Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Gulf Cartel kingpin 'El Puma' and the case that helped shape future U.S. drug investigations

"MX" for Borderland Beat
Exactly twelve years ago today, on 29 April 2008, high-ranking Gulf Cartel member and former Tamaulipas State Police commander Carlos Landin Martinez ("El Puma") was sentenced to life imprisonment in the U.S. for his involvement in drug trafficking and money laundering. Though not widely known, El Puma's case was critical for future U.S. drug investigations and helped shaped the methodologies used today.

Authorities explained that they built the case against El Puma from the bottom-up, using the information from low-level criminals arrested in the U.S. and Mexico, which slowly led them to information about the cartel's leadership structure. Witnesses in El Puma's trial described the Gulf Cartel as a complex organization where low-level members were not allowed to participate in the criminal group's core operations, thus helping reduce the liability of the cartel leaders and their direct involvement in drug trafficking.

El Puma reduced his liability by taxing smugglers who operated in his turf and preventing his direct employees from moving drugs for the cartel. In the Mexican criminal underworld, this fee or taxation is known as piso. Investigators built a new methodology to crack him down. It would later become the foundation for future organized crime investigations. In this report, Borderland Beat will cover El Puma's career and how the investigation and trial unfolded.

Early life
Carlos Landín Martínez was born in Reynosa, Tamaulipas, Mexico, in 1955/1956. He was a member of the Tamaulipas State Police, where he worked as the commander of the homicide investigatory task-force. His efforts in the agency were lauded in law enforcement circles both in Mexico and in the U.S. In the police, he was known as "El Puma Uno" (English: Puma One) for his aggressive stance against the most-wanted criminals in Tamaulipas.

But El Puma led a double life, authorities said. He officially worked to fight crime, but actively committed it on the side. He worked closely with the Gulf Cartel and Los Zetas by running drug trafficking operations through the Reynosa corridor. El Puma was permanently released from the Tamaulipas State Police along with nine other police chiefs in 1999, but he continued in the cartel full-time.

Drug career
U.S. authorities tracked El Puma's drug trafficking activities back to 1998, when his criminal cells in Granjeno and Peñitas, Texas, worked with a family-led smuggling ring headed by Francisco Meza-Rojas, a former McAllen police officer. For nearly a deacde, El Puma's drug trafficking cells were responsible for moving narcotics from Mexico into the U.S.
Francisco Meza-Rojas, former McAllen cop and convicted drug trafficker
Most of the drugs from the Gulf Cartel were cultivated in Michoacán, smuggled through Tamaulipas, and then redistributed in South Texas and throughout the rest of the U.S. The drugs were crossed via the Rio Grande River and dropped off in designated spots for other middlemen to pick up.

The drugs were then given to other smugglers, who met in parking lots of businesses in the McAllen area. Smugglers linked to El Puma would then take the drugs and store them in stash houses across the city. A group of smugglers would then take those drugs past the the U.S. Border Patrol stations in Falfurrias and Sarita, where they would then be distributed to cities like Dallas, Houston, Chicago, Tampa, Nashville, Atlanta, Greensboro, and New York City.

No. 2 of Reynosa
From January 2005 to January 2007, El Puma was the second-in-command for the Gulf Cartel in Reynosa. Among his duties included collecting taxes (or piso) from independent drug traffickers who wanted to smuggle drugs through his corridor, which extended between the Tamaulipas municipalities of Gustavo Díaz Ordaz and Río Bravo. Those who tried to circumvent this rule, or who were found responsible for losing drugs or money, were kidnapped, tortured, and/or killed on El Puma's orders.

During that time, the Reynosa corridor was officially headed by Gregorio Sauceda Gamboa ("Caramuela"), a kingpin that reported to Osiel Cárdenas Guillén, the top leader of the cartel. El Puma worked under both of them.

Old picture of Gregorio Sauceda Gamboa, as used by the Mexican government in 2002 
However, Sauceda Gamboa began having differences with the Gulf Cartel's leadership due to his perceived weakness; his excessive drinking, drug addiction, and cancer diagnosis pushed him to the sidelines. While Sauceda Gamboa's influence declined, El Puma began generating more influence and money.

Arrest
Then came El Puma's arrest. As he shopped for watermelons at an H-E-B supermarket in McAllen, Texas, an off-duty DEA agent caught a glance of him by coincidence. "He happened to fall into our lap, so we had to move fast," the agent said. "You only get one shot at a person like [El Puma]." And so he did. He called the police to stop him a few blocks away. El Puma was taken into custody.

A grandfather shopping for watermelons wouldn't get a second look. But El Puma was with two bodyguards at the supermarket. His faced looked familiar. The DEA had been investigating him for at least two years and knew he was living a double life: a quiet retiree who had retired from the Tamaulipas State Police and spent the weekends with his grandchildren, and the No. 2 for the Gulf Cartel in Reynosa.

Trial and sentence
During the seven-day trial, the jury reviewed the exhibits presented by the prosecution, which included drug seizure samples and hours of wiretapped conversations between Landín Martínez's smugglers in the Rio Grande Valley. More than a handful of criminals who worked under El Puma testified against him in court and identified him as the leader of the cartel in Reynosa.


Drugs seized in Operation Puma, which targeted El Puma's narcotics
El Puma said he was innocent, while his defense team stated that the witnesses were testifying against their client in exchange for soother life sentences. None of them said they ever met El Puma in person or saw him committing a crime; they described how the Gulf Cartel was able to reduce liability by keeping low-level criminals away from the core operations of the cartel.

Interestingly, when asked if any of the witnesses had seen El Puma in person or committing a crime, all of them responded with a resounding "no". This was because none of them had any direct contact with him. El Puma's attorney argued that the witnesses' testimonies did not directly link him to the accusations. In the past, this would have probably been enough to help an alleged drug kingpin go free. But the prosecution argued that El Puma stirred the direction of his criminal activities through his subordinates on purpose to avoid capture.

