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Texas in the 2017 DEA National Drug Threat Assessment

A few weeks ago, the Drug Enforcement Administration released its annual drug crime report, entitled the 2017 National Drug Threat Assessment.  It’s published as the government’s latest “…comprehensive strategic assessment of threats posed to our communities by transnational criminal organizations and the illicit drugs they distribute throughout the United States.”  (Report, page 7.)

2017 DEA National Drug Threat Assessment Report Now Available

Or, it’s the Justice Department’s latest take on Drug Cartel operations in Texas and the rest of the country.   It contains information from the federal agencies as well as local police departments, the Border Patrol, state agencies (like the Texas Rangers) and more.  It’s intended to be used not only by lawmakers in making policy but also for law enforcement in their assessment of priorities for their officers and agents on how best to allocate their money and time.  (Report, page 7.)

So, the North Texas police departments, sheriff’s offices, state troopers and all those federal agents from the FBI, DEA, INS, Homeland, and more will be reading this thing.  They will be using it to decide who to investigate and where to focus their efforts for big drug arrests. 

You can read the complete 182-page DEA National Drug Threat Assessment report online at the DEA web site.


Focus of the DEA Drug Crime Report: Players, Products, Process

The Drug Report discusses all sorts of factors that are involved in any criminal investigation by either the federal, state, or local authorities.

  • There are the players: the organizations that are operating profitable and illegal businesses.
  • There are the products that they are manufacturing, marketing, distributing, and selling here in Texas (and the rest of the country).
  • And there is the process used by these unlawful business operations: things like wire fraud, mail fraud, and money laundering (which are collectively considered as “illicit financing.”)

The Players: Drug Cartels and Gangs

First, it’s no surprise that the Drug Cartels are the primary concern of the Justice Department.  They’re collectively labelled “Transnational Criminal Organizations” (“TCOs”) and divided into groups:  (1) Mexican; (2) Columbian; (3) Dominican; (4) Asian.

What about gangs?  They’re included, too.  But they are considered separately from the big cartel organizations.  Gangs are defined into different categories.  There are (1) street gangs; (2) outlaw motorcycle gangs; (3) prison gangs.

The Products: Prescription Drugs, Heroin, Fentanyl, and More

Second, there are the products that are bringing in all these drug profits to the drug cartels and gangs.  These are drugs that are well-known as well as newbies to the marketplace that are growing in popularity here in Texas.

From the report, the targeted illegal drugs are:

  • Controlled Prescription Drugs
  • Heroin
  • Fentanyl
  • Synthetic Opioids
  • Methamphetamine
  • Cocaine
  • Marijuana
  • New Psychoactive Substances (NPS).

The Process: How the Money Is Made

Everything involved in these drug operations is against the law.  That means not only the drugs as they are made, distributed, and sold but the money that results from the business operations.  Buying the illegal drugs is against the law.  So is everything else: transporting the cash, holding the money, using it, or depositing it in bank accounts.

This year, the DEA Report focuses upon four geographical areas for the “illicit finance” of drug cartel and gang profits:

  • Puerto Rico
  • US Virgin Islands
  • Guam
  • Tribal Lands.

Texas in the DEA Crime Report

No surprise: Texas is a big deal in the illegal drug business.  In the DEA National Drug Threat Assessment, the Lone Star State is discussed as a major concern for law enforcement for reasons that include:

Drug Cartels Doing Business in Texas

Sinaloa Cartel Operations (Report page 2): According to the DEA, “illicit drugs distributed by the Sinaloa Cartel are primarily smuggled into the United States through crossing points located along Mexico’s border with California, Arizona, New Mexico, and West Texas.

Juarez Cartel Operations (Report page 3): The federal authorities view the Juarez Cartel as “one of the older and more traditional Mexican TCOs. The Mexican State of Chihuahua, south of west Texas and New Mexico, represents the traditional area of operation of the Juarez Cartel.”  The Juarez Cartel “… continues to impact United States drug consumer markets primarily in El Paso …. and smuggles multi-hundred kilogram quantities of cocaine and multi-ton quantities of marijuana monthly through the El Paso/Juarez area … and east to Ojinaga (south of Presidio, Texas).”

