Blog dedicated to reporting on Mexican drug cartels
on the border line between the US and Mexico

Friday, April 30, 2021

Tempoal, Veracruz: Grupo Sombra Leaves Dismembered Male In Nylon Bag

 "Sol Prendido" for Borderland Beat

A dismembered body was found this morning in the streets of Colonia Benito Juárez in nylon bags.

In that place, it was reported, a cardboard with a narcomessage was also located.

The area of the discovery was cordoned off by elements of the Civil Force and the Municipal Police, who requested the presence of the Ministerial Police and Expert Services of the Regional Prosecutor's Office.

Until now, the identity of the body located is unknown, which, according to reports, was completely dismembered.

Likewise, it was indicated that it could most likely be the Federal Electricity Commission (CFE) employee who was kidnapped yesterday afternoon by an armed criminal cell in La Gloria neighborhood.

The body was picked up by Expert Services personnel and transferred to the Forensic Medical Service (SEMEFO) in the city of Tantoyuca, Veracruz, for the initiation of the corresponding investigations.


Manta reads as follows:

"Without too many words we prove who we are with actual acts. We’re not known by many nicknames. But we are known for all the pending murders we bring. We are Grupo Sombra. And we’re aligning our communities."

Source: La Voz de Tantoyuca

Chinese Nationals Used US Banks to Launder Millions in Drug Profits for Sinaloa Cartel

"AlexanderLA" and "Parro" for Borderland Beat

Tao Liu admitted to helping launder money for Mexican cartels and trying to bribe a U.S. official.

A Hong Kong businessman who helped launder cartel drug money flew to Guam in October to pick up fake U.S. passports.

What he got instead was a private jet escort to Virginia flanked by federal agents.

Tao Liu, a venture capitalist who dressed up as Santa Claus for disadvantaged youth in New York, now awaits sentencing for trying to bribe a public official to get the passports and for laundering money for drug traffickers — including Mexico's infamous Sinaloa Cartel.

Liu was part of an extensive network of Chinese nationals blamed for hiding the true origin of more than $30 million, mainly from cocaine sales, dating back to 2008.

A senior official with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, who asked not to be named to protect the sensitivity of his work, said Chinese businessmen have long assisted Mexican cartels in a variety of lucrative money laundering schemes, playing a key role in the deadliest drug crisis in American history.

Recently, the numbers of such partnerships designed to move and launder drug profits have been rising, according to the DEA's 2020 National Drug Threat Assessment. The sweeping case involving Liu illustrates how agents increasingly are targeting the money laundering networks, trying to cripple drug rings by cutting off their cash supply.

'Startling' operation

Liu was stunned when special agents with the DEA arrested him in Guam in October.

"It’s startling to know the government is willing to come get you overseas," said Liu's attorney, Jonathan Simms. "I've never had someone put on a private jet. It made it convenient for them to interrogate him on the way over here."

Tao Liu, dressed up as Santa for a New York charity event, pleaded guilty to money laundering and trying to bribe a U.S. official.

Liu, a father of four, discussed the case with agents on the plane ride and ultimately pleaded guilty in April to bribery for offering $150,000 per fake passport from someone he thought was a corrupt State Department official but who actually was an undercover DEA agent.

He was going to pay the bribe with wire transfers and cryptocurrency. Liu lived in Hong Kong but frequently traveled to the U.S. and Mexico. Other Chinese businessmen relocated to the United States, Belize, Guatemala and Mexico to set up elaborate networks to carry out several sophisticated money laundering schemes.

Wendy Woolcock, Special Agent in Charge for the DEA Special Operations Division, issued a statement in April after three of the defendants pleaded guilty, blaming the money laundering ring for routing "millions of dollars in drug proceeds back to the cartels, allowing the criminal organizations to further their activities, flooding our communities with dangerous drugs, causing devastating addictions and death."

The network also is accused of hiding drug money in casinos, Guatemala front companies solely used to conceal the money, and through U.S. and foreign bank accounts, according to court records.

Members of the money laundering network would often drive or fly bulk cash, typically in increments of $300,000 to $350,000, across America to avoid depositing too much in the L.A. area, according to attorneys familiar with the case.

They kept an emergency bag of cash hidden in Mexico in case they lost a shipment in the U.S. through a police sting or a double-crossing employee, because they didn't want to owe the cartels.

The money launderers also used drug profits to buy American and Chinese goods, which they could send to cartels in Mexico, where those products are in demand.

Many court documents in the case remain sealed. But those available describe an elaborate black market peso scheme that used a series of steps to eventually send the drug profits back to Mexican cartels in their own currency.

Business transactions were discussed on the encrypted cell phone applications WhatsApp and WeChat, where one of the usernames was "SUPERKING99."

Simms said Liu was on the fringes of the money laundering network.

"I don't think he understood the danger or the extent of the narcotic activity" or which cartels were involved, Simms said.

"He needed access to American cash and they needed renminbi," Chinese currency known as RMB. So Liu went along with the scheme but felt safer not asking questions about who was calling the shots, his attorney said.

Alleged drug trafficker Xizhi Li is charged with money laundering.

An alleged connection to El Chapo

Prosecutors allege in court motions that Xizhi Li, 45, who lived in Mexico, played a more pivotal role in the crimes, with a direct connection to El Chapo, the notorious former head of the Sinaloa Cartel.

Li also "forged close ties" with drug organizations in Colombia and Guatemala, prosecutors allege in the indictment. Li, who went by "Z," maintains his innocence on charges of money laundering and conspiracy to traffic more than 5 kilograms of cocaine.

