DEA Congressional Testimony
Note: This document may not reflect changes made in actual delivery.
Chairman Coverdell, members of the Subcommittee: I appreciate the opportunity to appear before the Subcommittee today on the subject of International Organized Crime Syndicates and their Impact on the United States. My comments today will be limited to an objective assessment of the law enforcement issues involving organized crime and drug trafficking problems with specific attention on Mexico and Colombia, and their cooperation with U.S. law enforcement. This hearing is extremely timely, and during my testimony I will provide the subcommittee with a full picture of how organized crime groups from Colombia and Mexico operate and affect so many aspects of life in America today.
It is important to demonstrate at the outset why the threat posed by international drug syndicates is so ominous, and why the United States needs cooperative law enforcement programs in Colombia and Mexico in order to successfully counter the scourge of drugs inside the United States. Our law enforcement efforts must be compatible with the challenge posed by the syndicates, we must be able to attack the command and control functions of the international syndicates which are directing the organized drug trafficking activities in this country.
Many phrases have been used to describe the complex and sophisticated international drug trafficking groups operating out of Colombia and Mexico, and frankly, the somewhat respectable titles of "cartel"or "federation" mask the true identity of these vicious, destructive entities. The Cali organization, and the four largest drug trafficking organizations in Mexico operating out of Juarez, Tijuana, Sonora, and the Gulf region are simply organized crime groups. They are not legitimate businessmen as the word "cartel" implies, nor are they "federated" into a legitimate conglomerate. These syndicate leaders the Rodriguez Orejuela brothers in Colombia to Amado Carrillo-Fuentes, Juan Garcia -Abrego, Miguel Caro-Quintero, and the Arellano-Felix brothers are simply the 1990s versions of the mob leaders U.S. law enforcement has fought since shortly after the turn of this century.
But these organized crime leaders are far more dangerous, far more influential and have a greater impact on our day-to-day lives than did their domestic predecessors. While organized crime in the United States during the 1950s through the 1970s affected certain aspects of American life, its influence pales in comparison to the violence, corruption, and power that todays drug syndicates wield. These individuals, from their headquarters locations, undeniably influence the choices that too many Americans make about where to live, when to venture out of their homes, or where they send their children to school. The drugs and the attendant violence which accompanies the drug trade have reached into every American community and have robbed many Americans of the dreams they once cherished.
Organized crime in the United States was addressed over time, but only after Americans recognized the dangers that organized crime posed to our way of life. But it did not happen overnight. American organized crime was exposed to the light of day systematically, stripping away the pretense that mob leaders were anonymous businessmen. The Appalachan raid of 1957 forced law enforcement to acknowledge that these organized syndicates did indeed exist. As a result, strong measures were taken to go after the top leadership, a strategy used effectively throughout our national campaign against the mob. During the 1960s, Attorney General Bobby Kennedy was unequivocal in his approach to ending the reign of organized crime in America, and consistent law enforcement policies were enacted which resulted in real gains. Today, traditional organized crime, as we knew it in the United States, has been eviscerated, a fragment of what it once was.
At the height of its power, organized crime in this nation was consolidated in the hands of few major families whose key players live in this nation, and were within reach of our criminal justice system. All decisions made by organized crime were made within the United States. Orders were carried out on U.S. soil. While it was not easy to build cases against the mob leaders, law enforcement knew that once a good case was made against a boss, he could be located within the U.S., arrested, and sent to jail.
That is not the case with todays organized criminal groups. They are strong, sophisticated, and destructive organizations operating on a global scale. In places like Cali, Colombia, and Guadalajara, Mexico, even operational decisions are made, such as where to ship cocaine, which cars their workers in the United States should rent, which apartments should be leased, which markings should be on each cocaine package, which contract murders should be ordered, which officials should be bribed, and how much. They are shadowy figures who send thousands of workers into the United States who answer to them via daily faxes, cellular phone, or pagers. Their armies carry out killings within the United Statesone day an outspoken journalist, one day a courier who had lost a load, the next, an innocent bystander caught in the line of fireon orders from the top leadership. These syndicate bosses have at their disposal airplanes, boats, vehicles, radar, communications equipment, and weapons in quantities which rival the capabilities of some legitimate governments. Whereas previous organized crime leaders were millionaires, the Cali drug traffickers and their counterparts from Mexico are billionaires.
It is difficultsometimes nearly impossiblefor U.S. law enforcement to locate and arrest these leaders without the assistance of law enforcement in other countries. Their communications are encrypted and they intimidate, murder or corrupt public officials and law enforcement officers. These sophisticated criminal groups cannot thrive unless law enforcement officials have been paid bribes, and witnesses fear for their lives. Later in my testimony I will discuss some of these problems in greater detail. It is frustrating for all of us in law enforcement that the leaders of these criminal organizations, although well known and indicted repeatedly, have not been located, arrested, or prosecuted.
The international drug syndicates operating in Mexico and those in Colombia are interconnected. We cannot discuss the situation in Mexico today without looking at the evolution of the groups from Colombia how they began, what their status is today, and how the groups from Mexico have learned important lessons from them, thereby becoming major trafficking organizations in their own right.