El Puma was eventually found guilty off all counts and convicted to life imprisonment, though his sentence was later reduced. U.S. federal authorities stated that the case could serve as a model for future organized crime cases charging top crime bosses. Authorities explained that they built the case against El Puma from the bottom up, using the information from low-level criminals arrested in the U.S. and Mexico, which slowly led them to information about the cartel's leadership structure. This methodology had not been used before in U.S.-Mexico drug investigations.

El Puma's imprisonment status and release date, per the Federal Bureau of Prisons
El Puma's scheduled released date is on 19 June 2029. He is imprisoned at the Federal Medical Center, Butner, a North Carolina federal security prison for inmates with special health needs.

Note: This article includes excerpts from the Wikipedia page of Carlos Landin Martinez ("El Puma"), which was published by Borderland Beat contributor "MX" in March 2019. It includes over 55 sources.

23 comments:

  1. This fool wasn’t nothing when the cdg vs zeta war kicked off la ardilla and el Mamito ran this guy and his crew all the way from Nuevo Laredo back to matamoros with his tail between his legs kissing the boots of el senor lazca for mercy when you think of the great commanders the zetas have had its incredible this is why cdg don’t dare come into Nuevo Laredo or Monterrey these days troopa del inferno got it locked

    ATTE SCOTTISH ZETA

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    1. Or maybe he was locked up at the time🤦‍♂️

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    2. Yeah would be difficult since he was arrested and sentenced 2 years before they split. You idiots sit online and talk about things you don’t even know about. You’re most likely a crackhead. Now go tell all your buddies how you’re plugged in with the cartel. LMFAO

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    3. To your information all this guys ain't shit with out a dumbass exmilitary trainee idiot holding an assault rifles behind them. If they were so badass they wouldn't be stealing and going after unarmed civilians that are selling food or there goods. These are cowards that have never had wealth,now they sport a stolen truck n move a couple of kilos they think there powerful. There day will come to all those who use there strength n riches for harming others just to get respect. Bunch of cowards this men,boys actually will have There day to meet the REAL GOD.

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    4. Scottish, you're a comedian huh. El Puma was incarcerated we that split occurred if I'm not mistaken. Also, CDG is in Monterrey also, so you should double check things so you won't keep on looking silly. Also, the zetas were all over Tamaulipas befor the split, and as you said yourself they have Nuevo Laredo and on lock. That's it. They don't have any other place in Tamaulipas on lock. I understand your a zeta fan but please don't spread misinformation on this sit. It would be highly appreciated and thank you for your time

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  2. El PUMA se convertio an RATA... 😆

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    1. Did you even read the article??? At least you did not say chapo snitched

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  3. 10:39 tropa del infierno is locked to chamberpots, they are always pissing their pantyhose because the army and marinas murder them without proof or reason amd the stste police help in their extermination.
    Best call them La Nueva Tropa Loca

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  4. I do not believe DEA had enough to convict this guy, but to their credit they made it stick, congratulations. I am old man watching this drug business for 50 years, never use the stuff. People in the US love the Mexican Cartel and Drugs, they buy their drugs, in turn support the Cartels. I think we are wasting our time arresting Mexican Cartel members and putting them our jails. Leave them alone, has long has Americans use drugs, they going support the Cartels. I say total waste taxpayers $$$$$. Let Mexican criminals out of US jails and send them back.

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    1. LEGALIZE all drugs!
      Like almost everything else: legalisation can be done the right way and it can be done the wrong way!

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    2. Freaky deaky

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    3. Mexico would collapse if the US dropped the pressure on the cartels.

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    4. at least a new idea for a change, that puma guy should have appealed he would have won, insufficient evidence and redneck jury tainted probably, dig deep mr. lawyer and get him off. give him back his watermelons too.

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    5. 12:23 US taxpayers do not even pay for the recycled chinese toilet paper mexican criminals use in prison, it is all paid for with loans the US collects from US offshorers using foreign name lenders to disguise the loans...prisons for profit parnas must get their budgets paid for in full in cash, and in advance, even you could get a foreign loan, in rubles yuans, or US dollars and never pay it back...casually, laws were made to fit by wise ass US legislators

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    6. Well, a jury of 12 said otherwise after a 7 day trial.
      That's called proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

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    7. 12:33 what a moron, they commit crime with illegal transportation of drugs, for sure US will be involved. Send them back 😁, so they can continue the life of crime, murdering people give me a break.

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    8. One thing about Criminal justice system, jails make a lot of money, that support the drug wars. By the way most Red Neck r big Drug users and support the Cartels. Another thing don't hire his lawyers if u get in trouble.

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  5. Good article. i also agree with Anon 12:23pm. I don't think the DEA had enough to convict him but they were able to convince the jury. the lack of wiretapped conversations makes a case very difficult to prove, so kudos to the prosecution i guess.

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  6. Went down the rabbit hole with this story MX good job bro, very informative and the links to the rest were even better, more to the story like el ocho escaping jail and caught 2 years later ha ha great reporting, love this site

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    1. Thank you, fellow reader. I'm glad you enjoyed it!

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  7. The Rico act was not mentioned but maybe they used it ?

    would Love to see more top Americans who help Mexican Cartels get caught
    Yes The guys who sell arms or destort the poor in Mexico No problem with me arresting Americans and keeping them behind bats forever They should be cell mates with their Mexican partners
    lock them all up throw away the keys

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  8. The guy is sick send him back to Mexico, let Amlo take care of him.

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  9. Puma was known for being inconspicuous and then he waltzes into a HEB with two body guards for watermelons ? Boredom will make people do strange things.

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