Amid the investigation, Li abandoned his L.A. restaurant to move to Guatemala. He opened a casino, which prosecutors argue was used to launder drug money in Guatemala City.

Investigators targeting a large drug ring in Memphis, Tennessee, stumbled onto a connection to the Sinaloa Cartel, which supplied the cocaine — and to Xizhi Li, who allegedly helped launder profits from its sale.

In 2018, investigators in Miami seized more than $617,000 from a bank account they claim belonged to Xizhi Li, using the name "Franco Ley Tan," one of his 13 aliases, according to an affidavit by a DEA task force officer.

DEA agents in Memphis took control of the money as part of their investigation. Li never tried to get the money back, so a federal judge issued a default judgment last year to release the money to the government.

Prosecutors and defense attorney John Kiyonaga, who represents Li, declined to comment before trial.

While Li ran his restaurant in Los Angeles, he befriended California businessman Eric Yong Woo, 43, whom he allegedly lured into the conspiracy. Woo pleaded not guilty to money laundering charges, and both are scheduled to go on trial in August.

Attorney Robert Lee Jenkins Jr., who represents Woo, told the Louisville Courier Journal his client moved from China to America's West Coast and ran a legitimate business importing and exporting goods from his homeland.

“Mr. Woo had no knowledge of any drug activities," Jenkins said. "Mr. Woo was taken advantage of."

Li befriended Woo using an alias, Jenkins alleges. Li claimed his restaurant was headed for bankruptcy, so Woo agreed to let his friend set up a bank account in his name to protect business assets from creditors, the attorney said.

Prosecutors say the account was actually used to funnel drug money, and they have "overwhelming evidence" against Woo, according to their motion persuading a judge that Woo is a flight risk and should remain jailed until his trial. They say they found a draft of an application for a passport with Woo's photo but another name.

Prosecutors also cited concerns about Woo's history of international travel to Mexico; Suriname in South America; China and elsewhere.

Woo had asked to stay with a parent in the Los Angeles area pending trial and offered to wear an ankle monitor. However, prosecutors argued that Woo's parents are in their 70s, do not speak English and would be unable to stop their son from escaping.

He remains in a jail in Warsaw, Virginia, until his trial. Liu and codefendants Jiayu Chen, of Brooklyn, New York; and Jingyuan Li, of San Gabriel, California; admitted to conspiring to launder money during guilty pleas in April.

Each faces up to 20 years in a federal prison when they are sentenced in July in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Virginia. Others are at large or awaiting trial.

Jingyuan Li, 49, admitted he organized bulk cash shipments of drug profits within the U.S. He also used a California-based seafood import-export business, Shuoyu USA Inc., to buy goods, which were shipped to China and Hong Kong for sale. The profits were sent to Mexico to repay the cartels.

Prosecutors say Jingyuan Li, who was born in China, often spent time in Mexico and San Gabriel, California, and laundered at least $3.8 million.

Agents haven't been able to find the third defendant, Jianxing Chen, 40, who is charged with money laundering but remains a fugitive. He was born in China and has been living in Belize. Prosecutors allege in the indictment he traveled to New York, Los Angeles, Cancun, Guatemala City and elsewhere to help launder money and had a business interest in Li's casino.

Simms called the scope of this network "massive, probably the biggest and most complex money laundering case I’ve seen.

"The layers go on and on."

Source: Courier Journal

'Mayito Gordo', Son of Sinaloa Cartel Leader, Pleads Guilty to Drug Trafficking in San Diego, California

"MX" for Borderland Beat

Ismael Zambada Imperial, alias "El Mayito Gordo", was arrested in 2014 and quietly extradited to the US in 2019. He is one of the sons of Ismael "El Mayo" Zambada Garcia, leader of the Sinaloa Cartel.

Ismael Zambada Imperial, alias "El Mayito Gordo", son of Sinaloa Cartel drug kingpin Ismael "El Mayo" Zambada Garcia, has pleaded guilty to drug trafficking charges in San Diego, California.

In his plea agreement, Zambada-Imperial admitted to being a "major coordinator" of the Sinaloa Cartel, which including importing and distributing ton quantities of cocaine, heroin, and marijuana from Mexico to the US. He also admitted to ordering acts of violence to further the criminal activities of the cartel.

Zambada-Imperial agreed to forfeit US$5 million.

As reported by Keegan Hamilton from Vice News, Zambada-Imperial only admitted to shipping around 450 kg of cocaine and 90 kg of heroin.

"Those are relatively small quantities for a cartel that moves tons of drugs. Not exactly 'major coordinator' amounts", he said on Twitter today.

His sentencing is scheduled a year from now, on 29 April 2022. He faces at least 10 years in prison as a "mandatory minimum" but could be sentenced up to life. The conviction also comes with a potential fine of up to $10 million.

Since Zambada-Imperial has been in custody for about five years, it is likely that the presiding judge will give him credit for time served. Zambada-Imperial also has no previous criminal convictions in the US, a factor that will likely grant him leniency when he is sentenced.

Because Zambada-Imperial is not a US citizen (unlike his half-brother Serafin Zambada Ortiz), he will be removed or deported from the US after his sentence is concluded. Judge Sabraw said that it was likely that he would be denied legal entry to the US in the future.

The 2013 indictment against him outlines the operations of the Sinaloa Cartel. The indictment describes how the cartel uses just about every mode of transportation to move a variety of drugs. When these drugs reach the US, they are stashed in safe houses along the border before they are distributed across the country.