During the late 1980s the Cali group assumed greater and greater power as their predecessors from the Medellin cartel self-destructed. Where the Medellin cartel was brash and publicly violent in their activities, the criminals, who ran their organization from Cali, labored behind the pretense of legitimacy, by posing as businessmen carrying out their professional obligations. The Cali leaders the Rodriguez Orejuela brothers, Jose Santacruz Londono, Helmer "Pacho" Herrera-Buitrago amassed fortunes and ran their multi-billion dollar cocaine businesses from high-rises and ranches in Colombia. Miguel Rodriguez Orejuela and his associates composed what was, until then, the most powerful international organized crime group in history. They employed 727 aircraft to ferry drugs to Mexico, from where they were smuggled into the United States, and then return to Colombia with the money from U.S. drug sales. Using landing areas in Mexico, they were able to evade U.S. law enforcement officials and make important alliances with transportation and distribution experts in Mexico.
With intense law enforcement pressure focused on the Cali leadership by the brave men and women in the Colombian National Police during 1995 and 1996, all of the top leadership of the Cali syndicate are either in jail, or dead. The fine work done by General Serrano and other CNP officers is a testament to the commitment and dedication of Colombias law enforcement officials in the face of great personal danger, and a government whose leadership is riddled with drug corruption. I have profnd admiration for General Serrano and salute his deep personal commitment to surmounting the grave obstacles in front of the CNP. General Serrano and his men and women are, and will remain, heroes in the war on drugs.
Since the Cali leaders imprisonment, on sentences that in no way matched the severity of their crimes, traffickers from Mexico took on greater prominence. The alliance between the Colombian traffickers and the organizations from Mexico benefited for both sides. Traditionally, the traffickers from Mexico have long been involved in smuggling marijuana, heroin, and cocaine into the United States, and had established solid distribution routes throughout the nation. Because the Cali syndicate was concerned about the security of their loads, they brokered a commercial deal with the traffickers from Mexico, in order to reduce their potential losses.
This agreement entailed the Colombians moving cocaine from the Andean region to the Mexican organizations, who then assumed the responsibility of delivering the cocaine to the United States. Now, trafficking groups from Mexico are routinely paid for their services in multi-ton quantities of cocaine, making them formidable cocaine traffickers in their own right.
About half of the cocaine entering the United States continues to come from Colombia through Mexico and across U.S. border points of entry. Most of the cocaine enters the United States in privately-owned vehicles and commercial trucks. There is new evidence that indicates traffickers in Mexico have gone directly to sources of cocaine in Bolivia and Peru in order to circumvent Colombian middlemen. In addition to the supply of cocaine entering the U.S., trafficking organizations from Mexico are responsible for producing and trafficking thousands of pounds of methamphetamine. They have been major distributors of heroin and marijuana in the U.S. since the 1970s.
The command and control element for an increasingly large portion of the drug distribution in the United States is based in Mexico. These syndicate leaders are well-known to U.S. law enforcement, and most of them have been charged in numerous indictments in the U.S. The leaders of these criminal organizations are living with extraordinary wealth in Mexico, and have so far escaped apprehension by law enforcement. In order to understand the tragic impact these groups have on citizens, families, and neighborhoods, and sometimes entire communities in the U.S., we need to examine, in detail, who they are and how they operate.
THE CARRILLO-FUENTES ORGANIZATION: Amado Carrillo-Fuentes, based in Ciudad Juarez, was known as the "Lord of the Skies" because of his renown in transporting plane loads of cocaine for Colombian traffickers. Amado Carrillo-Fuentes had extensive ties to a number of officials in law enforcement and the military, up to and including the former Commissioner of the now-disbanded INCD (the National Institute to Combat Drugs) General Gutierrez-Rebollo. Before his death, in July 1997, and after the arrest of General Gutierrez-Rebollo in March, Amado Carrillo-Fuentes was under pressure from law enforcement in the U.S. and Mexico. As a consequence, he had made efforts to disguise his appearance through cosmetic surgery and relocate some of his operations to Chile. Amados brother, Vicente, has been indicted in the Western District of Texas for cocaine violations and a warrant was issued for his arrest in late 1993.
The Carrillo-Fuentes organization is based in Juarez, and is associated with the Cali Rodriguez-Orejuela organization and the Ochoa brothers of Medellin. This organization, which is also involved in heroin and marijuana trafficking, handles large cocaine shipments from Colombia. Their regional bases in Guadalajara, Hermosillo, and Torreon serve as storage locations where later, the drugs are moved closer to the border for eventual shipment into the United States. The scope of the Carrillo-Fuentes network is staggering, reportedly forwarding $20-30 million to Colombia for each major operation, and generating tens of millions of dollars in profits per week.
