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Houston High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Drug Market Analysis
June 2007

Outlying Markets6

Beaumont/Port Arthur

The Beaumont/Port Arthur area is located approximately 80 miles east of Houston and is a transit area for drugs transported to markets in the east as well as illicit proceeds transported west to Houston and the Southwest Border. Interstate 10 passes through the area, directly linking it to drug markets throughout the southeastern United States, including markets in Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, and Mississippi. Significant drug and currency seizures are made by law enforcement authorities along the portion of I-10 that passes through the area. For example, during the third quarter of fiscal year (FY) 2006, law enforcement seized $515,000 that was transiting the area from Florida to Mexico.

Methamphetamine trafficking has increased in Beaumont/Port Arthur. Most of the methamphetamine available in the area is ice methamphetamine that is transported to the area from Mexico by Mexican traffickers. Ice methamphetamine is also transported by Mexican traffickers from California through Dallas and Houston to the Beaumont/Port Arthur area. Additionally, methamphetamine is produced in Beaumont/Port Arthur; however, production is decreasing. The influx of methamphetamine into the area also has contributed to a rise in drug-related crime, including assault and robbery.

Gang activity in Beaumont/Port Arthur has increased and will very likely continue to intensify in the near future. Some of the increase in violence is attributed to hurricane evacuees moving to the area, particularly violence among rival African American gangs. Furthermore, violence between Asian gangs has increased in Port Arthur and has spread to Beaumont. In addition, white supremacist gangs are increasingly involved in violent internal struggles that have led to retaliatory murders in the area.

Corpus Christi

Corpus Christi is a key transshipment area for illicit drugs in the Houston HIDTA region. Although not comparable in scale to Houston in terms of illicit drug activities, Corpus Christi mirrors many of the same smuggling activities on a lesser scale. Corpus Christi is a transshipment area for drugs, particularly cocaine and marijuana, smuggled from Mexico by Mexican DTOs overland along highways or using maritime methods through the PINS. The city is the first metropolitan area north of the U.S. Border Patrol checkpoints in the Rio Grande Valley, making it an ideal location for DTOs to stash drugs prior to distribution. Stash houses are numerous in and around Corpus Christi and are most often used to store cocaine and marijuana prior to transshipment to major markets in the central and eastern United States.

Ice methamphetamine has supplanted powder methamphetamine as the most popular form of the drug available and abused in Corpus Christi. Most of the ice methamphetamine available in the city is smuggled into the area from Mexico by Mexican DTOs; however, local distributors also obtain ice methamphetamine from sources in California. Prison gangs control the wholesale and retail distribution of ice methamphetamine in Corpus Christi.

Prison gangs operating in Corpus Christi, including Texas Syndicate and Mexican Mafia, have become more organized and structured and have established direct connections to Mexican DTOs along the U.S.-Mexico border, giving them easy access to wholesale quantities of drugs. Texas Syndicate has the most advanced drug trafficking network in the Corpus Christi area. Members of this gang have access to multiple types of drugs and also smuggle drugs directly from Mexico into the area. Mexican Mafia is involved in drug and alien smuggling; members pick up drugs and aliens in the Rio Grande Valley and smuggle them to the area.

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Southern Houston HIDTA Region

The southern portion of the Houston HIDTA region, south of Corpus Christi, is the main entry point for drugs smuggled into the area; most enter through the Brownsville, Hidalgo, and Progreso POEs. (See Figure 3 .) This sparsely populated area is close to the U.S.-Mexico border and contains mainly ranch properties, making it appealing to Mexican DTOs for their smuggling operations. The area is primarily a transit area for drug shipments from Mexico; illicit distribution in the area is limited because of the area's sparse population. US 77, which extends from the Brownsville POE, and US 281, which extends from the Progreso and Hidalgo POEs, serve as major corridors for drugs smuggled north into the area from South Texas. The successful movement of drug shipments through these POEs and, later, through the two Border Patrol checkpoints--one in Kingsville/Sarita in Kleberg County on US 77 and one in Falfurrias in Brooks County on US 281--is a critical phase of drug transportation from the U.S.-Mexico border. Drug shipments increase significantly in value after successfully passing through the POEs and again after passing through the checkpoints. For example, 1 pound of marijuana purchased in Mexico for $40 to $50 typically increases in value to $200 per pound when smuggled across the border and further increases to $250 to $400 per pound north of the checkpoints.