Gulf Cartel Operations (Report page 4):  The Justice Department views the Gulf Cartel as “another long-standing Mexican TCO that has been in operation for numerous decades.”  It’s a big player in South Texas.  The Gulf Cartel “…smuggles a majority of its drug shipments into South Texas through the border region between the Rio Grande Valley and South Padre Island. The Gulf Cartel holds key distribution hubs in Houston….”  One member of the Gulf Cartel “…coordinates a weekly shipment of 100 kilograms of cocaine through the Rio Grande Valley to Houston, Texas where a relative of the member, acting in a cell head capacity, assumes responsibility of its distribution.”

Los Zetas Cartel Operations (Report page 4):  The DEA recognizes the Los Zetas Cartel as an off-shoot of the Gulf Cartel, divided into the Northeast Cartel (Cartel del Noreste, or CDN) and the Old School Zetas (Escuela Vieja or EV).  The Los Zetas Cartel smuggles “…the majority of their illicit drugs through the border area between Del Rio and Falcon Lake, Texas, with a base of power in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico.  Its operations involve “…cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, and marijuana through distribution hubs in Laredo, Dallas.…”

Gangs Working in the Drug Business with the Cartels

The federal agencies recognize that the Mexican Drug Cartels make deals with local gangs to facilitate things.  Referencing the 2017 Texas Public Safety Threat Overview, the DEA’s biggest concern insofar as gangs working with the Drug Cartels are the “top Texas “Tier 1” gangs Tango Blast and Tango cliques; Latin Kings; Texas Mexican Mafia; and MS-13. These gangs “pose the greatest threat due to their relationships with Mexican TCOs, high levels of transnational criminal activity, high levels of violence, and overall statewide presence.” (Report, page 21).

The report discusses:

  • South Texas Gang and Gulf Cartel (Report page 5): “A local street gang in South Texas collaborated with high-ranking members of the Gulf Cartel to distribute illegal drugs and carry out acts of violence against cartel targets throughout the United States.”
  • Rio Grande Valley’s Tri-City Bombers (Report pages 18-19): “In August 2016, DEA reporting indicated several members of the Tri-City Bombers (TCB), a street gang based in the Rio Grande Valley, Texas, were arrested for the transportation of cocaine and crystal methamphetamine. The TCB, one of the most active gangs in the southern counties of Texas, has been known to work with the Gulf Cartel to establish and secure distribution networks in numerous states outside of Texas.”
  • Texas Mexican Mafia (Report page 20): “In April 2016, 19 members of the violent Texas Mexican Mafia (TMM) gang were arrested in a law enforcement raid. The TMM is known for trafficking narcotics from Austin to Houston and is believed to have ties inside the Texas prison system. Charges against the subjects include conspiring to deal drugs, ordering assassination contracts, prostitution, robbery, and firearms charges.”

Violence and Assassinations

The Drug Cartels are targeted not only for the drug operations themselves, but for the associated violence that sometimes results from the cartel business dealings.  An example from Texas:

Assassination of Defense Attorney for Gulf Cartel Leader (report page 7): “In 2016, three men were convicted and sentenced for their role in the May 2013 homicide of Juan Guerrero-Chapa, an attorney for Osiel Cardenas-Guillen, the former Gulf Cartel leader currently incarcerated in the United States. According to prosecutors, the three men of Mexican origin, acted on instructions from a Mexican TCO leader in Nuevo Leon, Mexico, to identify the whereabouts of Guerrero-Chapa in a suburb of Dallas, Texas, and to direct unidentified hit-men (sent from Mexico) to carry out the murder.“

What Does This Mean for Criminal Defense in North Texas?

Even a cursory review of the new DEA Report shows the focus of federal authorities to activities in the State of Texas.  The Justice Department’s concern over the opioid crisis and the number of overdose deaths is fueling law enforcement action here in North Texas and throughout the state.

We can expect lots of local, state, and federal investigations, arrests, charges, and prosecutions of individuals that law enforcement suspects or believes to be involved with either gang activity or drug cartel business operations.  Anyone remotely connected to these drug operations should expect an increased interest by the government. 


For more information, check out our web resources, read Michael Lowe’s Case Results, and read his in-depth articles,” Pre-Arrest Criminal Investigations.” and “TOP 10 THINGS TO KNOW WHEN DEFENDING TEXAS CHARGES OF MANUFACTURE OR DELIVERY OF AN ILLEGAL SUBSTANCE.”







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