Two major DEA investigations in 1997 demonstrated the impact that the Carrillo-Fuentes cocaine distribution organization has on American citizens. The first investigation showed that just one Juarez-based organized crime cell shipped over 30 tons of cocaine into American communities and returned over $100 million in profits to Mexico in less than two years. Distribution of multi-ton quantities of cocaine, once dominated by the Cali-based drug traffickers, is now controlled from Mexico in cities such as Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Houston, Los Angeles, Phoenix, San Diego, San Francisco, and Seattle. The Carrillo-Fuentes organization is also beginning to make inroads into the distribution of cocaine in the East Coast, particularly New York City, the traditional stronghold of the Cali drug cartel.
A second investigation targeted a Chicago-based transportation and distribution cell of the Carrillo-Fuentes organization. This cell was responsible for the monthly smuggling of at least one and a half tons of cocaine from Mexico to the U.S. The investigation resulted in the arrest of a Mexican distribution cell operating in New York which delivered hundreds of kilograms of cocaine to Dominican and Colombian traffickers in the New York area. The investigation culminated with the seizure of over 1,600 kilograms of cocaine and US $1.3 million from the Mexican organization in New York.
These investigations revealed the manner in which new drug trafficking routes are established by the Carrillo-Fuentes cells in the U.S. This trend is constantly growing and changing. Despite increased intelligence efforts targeting the command and control and identifying the leaders of the Carrillo-Fuentes organization, key lieutenants have not been apprehended in Mexico. For example, Eduardo Gonzalez-Quirarte has been identified as a key manager for the Carrillo-Fuentes organization along the border. He is responsible for arranging shipments of cocaine across the border and ensuring that money is transferred back into Mexico. He has links to the Mexican military and law enforcement officials which make him a significant leader in future Carrillo-Fuentes operations.
Like their Colombian counterparts, the Carillo-Fuentes traffickers use sophisticated technology and counter surveillance methods. The syndicate employs state of the art communications devices to conduct business. We have recently documented attempts by the Carrillo-Fuentes Organization to expand his operations into the lucrative East Coast market that has traditionally been dominated by traffickers from Colombia.
Since Amado Carrillo-Fuentes death in July 1997, a violent power struggle has ensued as rivals and associates sorted out business arrangements and turf in an effort to control the lucrative Juarez smuggling corridor. Another major Mexican trafficking organizationthe Munoz-Talavera organizationis apparently attempting to capitalize on the perceived weakened state of the Amado Carrillo-Fuentes organization. The ensuing power struggle has resulted in nearly 50 drug-related murders in the Juarez area since Amado Carrillo-Fuentes death. Approximately 30 of these murders have occurred in the last 4 months of 1997. The victims of these murders have included four (4) doctors, two (2) Attorneys and one (1) Federal Comandante. The violence associated with these murders was never more apparent than during the gangland style machine-gun shooting at the Max Fin Restaurant in August of 1997. This shooting resulted in the murders of six (6) known drug traffickers and two innocent bystanders.
THE CARO-QUINTERO ORGANIZATION: Miguel Caro-Quinteros organization is based in Sonora, Mexico and focuses its attention on trafficking cocaine and marijuana. Miguel, along with two of his other brothersJorge and Genarorun the organization. Miguel himself was arrested in 1992, and the U.S. and Mexican Governments cooperated in a bilateral prosecution. Unfortunately, that effort was thwarted when Miguel was able to use a combination of threats and bribes to have his charges dismissed by a federal judge in Hermosillo under questionable circumstances. He has operated freely since that time.
The Caro-Quintero organization specializes primarily in the cultivation, production, and distribution of marijuana, a major cash-crop for drug groups from Mexico. Despite its specialization in marijuana cultivation and distribution, like the other major drug organizations in Mexico, this group is polydrug in nature. It also transports and distribute cocaine and methamphetamine.
Caro Quinteros drug-smuggling is based on his capability to coordinate air operations utilizing small single-engine aircraft to transport marijuana and cocaine from the interior of Mexico to the northern state of Sonora, which borders southern Arizona. There is repeated information that indicates a variety of municipal, state, and federal officials in Mexico are bribed to allow Caro Quinteros organization access to airfields throughout the vast desert of Sonora.
Once the narcotics are stored in the northern zone of Sonora, the organization utilizes horses and human backpackers to smuggle multi-ton quantities per month over desolate sections of the international border, spanning from San Luis Rio Colorado, Sonora and Yuma, Arizona in the west to Agua Prieta, Sonora and Douglas, Arizona in the east.
The July 31, 1997 arrest of one of Miguels immediate relatives, identified as Alberto Caro-Quintero, further illustrated this organizations capability to smuggle ton quantities of cocaine. The investigation leading to Albertos arrest in Cancun revealed that he was planning to transport 1,500 kilograms of cocaine from the Gulf coast of Mexico to Sonora for ultimate destination in the United States.
THE ARELLANO-FELIX ORGANIZATION: Based in Tijuana, this organization is one of the most powerful, violent, and aggressive trafficking groups in the world. More than any other major trafficking organization from Mexico, it extends its tentacles directly from high-echelon figures in the law enforcement and judicial systems in Mexico, to street-level individuals in the United States. The Arellano-Felix Organization is responsible for the transportation, importation, and distribution of multi-ton quantities of cocaine and marijuana, as well as large quantities of heroin and methamphetamine, in the United States.