The profits are then funneled through sophisticated money laundering schemes or smuggled back into Mexico in bulk cash. This money is then used to pay cartel members and leaders, corrupt public officials, and/or reinvested into the business or the formal financial system.

Zambada-Imperial's indictment says that the US government is seeking to forfeiture several assets, including a Cessna plane, a Mercedes McLaren, and two Lamborghinis.

His father, El Mayo, is the main defendant in the indictment. He ran the Sinaloa Cartel along with notorious drug kingpin Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman, who is currently in prison for life in the US.

Other of Zambada-Imperial's siblings are also mentioned, including Ismael "Mayito Flaco" Zambada Sicairos and El Chapo's son Ivan "Chapito" Archivaldo Guzman Salazar. These two are at large and are believed to be hiding in Mexico.

Two of El Mayo's children have been convicted in the US. Vicente Zambada Niela ("El Vicentillo"), who testified against El Chapo during his Brooklyn trial, and the younger Serafin Zambada Ortiz, who was released in 2018 after a short stint in prison.

Sources: Keegan Hamilton (Twitter); San Diego Union Tribune; Infobae

Ismael Zambada Imperial Aka El Mayito Gordo Plea Agreement by MX on Scribd

Exodus in Aguililla, Michoacán: Many Families Are Fleeing to the US

"Parro" for Borderland Beat

Residents are fleeing cartel violence and crime, including death threats, extortion and being forced to serve as human shields.

In Aguililla, Michoacan, the Catholic Church is issuing letters of recommendation to residents to support their future claims of US asylum as they flee the violence that has embattled their town.

Parish priest Gilberto Vergara that the Aguililla church has issued up to 85 letters this week where he has detailed proof that the residents' lives are in danger due to the violence. The bloody turf war between Carteles Unidos (CU) and the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG) in Aguililla has intensified in recent months.

With these letters, residents can present them directly to US immigration authorities, Vergara said.

“It’s a kind of guarantee that they’re from here [Aguililla] and that their lives and those of their families are in danger.”

Sources say that close to 200 families have fled Aguililla in the past three weeks, citing violence, extortion, and death threats as their reasons for leaving. Some people have fled to go with other family members, some have stayed in church-run shelters, and others have headed north to the US.

Priest and activist Gregorio Lopez Geronimo said that Aguililla has become a "ghost town". When asked about the government's role in what is happening in Aguililla, Lopez-Geronimo said that they are in cahoots with them. He described them as "beasts" and "soulless" beings.

Luis, a rancher who asked the Catholic Church for a letter of recommendation, said that he was forced by the CJNG to join a human shield outside the army's base near Aguililla. He said that the CJNG forced them to do this to stop the army's operations in the area, and that they threatened to kill his wife and other relatives if he did not obey. Luis said that cartel members kidnapped and reportedly killed his daughter and nephew last year.

He said that he has lived his entire live in El Aguaje, a rural community in Aguililla where the CJNG paraded an armored "narco-tank" in broad daylight last month. This was also the location where a drone bomb attack was carried out against the Michoacan State Police.

Luis said that he took advantage of the visit of the Vatican's ambassador to Mexico to Aguililla last week to flee with his family. He fled with about 200 pesos and a few essentials. Archbishop Franco Coppola, papal nucio to Mexico, was able to travel to Aguililla by road from a neighboring municipality. Some of the roads heading to Aguililla had been blocked by armed men for weeks.

Vergara said that criminals continue to set up blockades on the main highway during the night.

“We’ve left our home, our land and an entire life of work to look for a calmer life because it seems that our luck has run out,” he said. “… We can no longer put up with this violence that screws us over every day. … I managed to take a few things to survive and [received] God’s blessing that the Vatican’s envoy gave us.”

“… The CJNG took everything from us, even courage.”

Sources: El Universal; Milenio; MDN

New Zealand: 8 Arrested Over Plan to Import Cocaine From Mexico; Both CJNG and Sinaloa Cartel Have Presence In the Country

"MX" for Borderland Beat

Vest of the Filthy Few Motorcycle Club, a gang in New Zealand (source: NZ Police)

Eight people have been arrested after a joint police and New Zealand Customs Service operation allegedly disrupted plans to import hundreds of kilograms of cocaine into the country via a Mexican cartel. Those arrested in the police raids include two patched Filthy Few gang members, police say.

Officers carried out a number of search warrants this morning at 11 properties throughout the Auckland, Bay of Plenty and Northland regions. The places were Rotorua, Te Kaha, Te Puke, Ōmokoroa, Mount Albert and Auckland CBD, as well as a boat moored in Northland.

The operation, run by the National Organised Crime Group (NOCG), has targeted key players of a drug syndicate operating in New Zealand with links to a Mexican cartel.

It is alleged those involved conspired to import a large quantity of cocaine and methamphetamine into New Zealand via shipping containers. It's also alleged some of the group imported a smaller quantity of cocaine from their Central American contacts by courier mail to sell and distribute in New Zealand.

The group, aged between 26 and 62, include two patched members of the Rotorua chapter of the Filthy Few Motorcycle Club, police said. All are due to appear in the Tauranga District Court over the coming days.

New Zealand Detective Superintendent Greg Williams and Customs investigations manager Bruce Berry showing off part of a vast meth haul in September 2019. These drugs were believed to have been owned by the Sinaloa Cartel (photo credit: Ricky Wilson)

NOCG's Acting Detective Inspector John Brunton said the investigation was another example of police working collaboratively with New Zealand Customs to prevent the devastating harm created by the sale and supply of illicit drugs.

