Cartel Corner #83: Acapulco Turned Into “Gurrero’s Iraq” By Drug Cartels


The idyllic Pacific coast town of Acapulco in Mexico’s Guerrero state once welcomed Hollywood stars and honeymooners, but the city has suffered a wave of bloody violence in recent years, as cartels and criminal groups battle for control.

Since 2012, Acapulco, which has been called “Guerrero’s Iraq,” has been the most violent city in Mexico, and among the most violent cities in the world, with homicide rates above 100 per 100,000 people each year.

In 2015, Acapulco, home to about 800,000 people, saw 1,170 killings. In the first three months of this year, there were 205 homicides — in March alone, thecity had 98 of Guerrero’s 182 homicides.

These numbers are down from violent peaks reached in 2012 — the city had about 100 homicides a month that year — but the intensity of the bloodshed stands out, and appears to be closely linked to the fragmentation of Mexico’s criminal organizations.

“Violence in the southwest coastal area is the result of the some of the shifting cartel dynamics that we’ve seen among the major players … dating back four or five years … when we saw the takedown of the major figures of the Beltran Leyva Organization,” David Shirk, professor at the University of Sand Diego, told Business Insider.

The Beltran Leyva Organization, or BLO, partnered with “El Chapo” Guzmán’s Sinaloa cartel and controlled parts of central and southwestern Mexico. In the late 2000s, the BLO started fighting with the Sinaloa cartel and faced increased pressure from the Mexican government.

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Cartel Corner#79: Oil Pipeline Theft By Drug Cartels On the Rise

Gas Theft

Pipeline theft in Mexico rose 52% in 2015, according to an Associated Press report.

The spike came after a43.7% annual increase in 2014, according to asustainability report by Pemex, Mexico’s state-owned oil company.

And while the northeast section of the country — the site of competition between the vicious Zetas and Gulf cartels — was believed to have the most theft, research by El Daily Post indicates that pipelines in central Mexico saw even more theft in recent years.

“Clearly, both Pemex and the federal government need to keep up the efforts to mitigate the infrastructure’s vulnerability and strengthen the security forces’ capabilities,” El Daily Post’s Dwight Dyer writes.

Data on oil losses given to El Daily Post by the Mexican government earlier this year revealed that a pipeline running through Zetas territory had lost 3.86 million barrels of oil between 2009 and 2015. Circumstantial evidence suggests that much of the oil was likely lost to criminal activity.

Documents released by the Mexican government in early 2014 revealed that oil theft affected every Mexican state, with Los Zetas territory in Tamaulipas and Veracruz states experiencing the most rapid growth.

In Tamaulipas state, in northeast Mexico close to Gulf of Mexico oil production, authorities “found that a cell of the deadly Zetas gang was organizing oil robbery and transporting the crude into Texas,” journalist Ioan Grillo reported in 2011.

A new batch of data given to El Daily Post by the government, however,shows that over the same period losses at a pipeline running from a refinery in Salamanca, Guanajuato, to a storage facility in Guadalajara reached 5.6 million barrels — 45% more than what was lost at the pipeline cutting through Zetas territory, says Dyer.

Mexico oil pipeline

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Cartel Corner #66: Drug Cartels Are Taking over the Mexican Tortilla Biz


Samuel ran down the steep dirt track lined with blue and pink houses desperate to escape. The 20-year-old took long strides and ran from one side to the other in a zigzag. He begged for someone to open the door of a house so he could hide, but nobody did. That mid-morning, the poor and violent neighborhood of La Laja in the Mexican resort city of Acapulco seemed suddenly deserted.

A few moments before, three gunmen had burst into a tortilla shop called Los Mangos, where Samuel worked, and started shooting. His only co-worker, Rodolfo, had also escaped those first bullets. But, as Rodolfo fled to the roof he was shot in the back. He fell from the first floor to the ground, dead. His corpse lay at the entrance to the business.

Samuel knew he was the next target as he hurtled down the track. One of the gunmen who looked about the same age as him, took aim and fired his 9mm pistol, but he missed.

This allowed Samuel to reach the tarmac and the possibility of reaching the corner and into an alley that would have taken him out of sight of the hitman. He was within 10 yards of the turn when the bullet pierced his skull and he collapsed to the ground.

The gunmen, thinking their job was done, left.

But Samuel was still alive. When police arrived half an hour later, he was lying on his back spitting blood and begging not to be left to die. “Hold on, chavo! The Red Cross is on its way,” one of the officers told him. “Do not fall asleep.”

Samuel Sotelo Jurado died in the hospital a few hours later. It was January 7, 2016.

This reconstruction of Samuel’s murder draws from witness accounts told to VICE News a month after the event. The Los Mangos tortilla shop, and its red door, have been closed since the shooting. Some old wooden boards are stained with what looks like blood. A small burnt wallet lies on the counter. There is nothing else to indicate that two young men were killed there a month ago, other than the fear that hangs in the air.

The deaths at Los Mangos are just two of many associated with a drug cartel war on the tortilla industry in the southern state of Guerrero — where dozens of criminal groups fight for control of opium poppy plantations in the mountains, and drug shipment and distribution spots in the cities. Three days before, two other tortilla workers were killed in Cañada de los Amates, another Acapulco neighborhood. Two more were murdered on the same day in the Loma Bonita area.

