilized by the group as a first stop in the warehousing of the drugs that left the tunnel.
This building is located at number 1056 Horizon street in Calexico, four miles from the house where the tunnel was found. On the 27th of February of 2016, agents observed Eva Duarte de Medina in this location.
According to the investigating agents, on the 28th of February, the group commenced to utilize the tunnel for the transit of drugs. This day, at about 13:30 a blue Dodge Dakota van reversed into the garage of the house where the tunnel exited.
A woman identified as Bertha Lidia Esquivel, left the same property in a white Ford F-150 pickup. At 20:48 in the night, Esquivel crossed into the United States to La Garita of Calexico driving a cafe colored Buick Rendezvouz.
These three vehicles, in the name of Bertha Lidia Esquivel, were utilized from that day until the 7th of March for drug transit activities from the house where the tunnel exited to the residence on Horizon street and from there to another warehouse located at number 260A on Campillo Avenue.
At this last site, the drugs were stored until cells dedicated to their distribution, picked them up and took them to staging areas closed to Los Angeles, California.
In some cases, the vehicles were driven by crews for Eva Duarte de Medina, her son Joel Duarte Medina, Bertha Lidia Esquivel and other men not identified in the Attorneys documents.
These men, explain the investigators, were contracted by Eva Duarte de Medina at the swap meet Santo Thomas, also in Calexico. To hide what they knew about the drug distribution network, every driver knew the location of one warehouse, but never the two.
Drug seizures worth $6,000,000
However, on the 5th of March of 2016, a van arrived at the warehouse in Campillo Avenue and the agents observed various bales being loaded into the rear of the trailer.
The vehicle was driven to Brawley, a location inside of Imperial County, close to Calexico and the following day, on the 6th of March of 2016, it arrived at a warehouse in Los Angeles, California.
Among the packages of spoiled food they threw out, they found packages of marijuana weighing 612 kilos.
A day after, Eva Duarte de Medina travelled to Nogales, Arizona. " Its common after a large seizure of drugs because they investigate if the location is discovered and they look for mistakes made in the trafficking network, transit or distribution", said one of the orders of search executed on 23rd of March of 2016.
This day, the three search warrants of properties in Third street, the residence on Horizon Avenue - utilized as the first stage warehouse - and the warehouse on Campillo Avenue, were executed.
These resulted in the decommission of 695 kilos of marijuana at the residence in Horizon street. There they arrested Joel Duarte Medina.
Joel Duarte Medina, brother of "Nina", admitted before the agents of knowing of the marijuana inside the residence on Horizon street. He also declared that his work consisted of maintaining and caring for the property.
In due course, Manuel Gallegos Jimenez was arrested at the property on Third street where they found the tunnel. They recognized, from a photo, Rosario Bejarano Zepeda as "Diana", who had received payment to stay in the house since the 5th of March and stay vigilant.
Marcia Manuela Duarte Medina "Nina" was detained on the night of 22nd of March in Nogales, Arizona. In the same city in which her mother was apprehended, Eva Duarte de Medina.
Meanwhile, Agustin "Tinky" Cruz, nephew of "Nina" was still in custody on 24th of March in Tucson, Arizona. He and Marcia Manuela Duarte Medina face charges of utilizing properties with the intention of drug distribution.
The rest of the detained are also accused of drug trafficking, conspiracy to distribute drugs and other charges related also with maintaining properties with intent to traffic drugs through the construction and operation of tunnels.
According to the documents presented before the Court, the accused also utilized three vehicles more for the transit of drugs.
A red Dodge Ram pickup, registered in the name of Cornucopia Sales and Cristina Lebario and a black BMW Z3, in the name of Leon Jacob. These two with houses registered in Arizona.
The last, a Ford 350 white van in the name of "Roberts Auto Inc", a business located in Los Angeles, California.
The total weight of the two seizures was more than a ton of marijuana, which has the value of $6,000,000, affirmed the Attorney General of the South District of California.
New techniques in difficult terrain
According to the Attorney of the South District of California, this the first time that in the State they have bought a property rather than renting it, for the construction of narco tunnels. Also it is the first tunnel that crosses the frontier that was functioning discovered in Calexico since 2006.
The investigators believe that the narco traffickers selected the region of California and Baja California to construct this tunnel, because it is a zone surveiled less in comparison to say Tijuana - San Diego.
Also the characteristics of the soil in Calexico, makes it much more difficult to tunnel through which complicated the excavation works.
The difference to the industrial zone of Otay Mesa in San Diego, where the loading and unloading of vans is much more common, Calexico is mainly a residential area, which has the implication of making it more difficult to hide their drug transit activities.
In the last five years, Federal authorities have discovered more than 75 tunnels between Mexico and the United States, the majority of them in California and Arizona. At least one of these was operated by this group.
In spite of the fact the operation was successful with the detention of most of the members of the group, the clandestine tunnel closed, large quantities of drugs seized, the investigation remains open and focusses on the ringleader identified as "I.A." in Federal investigations.
Original article in Spanish at Zetatijuana