"In this case, thanks to the efforts of a dedicated investigation team who worked around the clock, we were able to identify and disrupt this syndicate's plans before the drug shipment reached New Zealand shores," he said.

"We want to send a clear message that those importing or dealing such drugs will be found out, will be arrested and prosecuted."

Brunton said police could not rule out further arrests as the investigation was ongoing.

None of the sources about this recent multi-arrest confirmed the name of the Mexican drug cartel in question. However, reports consulted by Borderland Beat show that Mexican drug traffickers consider New Zealand a lucrative consumption market due to the high prices.

New Zealand officials say that both the Sinaloa and Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG) have made pushes to enter the local drug market.

"It signals a shifting dynamic in the drug underworld. New Zealand customs says there's another emerging problem - Eastern European gangs are also targeting New Zealand", a source familiar with past investigations in New Zealand said.

"In the past, we saw a lot of Asian organised crime, but increasingly we are seeing groups like Mexican cartels and Eastern European organised crime groups."

Sources: NZHerald; RNZ; NewsHub

Dismembered Body Left With Threatening Message to Tamaulipas State Police Chief

"MX" for Borderland Beat

On Tuesday at around 11:30 pm in Ciudad Victoria, Tamaulipas, a dismembered corpse was thrown next to the highway that leads to Matamoros.

Cartel members left a message on a cardboard with a threatening note to Félix Arturo Rodríguez Rodríguez, the head of the Special Operations Group (Grupo de Operaciones Especiales, GOPES), the elite unit of the Tamaulipas State Police.

On top of the banner, the assassins left a canvas with the picture of Arturo Soto Aleman, the candidate for federal deputy in Ciudad Victoria under the National Action Party (PAN).

"Fucking pissed arse. You're days of sucking tits from others are almost over. We, the criminals, do not forget. There is no term length we do not meet. Nor debt that goes unpaid. We will find you wherever you go, you son of a bitch. Your time is almost over. You smell like dead shit - 'You Know Who We Are'", the banner read.

Citizen journalists in Tamaulipas said that the body was found in front of a restaurant known as Las Viandas. This restaurant was reportedly owned by a deceased high-ranking Gulf Cartel figure whose last name was Cuellar. Back in 2017, the head of all Tamaulipas state penitentiaries, Felipe Javier Téllez Ramírez, was killed at the restaurant's parking lot.

The GOPES have been under suspicion of several crimes and extrajudicial killings, as reported by Borderland Beat. This police force was formed in August 2020 and initially had 150 elements. It counted with bases in Reynosa and Ciudad Victoria, but their operations have expanded under orders of Governor of Tamaulipas Francisco Javier Cabeza de Vaca.

Several members of the GOPES were involved the January massacre of 19 in Camargo, Tamaulipas. 


Michoacán: Mass Killings Leave 7 Dead; Gunmen Publicly Show Off Their Manpower in Public With Video Release

"MX" for Borderland Beat

The state of Michoacan, in western Mexico, has been on the international spotlight for recent weeks. Several parts of the state continue to experience high levels of violence.

Two mass killings were reported in separate parts of Michoacan earlier this week. In Ciudad Hidalgo municipality, the bodies of three men and a women were dumped on a roadside close to a rural community known as Las Veronicas.

Authorities reported the finding at around 5:00 a.m. yesterday, when elements of the municipal police responded to an emergency call. Investigators say that the victims were brutally tortured and then taken to the site alive while handcuffed. According to the evidence found at the scene, the killers forced the victims to lay down before they were shot dead.

Like in most cases involving suspected drug-related killings, the victims were unidentified and sent to the local morgue in hopes that their family members may come forward to identify them.

In a separate incident in the municipality of Tangancicuaro, three people were decapitated and burned by their killers. Their bodies were abandoned in the rural community of Tenguecho. The first security force to arrive at the scene was the municipal police, with cordoned off the area.

Investigators noticed that the bodies were in an advanced state of decomposition, which suggested they may have been dead for since days prior. Their bodies were sent to the local morgue and have yet to be identified.

In the municipality of Los Reyes, cartel members recorded a video where they showed off their vehicles and armed men posted openly in one of the town's entrances. None of the sources consulted by Borderland Beat indicated which criminal group was responsible for releasing this video.

Sources: Morelia Activa; El Sol de Zamora; El Sol de Morelia; La Balanza (1); (2); CBTelevision

Operation Dirty Water Seizes Over $50 Million Worth of Meth Linked to Juárez Cartel

"Socalj" for Borderland Beat

'Operation Dirty Water' Arrests and Seizure of over $50 Million Worth of Meth Linked to Juarez Cartel

More than $50 million worth of methamphetamine linked to the Juarez Cartel was seized during a joint drug investigation between the Polk County Sheriff’s Office High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Task Force (HIDTA) and the Department of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).

"Operation Dirty Water" started after a parcel shipped from Quebec, Canada containing approximately 2,500 Xanax pills was intercepted by investigators on January 14. After the parcel was intercepted, the Polk County Sheriff's Office, according to a press release, conducted a controlled delivery to a home in Winter Haven. The delivery resulted in 37-year-old Amber Cayson being arrested, and 24 pounds of THC edibles, 2.4 pounds of marijuana and a pound of meth being seized.

Detectives said as they continued their investigation, they learned the suspected drug trafficker was 37-year-old Brian "Lil B" Stanton, an inmate in the United States Federal Penitentiary in Atlanta, Georgia. Stanton, according to the release, arranged the sale and delivery of meth in Polk County.

