Last week, I posted two lengthy articles on MS-13: one looking at the present day and another at the gang’s history.

Two other articles about them intrigued me, summarised below. Emphases mine.

Ingenious Honduran structure

I mentioned on Friday that MS-13 became established in Honduras when illegals who were part of the gang in the United States were deported during the 1990s — the Clinton years.

The Honduran MS-13 structure has become highly sophisticated since then. In May 2016, InSight Crime published an article, ‘Is Honduras’ MS13 a Drug Trafficking Organization? An Obscure Fugitive May Have the Answer’.

The ‘obscure fugitive’ is one David Elías Campbell, who is also known as ‘Viejo’ or ‘Viejo Dan,’ and, by a leader of MS-13 in San Pedro Sula, as ‘Tío Sam’.

San Pedro Sula is the second largest city in Honduras. The MS-13 operation there is quickly integrating itself into society.

In 2013, using gang money from extortion, drug dealing and hired assassinations, Campbell started a trucking company, Delca, which has a fleet of heavy goods vehicles equipped to haul fertiliser, large shipments of which could hide drugs.

Campbell has made trips to the United States, Panama and Colombia. When Honduran police arrested him as part of their Project Avalanche, he managed to escape:

Their allies included former and current high-level members of the policeCampbell escaped, reportedly with the help of a police commander, who goes by the alias “Monga.”

MS-13 also bankrolls local politicians with the hope of seeing them get elected at national level:

The MS13 also sought political cover and a means to assert influence over the national government. The group allegedly financed the campaign of Jorge Neftalí Romero Mejía, the mayor of Talanga, a municipality near the capital, La Tribuna reported. Investigators told InSight Crime the gang’s long-term plan was to see their mayor take a seat in congress.

MS-13 donates to the city:

The relationship continued after the elections. Authorities played for InSight Crime telephone intercepts of conversations between Porky [Alexander Mendoza, a top MS13 leader in San Pedro Sula] and the mayor discussing, among other things, a tractor the MS13 was giving to the municipality.

MS-13 also owns a hospital!

They have become financially sophisticated at money laundering and diversion:

the MS13 created a more sophisticated financial wing, Honduras authorities say, included a gang member with a Master’s in finance. They managed a large list of employees, and even paid out Christmas bonuses to members and collaborators such as the police. They bought properties, moved into new residences and became leaders in the transport industry, paying more money to their drivers than rival companies, the Honduras investigators said.

“They had the best drivers,” one investigator told InSight Crime.

The Honduran MS-13 works closely with the one in El Salvador, including with any leaders currently in jail.

Gang leaders have made it tricky for investigators to unravel who is in charge of the Honduran operation. Alexander ‘Porky’ Mendoza directed authorities to Campbell, but other investigators say there is no proof Campbell is an MS-13 member. (He became involved with them during his youth as a small time drug dealer.) Furthermore, telephone intercepts reveal that Porky is the real leader.

It is possible that MS-13 operates a type of honorary membership system, because the gang in El Salvador designated three new members in 2015 who are clearly too old to go through the rigours of what the normal MS-13 members have to in order to be initiated: murder and the 13-second beatdown, which I mentioned on Friday.

Whatever the story is with Campbell, he is well placed to take the Honduran MS-13 into:

the world of transnational criminal organizations … His movements, supposed efforts to contact large-scale wholesalers in Colombia, and his trucking company suggest that he has the infrastructure and wherewithal that has been missing in the gangs to make this leap.

Imagine. MS-13 could be transporting drugs and other items all over North and South America.

MS-13 in North Dakota

In 2015, the Los Angeles Times published an article — ‘Drug explosion follows oil boom on North Dakota Indian reservation’ — concerning the tribes that comprise MHA Nation: the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara.

MHA Nation is a huge reservation that is three times the size of Los Angeles. Because it has traditionally been a low crime area, it had only 20 law enforcement officials and a handful of investigators. There are approximately 4,000 Native Americans living there, but with the oil boom, thousands of outsiders, too.

The Bakken Oil Fields have brought prosperity not only to North Dakota but especially to MHA Nation. Individuals and families receive royalty cheques that oil companies pay them for use of the land they have inherited. The royalty amounts vary, but can be as much as tens of thousands of dollars a month, the LA Times says. Unfortunately, enough younger tribal members are using the money to buy meth and other drugs, making narcotics a lucrative operation.

Authorities found heroin on the reservation for the first time in 2012. In 2013, MHA Nation flew in Guatemalan gang experts who taught them how to identify members of MS-13! This is incredible not only for the reservation but also the quiet, rural, truly Midwestern state of North Dakota:

One of the experts, Francisco Foppa, said he noticed MS-13 tattoos on people in a Wal-Mart in Minot and the 4 Bears Casino and Lodge at the MHA Nation’s capital in New Town. “It was alarming to see people with those tattoos on the reservation,” he said.

Authorities have not arrested any MS-13 kingpins, but the gang’s presence is palpable and many speak about it in whispers.

MS-13 is strong enough and scary enough that I question whether I should speak out at all,” said a former tribal leader who requested anonymity out of fear of reprisal. “They’re vicious. Just like any ripe feeding ground, they have competition, but obviously they are the big bad wolf. They are the ones that are the most terrifying.”

The rot spread to Montana, North Dakota’s neighbour. Residents in Roosevelt County had just passed a bond enabling the increase of jail space.

An FBI initiative, Operation Winter’s End, resulted in arrests and indictments in 2013. It established that the drug dealers had ties to Mexican gangs. Still, the problem persists.