The Arellano-Felix Organization has been responsible for the murder of several Mexican law enforcement officials, journalists, and informants, and for threats directed towards DEA/FBI Agents and a U.S. Prosecutor. They are an extremely powerful and aggressive organization which utilizes San Diego and Tijuana street gangs as assassins and enforcers. They have been known to utilize sophisticated communications equipment, conduct counter-surveillance, and maintain a well-equipped and well-trained security force.
The Arellano-Felix Organization has been traditionally thought to control drug distribution in the western US. Interviews of defendant witnesses reveal that the Arellano-Felix Organization is responsible for the importation and distribution of multiton quantities of cocaine annually to these areas. However, recent DEA investigations have shown that the Arellano-Felix Organization has expanded its sphere of control, and they are now transporting and distributing drugs to trafficking organizations in Chicago, Kentucky, Ohio, and New York.
The Arellano-Felix Organization pays enormous bribes to Mexican Law Enforcement Officials. Witness statements indicate that the Arellano-Felix Organization is paying as much as $1 million every week to federal, state and local officials in Mexico to ensure they will not interfere with the groups drug trafficking activities.
Ramon Eduardo Arellano-Felix, considered the most violent brother, organizes and coordinates protection details over which he exerts absolute control. On September 11, 1997, he was added to the FBIs 10 Most Wanted List. Ramon was indicted in San Diego, California on charges relating to importation and conspiracy to import cocaine and marijuana. A Joint Task Force, composed of the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Federal Bureau of Investigation in San Diego, California, and state and local officers, is continuing its investigation into the Arellano-Felix Organization, including Benjamin Arellano-Felix, Chairman of the Board, for cocaine trafficking. Our goal is to investigate and prosecute the entire Arellano-Felix Organization as a continuing criminal enterprise that has sent multiple tons of cocaine from Mexico into the United States in this decade.
JESUS AMEZCUA: The Amezcua-Contreras brothers, operating out of Guadalajara, Mexico, head a methamphetamine production and trafficking organization with global dimensions. Directed by Jesus Amezcua, and supported by his brothers, Adan and Luis, the Amezcua organization is probably the largest smuggler of ephedrine and clandestine producer of methamphetamine in the world today. Adan was recently arrested in Mexico, but on weapons charges, not drug charges. Jose Osorio-Cabrera, a fugitive from a Los Angeles investigation until his arrest in Bangkok, was a major ephedrine purchaser for the Amezcua organization. The Amezcua organization obtains large quantities of the precursor ephedrine, utilizing contacts in Thailand and India, which they supply to methamphetamine labs in Mexico and the United States.
This organization has placed trusted associates in the United States to move ephedrine to Mexican methamphetamine traffickers operating in the United States. Amezcua-connected groups are now operating in California, Texas, Georgia, Oklahoma, Iowa, Arkansas, and North Carolina.
The Amezcuas involvement in the U.S. methamphetamine trade was exemplified by a recently concluded DEA multi-district wiretap investigation that targeted a significant U.S. methamphetamine organization. The investigation, which concluded in December 1997, proved that the domestic organization had links to the Amezcua-Contreras organization in Mexico. The Amezcua organization supplied the U.S. elements of the organization not only with methamphetamine and precursor chemicals, but also with some of their cocaine. The Amezcuas precursor chemicals came from Colima, Mexico. Associates of the Amezcua organization were also involved in producing methamphetamine in Los Angeles, California.
This investigation resulted in the arrest of 101 defendants, seizure of 133 pounds of methamphetamine, dismantlement of 3 methampheta-mine laboratories, seizure of 90 gallons of methamphetamine solution (converts to 270 - 540 pounds of methamphetamine), 1,100 kilograms of cocaine and assets totaling over US $2.25 million. One of the seized laboratories was operating within 200 yards of a day care center and private school; the other was located almost in the middle of an equestrian center in Acton, California. These laboratories estimated production capabilities exceeded 300 pounds of metham-phetamine. Showing the blatant disregard for public safety of this organization, the individuals responsible for the production and manufacturing of the methamphetamine fled the area, but continued the potentially dangerous cooking process.
Unfortunately, the violence that is an essential part of these ruthless and powerful organizations impacts innocent citizens who live in the Untied States. The traffickers willingness to murder and intimidate witnesses and public officials has allowed these organizations to develop into the present day threat they are to the citizens of the United States and Mexico. Drug traffickers continue their brazen attacks against both U.S. and Mexican law enforcement officials and their sources of information.
Examples of drug-related violence on both sides of the border during 1997 include:
When such violent acts such as these do not result in arrest, conviction and punishment, the impact on the law enforcement community and honest citizens is devastating. Few citizens are willing to cooperate when police comandantes, prosecutors, elected officials, and members of the free press are gunned down in broad daylight. Solving drug assassinations in Mexico will increase the opportunity for successful law enforcement.