On March 13, Stanton had 43-year old Jennifer Meers, a woman from Stone Mountain, Georgia who is on federal probation for drug trafficking, deliver a suitcase carrying 26 pounds of meth to an undercover detective at a hotel in Lakeland. Six days later, Stanton arranged for Meers to deliver another 35 pounds of meth.

On March 30, undercover detectives with HSI and PCSO arranged to pick up the drugs from Meers' truck near where she worked in Atlanta. According to the release, when they got the drugs from Meers' truck they also found luggage with 16 vacuum-sealed bags containing meth.

During a traffic stop, "a short time later," Meers was arrested on a Polk County Sheriff’s Office warrant by the Sandy Springs Georgia Police Department. After being arrested, Meers told detectives during an interview that Stanton would coordinate the delivery of the meth and pay her $500 for every kilo (2.2 pounds) that she delivered. Meers' arrest, according to the release, led investigations to the location of three meth conversion labs in Georgia. This in turn led to three arrests and 1,416 pounds of crystalized and liquid meth being seized.

Operation Dirty Water Exposed a Trafficking Network In Juarez, Florida, Georgia, and Quebec.

HSI investigators said they have associated this illegal drug trafficking organization with the Juarez Mexican Cartel, a brutally violent cartel known for its targeted executions and violence.

“Some people still call this low-level, non-violent drugs. These drug dealers have blood on their hands. They make money off the misery of others. They use violence as a means to enforce their trafficking business. We seized 20 firearms during this investigation, including rifles, shotguns, handguns, and three stolen guns. Methamphetamine destroys lives, degrades communities, and ruins families. Through our partnership with Homeland Security and law enforcement agencies in Florida and Georgia, our detectives took a huge amount of meth off the street and shut down an active drug trafficker operating out of a federal prison,” said Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd.

Those arrested on Polk County charges are:

37-year-old Amber Cayson
Trafficking in methamphetamine (F1)
Possession of a structure for drug trafficking (F2)
Possession of Xanax with intent to sell (F3)
Possession of marijuana with intent to sell (F3)
Possession of marijuana over 20 grams (F3)
Possession of marijuana resin (edibles) (F3)
Possession of drug paraphernalia (M1)

43-year-old Jennifer Meers
Conspiracy to traffic in methamphetamine (F1)
Trafficking in methamphetamine (F1)
Possessing a vehicle for drug trafficking (F2)
Unlawful use of a two-way communication device (F3)
Possession of drug paraphernalia (M1)

37-year-old Brian Stanton
Conspiracy to traffic in methamphetamine (F1)
Trafficking in methamphetamine (F1)
Unlawful use of a two-way communication device (F3)

Other related arrests:

30-year-old Crescencio Ornelas-Loza who resides in Fairburn, Georgia was arrested by the Henry County Police Department. He is in the United States illegally. Ornelas-Loza is charged with theft by receiving stolen property. His criminal history includes 4 arrests in Georgia. Three for driving without a valid license and one charge for theft by receiving stolen property.

50-year-old Luis Ornelas-Martinez was arrested by HSI agents and the Henry County Police Department at his residence located on 321 ASA Moseley Road in Stockbridge, Georgia. Ornelas-Martinez is in the United States illegally and is charged with manufacturing methamphetamine and possession of a firearm while in the commission of a felony. His criminal history includes 2 arrests in Georgia with charges of trafficking in cocaine, illegal drug possession, possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute, and driving without a valid license.

59-year-old Isidoro Palacios was arrested at a methamphetamine lab located at 5359 Stonewall Tell Road in College Park, Georgia. HSI agents and South Fulton County Police Department arrested Palacios and seized 77 pounds of methamphetamine, a stolen vehicle, and a stolen shotgun. Palacios is charged with trafficking methamphetamine, theft by receiving stolen property, and animal cruelty (stemming from the illegal rooster fighting ring). He is currently in Fulton County Jail with a $100,000 bond. His criminal history includes 11 arrests in Georgia to include charges of DUI, trafficking in methamphetamine, willful obstruction of law enforcement, and driving without a license. Palacios has also been arrested in Florida three times for driving without a license.

For a full breakdown of the other related arrests and charges, click here.

Investigation Summary:

5 suspects arrested
1 federal inmate charged
20 firearms seized (3 were reported as stolen)
5 vehicles seized (1 was reported as a stolen vehicle)
Approximately 1,500 pounds of methamphetamine seized (street value: approximately $53.8 million)
Approximately 24.8 pounds of THC edibles seized (street value: approximately $8,480)
Approximately 2.4 pounds of marijuana (street value: approximately $7,000)
Approximately 2,500 Xanax pills seized (street value: approximately $25,000)

Tracking and Analyzing Narcomantas to Better Understand the Criminal Landscape in Mexico

"Narcomappingmx" for Borderland Beat

Note: "Narcomappingmx" tracked narcomantas (narcobanners) from Spring 2021 (January 1 - March 31, 2021). This report includes an overview of the different types of narcomantas, notable events where they were found, and a trend and analysis to help explain the criminal landscape.


Scope and Purpose: Mexico is engaged in a brutally violent and seemingly futile internal war. Last year several dozen organized crime groups ended around 40,000 lives as they battled each other for control of the nation's highly lucrative smuggling routes into the United States. By all metrics, this year is on track to be the bloodiest yet. The escalating violence is marked by mothers posting signs begging for the safe return of their kidnapped daughters, and fathers who desperately hope to find pieces of their missing sons in the overflowing morgues. This war is isolated from the rest of the world, who enjoy the endless supply of cocaine and fentanyl. This project aims to gain a deeper understanding of the organized crime issue in Mexico by cataloguing the messages cartels leave behind which provide valuable insights into Mexico’s existential struggle. 

