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Chicago High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Drug Market Analysis
May 2007

Drug Trafficking Organizations

Mexican DTOs and criminal groups dominate the transportation and wholesale distribution of illicit drugs in the Chicago HIDTA region. The overall control held by these tightly organized and compartmentalized Mexican drug trafficking groups is facilitated by the large Mexican population in the Greater Chicago metropolitan area. Familial connections and associations enable these organizations to effectively facilitate the transportation and wholesale distribution of large quantities of cocaine, marijuana, and Mexican black tar heroin and brown powder heroin to the region. Additionally, as a result of their dominance over smuggling routes into the United States from the Southwest Border and effective transportation corridors to Chicago, the Mexican DTOs are also able to facilitate the transportation and distribution of South American (SA) heroin to the region. Many Mexican traffickers have also established residency in upscale suburban communities, where they store and distribute illicit drugs and consolidate drug proceeds.

Colombian, Nigerian, and other West African DTOs and criminal groups, although much less influential than Mexican DTOs and criminal groups, transport significant quantities of illicit drugs to the region for distribution. The drugs supplied and distributed by Colombian DTOs and criminal groups (SA heroin and cocaine) differ from those supplied by Nigerian and other West African DTOs and criminal groups (Southwest Asian (SWA) and Southeast Asian (SEA) heroin); as such, each drug poses unique problems for law enforcement throughout the HIDTA region.

The Chicago HIDTA region has a high concentration of nationally affiliated African American street gangs and Hispanic street gangs, such as Gangster Disciples, Vice Lords, and Latin Kings, which maintain unrivaled control over retail drug distribution in the city of Chicago and in less affluent suburbs. Law enforcement estimates that there are approximately 75 to 100 gangs with a total of 70,000 members in Chicago. While these street gangs vary in levels of sophistication and organization from highly structured organizations with strong member allegiance to loosely structured groups with independent operators, they are the primary conduit through which illicit drugs reach the typical drug user.

Highly structured Chicago street gangs alter their methods of operation and increasingly employ cutting-edge communication technology to counter law enforcement efforts to disrupt their distribution operations. For example, law enforcement initiatives targeting street corner distribution have successfully reduced drug sales by street gangs in open-air markets in the city of Chicago. However, street gangs have responded by shifting retail distribution operations to indoor venues and by frequently changing locations. Gang members use disposable cell phones, text messaging, and Internet web site chat rooms to coordinate changes in sales locations to avoid detection. Additionally, many successful gang leaders have established residency in suburban communities from where they coordinate more decentralized drug sales in the city. While street gang violence routinely occurs among lower-level gang members in various rival gangs, rival gang leaders often cooperate in order to maintain business profits.

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