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Cartel Corner #56: The True-Crime Story of Monica Velasco

Truth is Stranger than Fiction when it comes to the Drug War. When you read stories like this you realize how DEEP the Drug Trade has it’s tentacles into Society. How many seemingly legitimate people in your community are involved in the drug trade in some respect? In this case, an Elementary school teacher. -SF

Monica Velasco Texas

After Monica Velasco went on the run from the law, parents of her students at Thomas Manor Elementary School in El Paso, Texas told investigators that the unassuming 42-year-old brunette was one of best teachers their children ever had.

She used to return home in the evenings to a spacious $400,000 house on the west side of El Paso. But on January 25, officials say she escaped out the back door of a dingy, one-story redbrick safe house minutes ahead of the US Marshals Service’s Lone Star Fugitive Task Force.

Authorities are seeking Velasco on charges that she allegedly managed the finances and transferred property for her family’s violent drug trafficking operation, which prosecutors say smuggled “huge quantities” of marijuana into the US, kidnapped victims for ransom, including children, and ripped off rival traffickers to sell their stolen drugs, among other offenses.

“She was living a double life,” Deputy US Marshal Scott Williams told VICE News. “I’ve talked to people who had kids in her class who said, ‘She was my favorite teacher, she was so nice.'”

Monica’s brother is 29-year-old alleged crime boss Emmanuel “Richie” Velasco Gurrola, whom prosecutors say headed his family’s lucrative operations in narcotics, car theft, money laundering, extortion, and kidnapping, with a reach that stretched from Ciudad Juárez in Mexico to the Carolinas.

Headquartered in El Paso, the group allegedly had significant ventures in Las Vegas and New Mexico, as well as a drug distribution network in Dallas.

Details of the group’s operations were laid out in a racketeering indictment against Emmanuel, Monica, their brother Samuel Velasco Gurrola — a 40-year-old whom prosecutors have identified as the “co-leader” of the family business — their sister Dalia Valencia, and other associates that was filed in the US District Court for the Western District of Texas on October 28. The siblings have pleaded not guilty to all charges.

The document was unsealed last month, a few months after Monica quit her job at Thomas Manor Elementary and quietly disappeared.

The Velasco Criminal Enterprise

Prosecutors refer to the gang as the “Velasco Criminal Enterprise,” or VCE, and allege that it trafficked hundreds of kilograms of marijuana, as well as other drugs like cocaine, into the United States.

Monica and Dalia, 43, were “primarily in charge of handling and storing VCE’s money,” according to the indictment. Members of VCE would meet with Monica to deliver or pick up drug proceeds, and she rented vehicles for VCE members to use.

In 2014, the schoolteacher once received a Cadillac Escalade SUV as payment for a kilogram of cocaine and passed the car on to Emmanuel, the document says.

At the time, Monica appeared to be living a quiet life, with no husband, boyfriend, or children of her own. Deputy Marshal Williams said that she forged fond attachments to her students.

“It seems like she was real involved in the school,” he remarked of her 14-year tenure. “She loved her kids.”

But she carried multiple cellphones, including disposable “burner” phones, to communicate with her family.

“She and her mom had specific phones to talk to each other. She had other phones just to talk to her brothers,” Williams said. “Normal people don’t do that sort thing.”

Prosecutors charge that the group routinely engaged in violence, including threats against its own members to keep them in line. Members of a kidnapping team operating in Juárez killed two of their own in an April 2009 incident, the indictment says, though it didn’t explain why.

From 2009 to 2013, prosecutors allege that Emmanuel, Samuel, and Dalia planned and executed a wave of “extortion and kidnapping” in the US and Mexico, targeting “local business owners, medical professionals, students, and children.”

VCE’s kidnapping operation was allegedly organized into teams, with different groups to identify victims, provide intelligence on their daily schedule, acquire weapons, stage the abduction, and negotiate a ransom. Dalia would “provide names of possible victims to kidnap,” the indictment says, while Emmanuel and Samuel would personally call the victim’s family to negotiate.

Another of the group’s alleged activities was to “rip off or steal drug loads from sources of supply or competing drug trafficking organizations and then sell those stolen drugs for profit.”

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Cartel Corner #39: Sinaloa Cartel Boss’ nephews Murder could spark more Narco Violence


Although details on the killing of a power drug capo’s nephew are still scarce, there is reason to believe the murder foreshadows a conflict for Mexico’s mighty Sinaloa Cartel.

In the city of Culiacan, within the Sinaloa Cartel’s stronghold of Sinaloa state, a truck full of unidentified assailants reportedly opened fire on another truck full of men.

As a result, Jose Vicente Zambada Reyes and two other men were killed, while another was injured, reported Proceso.

The 28-year-old Zambada was the nephew of Sinaloa Cartel faction leader Ismael Zambada Garcia, alias “El Mayo.”

The Sinaloa Cartel is arguably Mexico’s most powerful drug trafficking organization, whose infamous leader Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman escaped from prison earlier this year.


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