The corruption of public officials and law enforcement officials is critical to the power of organized crime. The criminal organizations based in Mexico have placed a major emphasis on the corruption
of public officials and have demonstrated an ability to corrupt officials serving in high level positions in both law enforcement and the military. Drug-related corruption is probably the single greatest obstacle that law enforcement faces in its global battle against international drug trafficking. President Zedillo has called this the number one threat to Mexican National secutiry and recently announced a national initiative to fight crime, violence, and corruption.
The following cases indicate how far these crime lords will go to corrupt public officials so that they can continue their trade.
In order to overcome the problem of widespread corruption in law enforcement, the Mexican Government replaced civilian authorities with military officers. Recent experience has shown that military officers, once exposed to the extraordinary opportunities for corruption are equally susceptible as civilians.
The Government of Mexico has made some progress by reconstituting its drug law enforcement infrastructure since the disclosure of the scandalous drug corruption of General Gutierrez-Rebollo last year. The Mexican Government must also be creditedwith placing the law enforcement pressure on the Amado Carrillo-Fuentes organization that caused the death of Amado Carrillo-Fuentes, although his organization continues to operate, and a reign of violence has been unleashed as his would-be successors battle for control of the organization.
The Mexican Government has also made progress in several law enforcement cases. Former Jalisco state Governor Flavio Romero de Velasco was jailed on January 24, 1998 in connection with his ties to drug lords Rigoberto Gaxiola Medina and Jorge Abrego Reyna Castro. Romero is accused of laundering drug money, accepting bribes, and providing a safe haven for drug lords in his western state between 1977 and 1983. In February 1998, DEA arrested Jorge Alejandro Abrego Reyna Castro, in Phoenix. The Mexican government had ordered Abrego Reynas arrest on criminal association and money laundering charges in connection with the case of former Jalisco governor Flavio Romero de Velasco, and requested his extradition. The case is pending, with the U.S. government continuing to cooperate with Mexican counterparts. The case is a good example of how law enforcement can cooperate when criminals are identified.
The Mexican Government securted extradition to Mexico of Alfredo Hodoyan Palacios and Emilio Valdez Mainero, to stand trial as paid killers for the Tijuana cartel. Valdez was a top operative of the Arellano-Felix Organization. Hodoyan is wanted in connection with the broad-daylight assassination of top federal drug prosecutor Ernesto Ibarra Santes in September 1996. The case was developed in cooperation between the Mexican Attorney General and U.S. prosecutors in San Diego. The two had fled to the United States, seeking to frustrate Mexican justice. Hodoyan pled guilty on weapons charges, and is scheduled to be sentenced on April 30, 1998. On February 19, Valdez pled guilty in San Diego on conspiracy charges and possession of 50 kilograms of cocaine. He will be sentenced at a date not yet determined.
Unfortunately the Government of Mexico has made very little progress in the apprehension of known syndicate leaders who dominate the drug trade in Mexico and control a substantial share of the wholesale cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine markets in the United States. There have been a number of procedural changes as the Mexican Government restructures its institutions charged with enforcing the drug laws. New personnel have been brought in to replace corrupt or ineffective officials. However, none of these changes has yet produced significant results. The ultimate test of any progress is measured by successfully apprehending the leadership and bringing them to justice.
One promising program for cooperative law enforcement efforts with the Government of Mexico was a proposed series of Bilateral Border Task Forces (BTFs). The BTFs, regretfully, were never really implemented. The BTFs were totally dismantled after the arrest of General Gutierrez-Rebollo and are just being reconstituted. The lack of sufficient funding until recently left DEA bearing the full cost, which we continued through September, 1997. When the Mexican government began the vetting process, the BTF personnel were thoroughly overhauled. Corrupt officers were removed, but the replacements come with little or no law enforcement experience. DEAs experience in Bolivia and Colombia shows that, when host country officers work side by side with U.S. agents, both benefit from the cooperation.
A reconstitution of law enforcement institutions is under way in Mexico. This is a difficult and lengthy process that may take decades. Several programs have been initiated, but the institution-building process is still in its infancy. There are now some individuals and small organizations with whom we are able to interact on specific cases. We limit this exchange, however, to individual cases when we are sure the information would not put our agents or sources of information at risk.
The Government of Mexico is attempting to build a reliable civilian law enforcement agency to replace the former anti-drug agency, INCD, which had been seriously corrupted at virtually every level. The new agency is called FEADS, Special Prosecuting Office for Crimes Against Health. The Organized Crime Unit (OCU), operating in the FEADS headquarters in Mexico City, was set up in 1997 pursuant to the Organized Crime Law passed in 1996. The DEA has provided assistance to the OCU in the development of personnel selection systems and have provided extensive narcotics enforcement training to the new OCU agents.
The problems of establishing a corruption-free law enforcement infrastructure are not insurmountable. However, it is essential that is be established because of the enormous damage these criminal organizations based in Mexico are causing to U.S. citizens. The only effective law enforcement strategy is to bring these criminals to justice and ensure they are punished in a manner commensurate with their vicious acts. At present that is not occurring and, as a result, citizens of both the United States and Mexico are suffering greatly.