Methods: Through open-source research in the Mexican press, this project aims to provide a comprehensive data set detailing the story of the drug war through narcomantas (narcobanners). News articles, social media posts, and government reports with mentions of narcomantas are collected and catalogued, organized by important features such as the group involved or location. 

Categorizing and tracking narcomantas is extremely important for understanding how cartels operate. They reveal useful information such as their commanders, rivals, or markets they are involved in. Through keeping a database of narcomantas, we can interpret and research their patterns based on the clues they leave behind. 

Results: The Narcomantas Spring Report found 117 narcomantas across 22 states in Mexico, signed by 32 unique groups. Targets of threats ranged from rival cartels, to Attorney generals. These purposes of these narcomantas are divided into six categories: Threats, Accusations, Recruiting, Introduction, Help, and Bounties. All categories were represented in this data set.

Example of a narcomanta

What are Narcomantas? 

Narcomantas, narco letreros, or narcomensajes, are banners left behind by members of organised crime groups to send messages to rivals, the government, or everyday people. Narcomantas are commonly displayed in public places, such as bridges, town centers, and highways. Narcomantas can be a rudimentary form of propaganda, often accompanied by bodies of rivals.

Types of Data Collected 

The narcomantas data set for Quarter 1 of 2021 contains the Date the narcomanta was placed, the Municipality and State where it was found, group or individual Attribution, Source Date of article, Source Name, Source URL, Category, Target, and Body. 

Date: This is the date the article or source claims the narcomanta was placed. If the source does not indicate this, this cell will be the same as the Source Date. 

Municipality: The municipality where the narcomanta was found. 

State: The state where the Municipality is located. 

Attribution: Narcomantas often are signed by the criminal group or individual who left them. Sometimes the name is censored by the news article or law enforcement who found it. In cases where there is no name listed, the name is withheld, or the manta contains no name, the ‘Attribution’ column will contain “Unknown”. If there is both a cartel and cell name, we only record the cartel name. For example, “Cartel del Golfo - Grupo Espartanos” is recorded just as “Cártel del Golfo”. Source Name: The site or account where the article was published. 

Source URL: The link to the article or post. 

Category: Narcomantas are categorized as one of the following: Threat, Accuse, Recruit, Request Help, Introduce, Bounty, and Unknown. 

Target: Narcomantas will often contain the name of the target entity. This is useful for understanding dynamics between criminal groups - which groups are allied, feuding, or engaged in a stalemate. 

Body: Whether the narcomanta was found with a dead body. 

Sources cited for this report

Different Types of Narcomantas 

Every narcomanta is left for a reason. Some are intended simply to frighten off rivals, while others aim to influence public perception of a group. It is important to categorize narcomantas by their intention, or type, in order to understand how cartels aim to communicate. If we understand the purpose of a narcomanta, we can better understand and research their inner workings.

(2.1) Threats 

Threat narcomantas are the most common type of narcomanta, making up 64% of the total found this quarter. A common mantra is “this will happen to those who” oppose us, sell drugs, extort the locals, etc. 

Threat mantas are often found in the midst of turf wars. Defenders of a plaza aim to scare off the incumbent, or newcomers will use them to frighten those who engage in business with the home cartel. 

An example of this was the string of attacks on tire shops ``vulcanizadoras'' in Guanajuato, which were being used to sell drugs and illegally stolen gasoline for the Cartel Santa Rosa de Lima (CSRL). The attackers, the Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación (CJNG), intended to scare the CSRL’s income streams, limiting their ability to defend their claim to the state. 


May 27, 2020, Salamanca, Guanajuato. Photo from BlogDelNarco. Left on a sidewalk next to the bagged pieces of an accused rival drug dealer's body.

(2.2) Accusations 

Cartels will often leave banners accusing the government of supporting their rival. Often they will name specific police officers or politicians who they allege are on the enemy payroll. 


Villahermosa, Tabasco. August 29, 2008. Image from ElSiglodeTorreon.

This narcomanta from the Felipe Calderon era of the Drug War (2006 - 2012) alleges that various Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) politicians, the Secretariat of Public Security, and the Justice Department were colluding to provide protection for the several factions of the Sinaloa Cartel. Later on in 2013, one of the politicians named, Andres Granier, would be arrested on charges of corruption, money laundering, and embezzlement of public funds.

(2.3) Recruiting 

This narcomanta was hung over a bridge in Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas in April of 2008. 

“The Operations Group Los Zetas wants you, military or ex military. We offer a good salary, food, and will take care of your family. You will no longer be mistreated and will no longer go hungry. We won’t give you Maruchan (packaged noodles) to eat.” 

Photo from Nacion.

This narcomanta from the late 2000s was emblematic of propaganda efforts by Los Zetas which focused on drawing in police officers and members of the Mexican armed forces, many of whom were easily won over by drastically better wages and opportunity for career progression.

(2.4) Introduction 

Cartels will often announce their entry into a plaza through narcomantas. These narcomantas may contain self identification, (EG. “We are CJNG”) warnings for current criminal actors and security forces (EG. “WE ARE COMING FOR ALL THE KIDNAPPERS), establishment of new rules (EG. “Stay inside past 10 PM or be considered an enemy”) Narcomantas announcing introduction can be precursors to violence within the region they are posted in. New criminal groups will have to defeat the defending cartel, often resulting in a bloody turf war. 