On March 5, 2015, the FBI opened its fifth agency in the state:

Special Agent in Charge Thornton states, “The office in Williston is a welcomed addition to our presence in North Dakota. The opening of this office is in response to the unprecedented growth in population and economic activity associated with the oil exploration and production in the Bakken region and the corresponding increase in criminal activity. The FBI will be in a better position to effectively address these issues in this region of North Dakota through this new office. We look forward to continuing our collaborative efforts with our local law enforcement partners in the region through this permanent presence.”

I knew North Dakota well at one time, and all of this is just unthinkable. I am not alone. The LA Times reports:

Mary Eleanor Fox, a 66-year-old silver-haired matriarch of a large family, said she never thought she’d see the day most of her grandchildren would be addicted to the sort of drugs she’d once only heard about “in the big cities.”

Sadly, some babies are born addicts. Mrs Fox’s family has experienced the tragic phenomenon:

Her daughter, Jackie Powell, a robust 47-year-old with a quick smile, was forced to quit her job and become a full-time mom to her two grandsons — ages 1 and 2 — who were born addicted to methamphetamine.

Their father, Powell’s son Mason Fox, struggles with his meth addiction. Their mothers grapple with the same. Amelia Reed, mother to the youngest, first tried meth nearly five years ago and says she’s addicted to “the devil’s drug.”

“Now my first son was born with it,” Reed said. “I was pregnant and selfish and wouldn’t stop doing it.”

Reed receives oil royalty money from land she inherited on the reservation, and says the monthly checks made it easy for her to drop at least $400 a month for her habit.

An article dated March 25, 2016 from the Montana paper, Havre Daily News, ‘Mexican drug cartels hit north-central Montana’, says:

International crime cartels are selling hard drugs along the Hi-Line and the FBI has confirmed the Mexican border is the most “prevalent route” by which drugs are arriving in the U.S. and, consequently, into Montana.

An agent with the Tri-Agency Safe Trails Task Force, who prefers not to be identified by name, said cartel members have been selling methamphetamine, heroin and opioid pills along the Hi-Line since before the Bakken oil boom started in 2007. But the flood of people and high oil wages opened the floodgates of drugs and outside dealers. The drugs have spilled out of the Bakken, down the Hi-Line and into Hill County.

A local, who has spent time around drug dealers and who asked not be identified, talked about a methamphetamine dealer in Havre.

The Havre dealer met regularly in eastern Montana with a cartel member to buy meth that would be sold along the Hi-Line, the person said. The out-of-town gang member who was selling meth to the local dealer, according to the testimony, was short in stature, spoke “little English” and had a tattoo of the number 13 on his face

One possibility is the gang MS-13

But there are other Sureños gangs that sport the number 13 in homage to the Mexican Mafia, La Eme (The M):

Another possibility for which cartel the out-of-town drug dealer belonged to is the South Side Sureños …

Whichever cartel the drug dealer was from, he wanted to make sure the Havre dealer and their partner was trustworthy. He made a reference to decapitation if they weren’t, the person said.

This is a huge problem for what was a law-abiding region of the United States:

The Montana National Guard Counterdrug Program will receive a 60 percent funding hike, according to a press release issued last week by Sen. Jon Tester’s office.

The increase is partly in response to pressure from Tester to National Guard Bureau Chief General Frank Grass to help fight “organized and transnational drug trafficking and smuggling” in the Bakken region.

By the time Tester had written Grass about allocating money to fight the increased crime in the region — Tester tells Grass that “arrests in all crime categories in Bakken counties increased by 80 percent”— he had long known how dire the situation in Montana is.

Montana authorities have identified the big players there as being from the Sinaloa Cartel. That said, overall:

A local Task Force agent confirmed that cartel members have gone beyond the Bakken and landed in Hill County. He added that they are anything but inconspicuous.

“They come to this area and they’re a big fish in a little pond and they stick out,” he said.

He said cartel members “target” the Indian reservations.

“I don’t know why that is,but it may have something to do with the drug transportation pipeline,” the agent said. “One of our main pipelines here is the Yakima. We just had a big case that we took down and one of those guys was part of the cartel. He was an illegal immigrant” …

The folks who want to do harm to this country will go to the weakest link in the chain, and if the weakest link in the chain is north of Havre or north of Plentywood or north of Bismarck, North Dakota, or wherever, that’s where they will go,” Tester said.

Senator Tester thought that border security was essential to put a stop to this:

Tester said Tuesday during an interview at Fort Belknap Indian Reservation that he knows how important border security is. That’s why he’s against reducing border patrol agents by 300 as President Obama’s 2017 budget would do

“All I know is that if they’re replacing people with technology on homeland security, we need to see that plan. … I’m not opposed to having the best technology on the northern border if it saves money. In fact, I encourage them to do that. But that’s not the story I heard. The story I heard is they are reducing the people and the equipment isn’t anything more than what they would do under normal budget circumstances,” Tester said.

Tester’s office said the senator “would like to see increased security along the southern border,” adding that that is the reason he voted for the bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform bill that provided for increased border security. The bill made it past the Senate but was never taken up in the House of Representatives, the statement said.

If President Donald Trump had explained his rationale for ‘the wall’ using these types of examples during his 2016 campaign, more people would have got on board with it. That was the one sticking point I had with it.

Having done my reading for these posts, I now think it’s a good idea.

Trump is now explaining it better:

However, ports will also have to be better secured, as a result.

When it comes to gangs: where there’s a will, there’s a way.

Tomorrow: Big Pharma makes big money from illicit drug addiction

Advertisements