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Phoenix and Tucson Market Areas

Two major drug market areas exist in the Arizona HIDTA region--the Phoenix and Tucson metropolitan areas; both serve as transshipment centers for cocaine, heroin, marijuana, and methamphetamine smuggled into the United States from Mexico and are the most noteworthy areas of illicit drug trafficking and abuse in the HIDTA region.



Phoenix, the state capital and county seat of Maricopa County, is a regional- and national-level transportation and distribution center for methamphetamine and marijuana and a regional distribution center for cocaine and MBT. The area's well-developed highway system facilitates the shipment of illicit drugs from Mexico to Phoenix for local distribution and transshipment to drug markets throughout the country, including Atlanta, Georgia; Columbia, South Carolina; Columbus, Ohio; Denver, Colorado; Las Vegas, Nevada; Nashville, Tennessee; and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.


Limited drug production occurs in the Phoenix metropolitan area; small powder methamphetamine laboratories and cannabis cultivation sites are occasionally seized by law enforcement, and the number of seized methamphetamine laboratories has decreased over the past 5 years, but trended slightly upward from 2007 to 2009 (see Table 8). Most laboratories seized were capable of producing less than 1 pound of low-quality methamphetamine per production cycle; the methamphetamine produced at these laboratories was intended for personal use or very limited, local distribution, according to law enforcement officials.

Table 8. Methamphetamine Laboratories Seized in the Phoenix Drug Market Area, Fiscal Year 2004-2008

Production Capacity 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008
Under 2 ounces 15 10 6 3 1
2-8 ounces 9 8 1 0 4
9 ounces to 1 pound 4 5 0 0 0
2-9 pounds 0 0 1 0 1
10-19 pounds 0 0 0 0 0
Total Laboratories 28 23 8 3 6

Source: El Paso Intelligence Center National Seizure System, data as of January 13, 2009.

Personal use amounts of marijuana are produced by independent cannabis growers and marijuana dealers at a limited number of outdoor and indoor cannabis grow sites throughout the Phoenix area. Law enforcement officials occasionally encounter larger grow operations in the region. For example, in December 2008 members of the Arizona DPS GIITEM served a search warrant on a house in Mesa (a suburb of Phoenix), which resulted in the discovery of one of the largest indoor hydroponic cannabis-growing operations ever seized in Arizona. Officials seized dozens of plants at various stages of growth. Also seized was a box of marijuana bagged for sale. The elaborate grow operation included climate-controlled rooms that featured special lighting and electrical tracks.

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Mexican DTOs and other traffickers operating in the Phoenix metropolitan area primarily transport drugs into Phoenix using private and commercial vehicles such as cars, trucks, and tractor-trailers on heavily traveled roadways, such as I-10 and I-40. However, Mexican DTOs are increasingly using alternate routes and less-traveled roads in an attempt to avoid law enforcement patrols. Moreover, Mexican traffickers smuggling wholesale quantities of marijuana from Sonora into the Arizona HIDTA region through the Tohono O'odham Indian Reservation (see Figure 4 in main Transportation section) typically transport illicit drugs north on US 93 to Phoenix for distribution; they also further transport the drugs to Las Vegas, Nevada, and other market areas throughout the country. (See Figure 3 in main Transportation section.)


Mexican DTOs dominate wholesale drug distribution in and around Phoenix; they supply large quantities of methamphetamine, cocaine, MBT, and marijuana to various street gangs, prison gangs, OMGs, criminal groups, and local independent dealers for retail-level distribution in the Phoenix area. Mexican DTOs also store wholesale quantities of illicit drugs--particularly marijuana and methamphetamine--at stash locations11 in the Phoenix area until the drugs can be repackaged and transshipped to other drug markets.

Gangs in Phoenix, while predominantly involved in retail-level drug distribution, are also involved in wholesale and midlevel drug distribution, primarily marijuana distribution. According to GIITEM, Westside Brown Pride (WSBP) from Phoenix works in conjunction with East Side Torrance (EST) from Douglas, Arizona, to transport wholesale quantities of marijuana from the U.S.-Mexico border to WSBP in Phoenix. WSBP redistributes the marijuana to other gangs within the city. The prison-based gang Arizona New Mexican Mafia and the Tucson street gang Barrio Hollywood also distribute large quantities of marijuana in both Phoenix and Tucson. Various Bloods and Crips sets distribute up to hundred-pound quantities of marijuana throughout the Phoenix area.

Drug-Related Crime

Much of the violent and property crime in Phoenix is drug- and/or gang-related. According to the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office, members of the Arizona New Mexican Mafia are being prosecuted for Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act offenses and on several state homicide charges. Additionally, Phoenix Police Department officials indicted 43 members of Westside City Crips on RICO charges in March 2008. Westside City Crips and other African American street gangs, such as Vista Bloods and Park South Crips, have been involved in an increasing number of home invasion robberies in the Phoenix area over the past year. Moreover, violence among African American street gangs in Phoenix is increasing.

Drug-related kidnappings are being increasingly reported by law enforcement in the Phoenix area. Kidnappings in Phoenix occur at the rate of approximately one per day; 358 drug-related kidnappings were reported in Phoenix in 2007, and 357 were reported in 2008 (year-to-date figure as of December 15, 2008). The actual number of kidnapping incidents may be higher, since such incidents are widely underreported because many victims' families are unwilling to report the crime for fear that the victim will be killed, the kidnappers will retaliate against them, and/or law enforcement will discover the family's own drug trafficking activities. Kidnappings provide a lucrative means for DTOs to raise capital; ransom amounts can range from $50,000 to $1 million.


11. Secured locations often include rented office space, warehouses, houses, and apartments.

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