Despite the rise to power by the Mexican crime syndicates and their increasing control of the wholesale cocaine trade in the United States, Colombian traffickers still control the manufacture of the vast majority of cocaine in South America and their fingerprints are on virtually every kilogram of cocaine sold in U.S. cities and towns.
Traffickers from Colombia supply almost all of the cocaine to the Mexican crime syndicates I have described above. They move the cocaine from their clandestine laboratories in the jungles of southeast Colombia to Mexico through a variety of scenarios including: commercial maritime vessels, fast boat, containerized cargo, and private aircraft. The methods are as varied as one can imagine and traffickers frequently vary their routes and modus operandi to thwart interdiction efforts. Colombian transportation groups have honed their skills and tactics to the point that law enforcement has little chance of interdicting shipments of cocaine, unless intelligence is developed pinpointing specific shipments or methods.
The growth of Mexican distribution organizations in the United States has created such an increase in demand for cocaine HCl by the Mexican organizations that they have again begun to purchase cocaine, for $4,500 to $9,000 per kilogram, as well as accepting cocaine in payment for services, from Colombian groups. The cocaine they receive from the Colombian syndicates in payment for their transportation services is no longer sufficient to meet the demands of their expanding distribution outlets in the United States. This change in the manner in which business is conducted is also driven by the new trafficking groups in Colombia, who have chosen to return to the Caribbean to move their cocaine to the United States.
Colombian drug organizations are the worlds leading traffickers of cocaine, and have increasingly assumed a dominant role in opium poppy production and production. DEAs Heroin Signature Program data indicated that 62 percent of the heroin in the U.S. came from Colombia in 1995 and 52 percent in 1996. These organizations operate throughout the Caribbean corridor, as well as in Colombia, and extend their operations into the United States.
After Miguel Rodriguez Orejuela and his confederates in the Cali crime syndicate were brought to justice by Colombian authorities in 1995, new groups from the North Valle del Cauca and splinter groups from Orejulas organizations began vying for control of the lucrative markets on the United States East Coast, previously dominated by Rodriguez-Orejuela. Many of these organizations began to re-activate traditional trafficking routes in the Caribbean to move their product to market.
Colombias counterdrug efforts are of critical importance to the United States. Colombian trafficking organizations produce hundreds of metric tons of cocaine HCl, some 6 metric tons of heroin, and over 4,000 metric tons of marijuana each year. The bulk of these illicit drugs are destined for the United States. Colombian traffickers continue to control the supply of cocaine at its source and dominate the wholesale cocaine market in the eastern U.S. and Europe.
In recent years, Colombian drug traffickers have become increasingly involved in opium poppy cultivation and heroin production. Colombian heroin traffickers have established themselves as major sources of supply in the Northeastthe largest heroin market in the United States. Colombian traffickers also continue to be important foreign suppliers of marijuana to the United States and Europe.
The Colombian trafficking organizations presence and influence in the Caribbean are now are overwhelming. DEA has identified four major organizations based on the North Coast of Colombia that have established command and control functions in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic and use the Caribbean Basin to funnel tons of cocaine to the U.S. each year. The Colombian managers, who have been dispatched to Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, operate command and control centers and are responsible for overseeing all aspects of cell operations. They direct networks of transporters that oversee the importation, storage, exportation, and wholesale distribution of cocaine destined for the United States. These Colombian groups have been re-establishing their ties with their Caribbean confederates, increasingly larger shipments transit the Caribbean. Seizures of 500 to 2,000 kilos of cocaine are now common in and around Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic.
The exponential increase in the flow of cocaine and heroin through the region has brought a new wave of drug abuse and violence to the Caribbean. Approximately 70% of all documented homicides in Puerto Rico are drug-related. Drug homicides in state have increased dramatically in the last decade. In 1984, homicides in Puerto Rico numbered 483; by 1994, this figure had more than doubled. Today, these totals remain constant (i.e., 864 in 1995 and 868 in 1996).
The incarceration or death of the leaders of the Cali drug syndicate were the antecedents for the most significant change in the wholesale U.S. cocaine trade in the last two decades. This change has become particularly evident over the last 12 months. Just a few years ago, Miguel Rodriguez-Orejuela and his powerful Cali syndicate controlled as much as 80% of the cocaine distributed in the U.S. He completely controlled every phase of the drug continuum, from manufacturing to distribution in cities and towns throughout the United States as varied as Chicago, Illinois and Rocky Mount, North Carolina.
Mexican organized crime syndicates now control the distribution of cocaine in the western half and the Midwest of the United States. In the last year, the Colombians have franchised to criminals from the Dominican Republic the mid-level wholesale cocaine and heroin trade on the East Coast of the U.S. The Colombian groups remain, however, in control of the sources of supply. The Dominican trafficking groups, already firmly entrenched as low-level cocaine and heroin wholesalers in the larger Northeastern cities, were uniquely placed to assume a far more significant role in this multi-billion-dollar business.