July 26, 2020. Calvillo, Aguascalientes. Photo from La Verdad del Centro

(2.5) Help

Help messages are often focused on gaining government attention to a cause. These messages were most commonly employed by various “autodefensas” in Michoacan and other Central Mexican states.

(2.6) Bounties 

Bounties are very rare, but as they have a distinct focus, they merit their own category. There has been only one bounty recorded so far this spring, where a local group called “Independientes Unidos” identified several rivals to the public and offered rewards for information. 

“We are an independant group of drug dealers who have joined together to stand against the filthy Alemanes and Gulf who want to take control of the Capital of San Luis Potosi and the surrounding area. Who ever of ers useful and true information about the location of this trash will get between $50,000 to $500,000 pesos as a reward and as for Alfredo Aleman Narvaez, alias El Comandante Alemán, we want the son of a bitch dead or alive, for being the primary source of all violence in the capital.” 

San Luis Potosi, San Luis Potosi. February 16, 2021. Photo and text from BlogDelNarco.

Notable Narcomantas 

(3.1) Deaths of 3 FGR Agents
At 6 PM on Friday of March 19, 2021, an anonymous phone call led Guanajuato city police to Campuzano, a small remote town in rural Guanajuato. Police officers found the tortured bodies of three FGR (Attorney General’s Office) agents inside an abandoned van. 

Written on the window was “Esto nos pasa por extorsionar”, “This happened to us for extorting”. This event adds to the trend of numerous murders of police officers in the state, only behind Estado de México. Guanajuato is currently caught in the middle of a bloody and divisive war between a local organized crime group, the Cartel Santa Rosa de Lima (CSRL), and two national drug trafficking organizations (DTOs), the Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación (CJNG) and the Sinaloa Cartel (CDS). 

This conflict cost 4,750 lives in 2020, making Guanajuato the most violent state in México.The newcomer in Guanajuato, CJNG, has battled CSRL for control of Guanajuato’s valuable trafficking routes north, as well as the many PEMEX oil pipelines which cross Central México. Image from Proceso.

(3.2) Message to US Att. General William Barr 

“Attorney General of the United States, William Barr and Fiscalia General de la República Alejandro Gertz Manero, Victor Noe Gonzalez Bourns alias “El 500” ever Jose Gonzalez Bournes alias “Pepe Aguila” Jesus Salas alias “El Chuyin” César Manjarrez alias “El H2” and Fredy Calles alias “El Condor” are the intellectual authors of the massacre of the Lebaron family in Sonora. They continue living unbothered by the government, moving around unhindered as businessmen.” (Following part is unclear to me. Translation from Borderland Beat) “They haven’t been apprehended by the authorities because the government doesn’t want to. Or is the bribery that they pay big enough to make you look away?" 

Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua. February 1, 2021. Image from MéxicoWebCast

The Lebaron massacre referenced here was an ambush on a group of US/México citizens from a Mormon community in Chihuahua that left 9 women and children dead and burned in northern México. Traveling in armoured cars, they may have been mistaken for rival cartel members by members of “La Linea”, an armed wing of the Juárez Cartel who fight “Los Salazar” for control of the region.

(3.3) Emergence of New Autodefensa 

“We make a call to the President of Tecamachalco and other authorities from all different levels of government, that we the townspeople are tired of the robbery, we suffer daily extortion and murders, and inefficiencies of the police bodies (Guardia Nacional, State, and Municipal) we have united to end the vices in this area. 

Cordially, Ciudadanos Unidos de Tecamachalco We are not criminals, we are working people, but the rats and authorities have pushed our movement to this.” 

Tecamachalco, Puebla. January 16, 2021. Photo and reporting from MéxicoCodigoRojo

Photos of a heavily armed group called the “Ciudadanos Unidos de Tecamachalco” circulated online in early January of 2021. They claim to be an autodefensa fighting against crime in their hometown, which is located within the "Red Triangle" of huachicol, a hot spot of PEMEX fuel theft in Central México. 

The government of Puebla responded and ordered that they stand down, denouncing the illegal carrying of firearms by non-state actors, and affirmed that law enforcement is handling crime in the region. Luis Miguel Barbosa Huerta, the governor of Puebla stated that these autodefensas are nothing more than criminals who will soon be identified. 

Trends and Analysis  

(4.1) Narcomanta Distribution by State 

Not graphed: 3 narcomantas each in Chihuahua, Ciudad de México, Guerrero, Jalisco, Puebla. 2 narcomantas each in México, Sinaloa, Sonora. 1 narcomanta each in Coahuila, Nuevo León, Oaxaca, Tamaulipas, Zacatecas. 

Narcomanta distribution by state was heavily weighted towards regions known to be contested by different cartels such as Tijuana, Guanajuato, or Tabasco. Some surprising regions which placed high were Quintana Roo and Veracruz, where much of the fighting takes place between smaller local groups. 

Source: Narcomappingmx Narcomantas Data Set 1/1 - 3/31 

(4.2) Narcomanta Distribution by Group 

Source: Narcomappingmx Narcomantas Data Set 1/1 - 3/31 

Of 117 recorded narcomantas, 56 were either left without an attribution, or were censored by the local authorities or press. These are categorized as “Unknown”. Of the 61 narcomantas that were signed by an entity, the Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación recorded the most with 13, followed by La Barredora (6), Cartel del Noroeste (4), Cártel de Sinaloa (3), and Carteles Unidos (3). “Mera Verga” also was recorded 3 times, but is not considered a group, but rather a common phrase used by several groups or leaders. 