Figure 3. Padre Island National Seashore.

Map showing the Padre Island National Seashore and the counties in the Corpus Christi area of the Houston HIDTA.

Mexican DTOs operating in the Houston HIDTA region are increasingly using cloned, or fake, vehicles to smuggle illicit drugs into and through the area. For example, in August 2006 Texas DPS seized over 3,000 pounds of marijuana and almost 500 pounds of cocaine from a tractor-trailer at the Falfurrias checkpoint that was cloned to look exactly like a tractor-trailer from a discount retailer. The vehicle displayed fake Oklahoma license plates, and the driver was dressed in the uniform of the discount retailer.

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Padre Island National Seashore

Criminal activity in the PINS poses a potential national security threat to the United States arising from the area's use by Mexican DTOs as an entry point to smuggle drugs and illegal aliens, some of whom may be linked to terrorist organizations. The PINS is located on an undeveloped natural barrier island that extends south from Corpus Christi to the Mansfield Channel, a waterway that divides the PINS from South Padre Island. (See Figure 3.) The PINS and South Padre Island consist of 95 miles of mostly uninhabited and undeveloped beaches that offer an attractive venue for maritime smuggling. Mexican DTOs increasingly use the area for smuggling operations to avoid enhanced overland border protection at the checkpoints in Kingsville/Sarita and Falfurrias. Park visitors have reported witnessing illicit deliveries from shark boats to land vehicles; such smuggling operations pose a danger to visitors if they are perceived as a threat by traffickers.

DTOs commonly smuggle cocaine, marijuana, and illegal aliens to the PINS by shark boats,7 or "lanchas." DTOs hire fishermen in Mexico to use their boats to smuggle contraband into the PINS; some Mexican fishermen may be particularly susceptible to recruitment by traffickers, since the Mexican fishing industry has collapsed as a result of overfishing and loss of fishing grounds. Shark boats typically depart from Playa Baghdad and El Mezquial, Mexico, approximately 20 miles south of the U.S.-Mexico border on Mexico's east coast. It is common for 10 to 20 shark boats loaded with drugs or illegal aliens to leave Playa Baghdad Beach and flood an area along the PINS. Traffickers engage in most smuggling activity during the night to avoid detection. In addition, shark boats are difficult to detect by radar, making interception challenging. Once a shipment of drugs or illegal aliens reaches the PINS, a separate team picks up the contraband. The drugs are often transported to Corpus Christi, where they are stored in stash houses for later distribution.

Marijuana and, to a lesser extent, cocaine are the drugs most often smuggled through the PINS. The size and number of marijuana seizures have increased significantly in the PINS during the past several years; shipments in excess of 1,000 pounds are now common. Seizures most likely have increased as a result of better intelligence and increased law enforcement attention in the area. Very little is known about cocaine trafficking through the PINS; most seizures of the drug are limited to those shipments that wash ashore.

The possibility of terrorist entry into the United States through the PINS poses a potential national security threat. Limited law enforcement presence and sparse population on the island make the PINS vulnerable to alien smuggling. Smugglers are criminals with no allegiances; they smuggle anyone or anything as long as they are paid a fee. Although analysis of data from several different agencies provides no evidence to support the entry of foreign terrorists into the United States through the PINS, debriefed smugglers have admitted to smuggling aliens whose nationality was unknown to them.

End Notes

6. Information regarding drug-related activities in outlying markets often is not as readily available as information in larger metropolitan areas. This section includes information concerning a particular market that could be gleaned from available law enforcement reporting and interviews.
7. Shark boats, also known as lanchas, are low-riding vessels capable of making voyages of up to 19 hours while carrying over 1,000 pounds of illegal drugs or 10 to 20 illegal aliens.

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