Many new Colombian drug syndicates have sought to pull back from the Cali syndicates tradition of ruling a monolithic organization and exercising complete control of the drug continuum, from cultivation and production, to the wholesale marketing of both heroin and cocaine. Instead, many of these new groups have chosen to franchise a significant portion of their wholesale heroin and cocaine operations. This change in operations somewhat reduces profits for the syndicate leaders. It succeeds, however, in reducing their exposure to U.S. law enforcement, their ultimate goal.
Trust, the essential ingredient in forging a successful business relationship in the drug underworld, had already been established between Dominican and Colombian traffickers through relationships formed during hundreds of smuggling ventures in the Caribbean and through their long established relationships in New York, Newark, and Boston. Dominican groups are now a major force in the major East Coast cities. From Boston, Massachusetts to Charlotte, North Carolina, well organized Dominican trafficking groups are, for the first time, controlling and directing the sale of multi-hundred kilo shipments of cocaine and multi-kilogram quantities of heroin. Their influence, moreover, has spread beyond the big city landscape into the smaller cities and towns along the East Coast.
Colombian cocaine trafficking groups in the U.S. continue to be organized around "cells" that operate within a given geographic area. Some cells specialize in a particular facet of the drug trade, such as cocaine transport, storage, wholesale distribution, or money laundering. Each cell, which may be comprised of 10 or more employees, operates with little or no knowledge about the membership in, or drug operations of, other cells.
The head of each cell reports to a regional director who is responsible for the overall management of several cells. The regional director, in turn, reports directly to one of the drug lords heads of a particular organization or their designate based in Colombia. A rigid top down command and control structure is characteristic of these groups. Trusted lieutenants of the organization in the U.S. have discretion in the day-to-day operations, but ultimate authority rests with the leadership in Colombia.
Upper echelon and management levels of these cells are frequently comprised of family members or long-time close associates who can be trusted by the Colombian drug lords to handle their day-to-day drug operations in the United States. They report back to Colombia via cell phone, fax and other sophisticated communications methods. Colombian drug traffickers continually employ a wide variety of counter-surveillance techniques and other tactics, such as staging fake drug transactions, using telephones they suspect are monitored, limited-time use of cloned cellular telephones (frequently a week or less), limited-time use of pagers (from 2 to 4 weeks), and the use of calling cards. Colombian organized crime groups continue to show an active interest in acquiring secure communications capabilities.
Colombian cell members are normally recruited for assignments in the United States from the criminal "pool of talent" available in the syndicate strongholds of Cali, Medellin and Bogota. Individuals from other areas of Colombia and other nationalities, such as Cubans and Dominicans, have been recruited as cell members. The total number of active Colombian cells in the U.S. is, however, unknown.
Colombian organized crime groups in the U.S. are focused on the wholesale cocaine market and are not involved in drug trafficking at the retail level. A diverse assortment of criminals from varying ethnic groups are responsible for most of the domestic street trade in cocaine and crack. In major U.S. cities, organized groups of Cuban, Jamaican, and Mexican criminals, as well as African-American and Dominican gangs dominate the retail market. The Crips, Bloods. and Dominican gangs, and Jamaican posses, are responsible for much of the widespread cocaine and crack cocaine related violence.
The following new independent traffickers from the Northern Valle del Cauca have risen to prominence:
In addition to the North Valle del Cauca traffickers, the following individuals are of interest:
Adding significantly to the dangers faced by the anti-narcotic forces in Colombia is the protection being afforded to the farmers, who grow the coca and to the traffickers who process it into cocaine base and cocaine HCl, by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN). The FARC factions continue to raise funds through extortion, by providing security services to traffickers, and charging a fee for precursor chemicals and coca leaf, and cocaine HCl moving through their region. Some of these groups have assisted the drug traffickers by storing and transporting cocaine and marijuana within Colombia, and certain FARC units in Colombia may be engaged in localized opiate trafficking.
CNP helicopters and planes used in drug eradication efforts continually receive ground fire when conducting counterdrug operations. Unfortunately, several CNP officers were killed while conducting anti-narcotic operations in guerrilla controlled territory. Guerrilla groups provide security for and aggressively defend coca and poppy fields and the processing laboratories, like the huge HCl conversion complex seized in January of 1997. The FARC, and other guerrilla groups, were originally founded and built on ideological beliefs, but profits from the multi-billion dollar drug trade have sparked the guerrillas interest in selling their services to drug traffickers instead of pursuing ideology. To date, there is little to indicate the insurgent groups are trafficking in cocaine themselves, either by producing cocaine HCl and selling it to Mexican syndicates, or by establishing their own networks in the U.S.
The Colombian National Police is a major law enforcement organization with a long and honored historical tradition of integrity. The CNP had some corruption problems in the 1980s and early 1990s, but took the needed steps to address that corruption and have moved on to aggressively attack the drug menace.