The following 6 groups had 2 narcomantas recorded. C#01 Y C#07, Cartel del Golfo, Ciudadanos Unidos de Tecamachalco, Miauuuuu, Pueblos Unidos de Veracruz, R 15 

The following 20 groups had 1 narcomanta recorded. Autodefensas Michoacán, CABO 13 CABO 57 PURA GENTE DEL 100, Cartel de Ensenada, Cartel de la Sierra, Cártel de Tláhuac, Cartel Santa Rosa de Lima, Carteles Independientes, El Aquiles, El Italia & El Bombero, El Patrón, El Pueblo de Cajeme, El Ruche, El Viejon, Gabino Salas, La Sombra, Los Buenos de TKT (Tecate), Los Salazar, Mata Salazar, Pueblos Indígenas de Coahuayana y la Comunidad indigena de San Miguel Aquila, and Los Zetas Vieja Escuela. 

Because organized crime cells can frequently splinter and switch sides, only the name on the narcomanta is recorded, not their otherwise known allegiance at the time.

Some narcomantas were left by factions of larger cartels. Such as the narcomanta left by “Los Salazar” in Mexicali, Baja California on January 1, 2021 (Zeta Tijuana). Because this narcomanta was signed by “Los Salazar”, and not their parent organization the Sinaloa Cartel, it is counted separately from the Sinaloa Cartels total.

Conversely, in the narcomanta below CJNG’s armed wing “Grupo Elite” signs their name alongside their larger group allegiance. This narcomanta is counted as CJNG’s total. (Photo: BlogDelNarco)

(4.3) Narcomanta Distribution by Type 

Source: Narcomappingmx Narcomantas Data Set 1/1 - 3/31

The most common type of narcomanta were those used to threaten other groups, security forces, or civilians. These were used in about every state listed by most groups. This indicates that the primary use of narcomantas is to threaten others. Cartels using narcomantas aim to establish control over a region and populace through fear.

(4.4) Relationship Between Violence and Number of Narcomantas in State

The correlation coefficient between the homicide data and narcomantas data by state was 0.49 - a moderate positive relationship. This is unexpected as narcomantas generally accompany turf wars, which raise the homicide count in a region. A possible explanation is that some states such as Guanajuato (4,940 homicides), have finished major conflict and have entered the purge stage of a turf war - where remaining dealers and rival operatives are hunted down by the victor, with no need for narcomantas to continue claiming control. 

Source: Incidencia Delictiva del Fuero Común 2020

(4.5) Accompaniment of bodies 

Of all 117 narcomantas of all categories, 65 (55.56%) were accompanied by at least one dead body.

This percentage increased considerably with the 63 narcomantas categorized as “Threat”, to 39 (62.9%).

This suggests that groups leaving “Threat” narcomantas utilize bodies as added emphasis to bolster their point. “Help”, “Bounty”, “Recruiting”, and “Accusation” narcomantas rarely were accompanied by bodies, perhaps meaning these would detract from their aim. 

This is especially apparent with “Bounty”, “Recruiting”, and “Help”, which rely on controlling the narrative by appearing as the lesser of two evils to be successful in their messaging.

  Source: Narcomappingmx Narcomantas Data Set 1/1 - 3/31 

(4.6) Narcomantas by Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación (CJNG) 

Source: Narcomappingmx Narcomantas Data Set 1/1 - 3/31

CJNG led the narcomantas count with 13. Four of these were placed in the state of Guanajuato, reflecting the continued turf war with the Cartel Santa Rosa de Lima (CSRL).

In Guanajuato, CJNG narcomantas continue to highlight the ongoing turf war between the CJNG and CSRL, which has resulted in thousands of deaths in the state over the last few years. This conflict appears to be slowing as the leadership structure of the CSRL has been dealt serious blows by Mexican security forces. Despite the de-escalating conflict, the CJNG and CSRL continue to kidnap and kill each other's dealers, leaving “Threat” narcomantas, which appeared in this report's totals.

Three were placed in Morelos, two directed at “Crispin”, which likely refers to Crispín Gaspar Corté, alias “El Crispín”, a leader within the Guerreros Unidos cartel who were allied with the CJNG as of early 2020. 

Photo from Instagram account @narcoguerra_mx.                                           Edgar Núñez Urquiza

The last was directed towards Edgar Núñez Urquiza, an officer with the Fiscalía Anticorrupción Morelos. The narcomanta claimed that he owes the CJNG 300,000 pesos ($17,000 USD). Photo from Instagram account @narcoguerra_mx. Three were placed in Jalisco, two related to conflict with their regional rivals “La Nueva Plaza”. The contents of the third, found at a mass body dump, were not released to the public.

(4.7) Use of Help Narcomantas by Autodefensas 

Narcomantas used to request government help were exclusively used by groups identifying as autodefensas. These groups were the Pueblos Indígenas de Coahuayana y la Comunidad indigena de San Miguel Aquila, Autodefensas Michoacan, Ciudadanos Unidos de Tecamachalco, Pueblos Unidos de Veracruz. 

Coahuayana, Michoacan. Pueblos Indigenas de Coahuayana y la Comunidad indigena de san Miguel Aquila. 1/15/2021 From El Salvador.

Ciudad Isla, Veracruz. Pueblos Unidos de Veracruz.

These appeared within the same month with similar messages - indicating a possible new multi group coalition, perhaps similar to the anti Zeta alliance in Central México in 2010.

Source: Spring Report - Narcomappingmx