Over the past two and one-half years, all of the top Cali drug lords have been either captured by the CNP, died, were killed, or have surrendered to Colombian authorities. These unprecedented drug law enforcement successes were the culmination of years of investigative efforts by the CNP, with active support from DEA. The CNP continues to pursue significant drug investigations, as follows:
The CNP continues to pursue significant counterdrug operations against cocaine processing laboratories, transportation networks, and trafficker command and control elements. In 1997, the CNP seized millions of dollars in assets owned by major traffickers, including the Ochoa family, the late Pablo Escobar, Jose Santacruz Londono, and Ivan Urdinola. Likewise, the CNP seized more than 34 metric tons of cocaine HCl; 10 metric tons of cocaine base; 1261 kilograms of heroin/morphine base; 120 kilograms of opium gum; and 136 metric tons of marijuana.
The fact that the CNP, and other members of Colombias law enforcement community, were able and willing to pursue operations against the drug underworld is a testament to their professionalism and dedication. The CNPs counterdrug successes have come at a high price. In 1997, more than 160 CNP personnel died in the line of dutymost of whom were involved in counterdrug operations.
Last year at this time I was able to report to you that the seven leaders of the Cali drug syndicate were either dead or in jail. Unfortunately, Miguel Rodriguez Orejuela and his associates, who comprised the most powerful international organized crime group in history initially received ridiculously short sentences for their crimes. In January 1997, Gilberto was sentenced to 10ï¿½ years in prison on drug trafficking charges. As a result of Colombias lenient sentencing laws, however, Gilberto may serve only five years. Miguel, originally sentenced to 9 years, was later sentenced to 21 years on Colombian charges based on evidence supplied by the United States Government in the Tampa, Florida, evidence-sharing case. Miguel is expected to serve less than 13 years in prison.
Even now, the Rodreguez-Orejuelas are able to partially run their businesses from prison cell blocks equipped with private quarters, telephones, indoor soccer facilities and a well stocked private kitchen, due to Colombias lax prison system. As a consequence, even though they are in prison, they remain among the most powerful cocaine traffickers in the world. Their inability to control their operations fully is the major factor in the rise of independent Colombian trafficking groups.
Last year, the Colombian National Police took control of four maximum security prisons from the Bureau of Prisons, in an effort to prevent traffickers from carrying out their operations from jail. In June 1997, the CNP raided a dozen communications centers in Bogota and Cali that were being used by the jailed drug lords to manage operations. Nevertheless, the jailed drug lords remain able to continue to direct some aspects of their trafficking operations from prison, albeit with greater difficulty than before the CNP actions.
In June 1997, the Government of Colombia approved the creation of the Aviation Control Program. As of October 1, 1997, all Colombian-registered aircraft are subject to search and inspection by the CNP. The CNP systematically identifies all Colombian aircraft by utilizing tamper-resistant stickers placed throughout the aircraft. Each sticker has a bar code that, when read, allows the CNP to check the sticker information with a database of all parts and serial numbers registered with that aircraft. Each aircraft is subject to search every six months for illegal alterations to the aircraft and/or illicit drug residue.
The political environment in Colombia continues to hinder United States Government counterdrug efforts. Divergent antidrug agendas within the Colombian Government, a frail judicial system, widespread official corruption, and a weak national resolve to confront the drug problem continue to limit Colombias ability to cooperate with the U.S. Government in the counterdrug arena. Our continued counterdrug efforts and accomplishments in Colombia is a testament to the professionalism and dedication of DEA personnel in Colombia and their Colombian drug law enforcement counterparts.
The CNP leadership has taken important steps in recent years to counter the effects of corruption on their organization. Since the early 1990s, the CNP has dismissed more than 14,000 police officers for corruption. The CNP continues to be enthusiastic in its support of new "tools" to root out corruption. One of these important "tools" is the program of special units, made up of DEA-trained and vetted Colombian police officers who continue to work closely with DEA to conduct sensitive investigations.
The outstanding efforts of CNP notwithstanding, the dysfunctional Colombian justice system lacks the expertise and resources necessary to investigate, prosecute, and incarcerate most criminals. According to a former Justice Minister, only three percent, and perhaps as few as one percent, of all crimes in Colombia result in a conviction.
We can and should continue to fully identify and build cases against the leaders of the new criminal groups from Colombia as well as the resurgent splinter groups of the old Cali syndicate. These criminals have already moved to make our task more difficult by withdrawing from positions of vulnerability and maintaining a much lower profile than their predecessors. At least at this point, we are not seeing major shipments of 10 to 20 tons of cocaine sent at one time, but rather a steady flow of 200 to 500 kilograms per shipment through the Caribbean. A number of initiatives hold promise for success:
The DEA remains committed to our primary goal of targeting and arresting the most significant drug traffickers in the world today. We will continue to work with our law enforcement partners in other countries, to improve our cooperative efforts against international drug smuggling. The ultimate test of success will come when we bring to justice the drug lords who control their vast empires of crime which bring misery to the nations in which they operate. They must be arrested, tried and convicted, and sentenced in their own countries to prison terms commensurate with their crimes, or extradited to the United States to face American justice.
Thank you for the opportunity to testify before the Subcommittee today. I will be happy to respond to any questions you may have.