||National Drug Intelligence Center
Northern California High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Drug Market Analysis
Drug Trafficking Organizations
Mexican DTOs based in the Northern California HIDTA region dominate illicit
drug transportation and wholesale distribution in the area as well as distribution
from the area to drug markets throughout the country. They also cultivate very
large quantities of cannabis in the region and control methamphetamine and marijuana
production operations in the Central Valley of California. These organizations,
based largely on familial ties, typically consist of members residing in California,
Mexico, and other cities throughout the United States. Leaders within these
families are based in cities in the Northern California HIDTA region such as
Redwood City, East Palo Alto, and San Jose as well as in southern California.
Mexican DTOs typically smuggle drugs from Mexico through U.S. ports of entry
(POEs) in Calexico, San Ysidro, and Otay Mesa, California, and transport them
to the Northern California HIDTA region.
Six Charged in Bay Area MDMA
In August 2006 DEA and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)
officials announced the indictment of six individuals involved in an Asian
MDMA smuggling ring based in San Francisco. The investigation began in
2001 when Belgian Federal Police alerted U.S. Customs officials that a
piano, in which more than 40 kilograms of MDMA were concealed, had been
shipped from Germany to the San Francisco International Airport. During
the course of the investigation, law enforcement officers determined that
MDMA shipments were secreted in shipments of automobile transmissions,
European pianos, and leather sofas. This Asian organization generated
more than $3 million in drug proceeds and used some of the money to purchase
expensive homes in Oakland, Hillsborough, and Burlingame, California.
Source: Drug Enforcement Administration
San Francisco press release, August 10, 2006.
Figure 2. Traffickers constructed
this sandbag bridge to transport drugs via vehicles across the U.S.-Mexico
United States Border Patrol
Asian DTOs and criminal groups, particularly Vietnamese groups, are major
illicit drug traffickers in the Northern California HIDTA region. The drug trafficking
threat that they pose to the area is increasing but is lower than that posed
by Mexican DTOs. Asian drug traffickers transport primarily high-potency marijuana,
commonly known as BC Bud, from British Columbia, Canada, and MDMA from Canada
for distribution in the California HIDTA region. They are also the primary MDMA
distributors in many areas throughout the region. Asian groups also cultivate
cannabis indoors in the HIDTA region and produce marijuana for local distribution.
Cannabis cultivation by Asian DTOs in the HIDTA region is increasing, particularly
at indoor locations. Asian DTOs typically restrict involvement in their drug
trafficking operations to individuals of similar ethnicity and familial affiliation.
Many Asian DTOs and criminal groups distribute illicit drugs in the area; however,
Vietnamese groups are predominant.
Northern Operation Imperial
In February 2007 DEA officials announced the culmination
of Operation Imperial Emperor, a multijurisdictional investigation that
targeted an international Mexican drug trafficking and money laundering
organization that had ties to the San Francisco Bay area in addition
to other areas of California, Arizona, Illinois, and New York. This
organization maintained distribution cells in Northern California that
transported drugs from Mexico across the U.S.-Mexico border to San Francisco
for further distribution in the city and to cities throughout the United
Overall, this investigation resulted in the arrest of more than 400
individuals nationwide, including the top leaders of the organization
and the seizure of approximately $45.2 million in U.S. currency, 27,229
pounds of marijuana, 9,512 pounds of cocaine, 705 pounds of powder methamphetamine,
227 pounds of ice methamphetamine, and 11 pounds of heroin. The investigation
has also resulted in the forfeiture of $6.1 million in property and
assets as well as approximately 100 weapons and 94 vehicles.
Source: Drug Enforcement Administration San Francisco press release,
February 28, 2007.
Figure 3. Almost $3.5 million
of the more than $45 million in cash seized as part of Operation Imperial
Drug Enforcement Administration
Street gangs, prison gangs, and outlaw motorcycle gangs (OMGs) pose a major
challenge to law enforcement agencies within the Northern California HIDTA region
as they are extremely violent in establishing or maintaining control of their
drug trafficking activities. Hispanic street gangs, primarily affiliates of
Sureņos and Norteņos gangs, are involved in midlevel and retail-level distribution
of methamphetamine, marijuana, cocaine, and heroin. African American street
gang members, primarily affiliates of Bloods and Crips, distribute crack cocaine
and marijuana at the retail level in the HIDTA region. Prison gangs, such as
Border Brothers and Kumi Nation, are involved in methamphetamine, crack cocaine,
and marijuana midlevel and retail-level distribution. Members of OMGs, most
notably Hells Angels Motorcycle Club (HAMC), distribute midlevel and retail-level
quantities of powder cocaine, methamphetamine, and marijuana. African American
street gangs, prison gangs, and OMGs are supplied by Mexican distribution cells.
Sureņos and Norteņos Street
Sureņos and Norteņos are affiliations of Hispanic street gangs that
initially formed in the California Department of Corrections by members
who wanted to ally themselves with incarcerated street gang members from
other areas. Hispanic street gangs in southern California (Bakersfield
and points south) were known as Sureņos street gangs, while those from
central and northern California (north of Bakersfield) were known as Norteņos
street gangs. Hispanic street gangs operating in the Northern California
HIDTA region are typically affiliated with Sureņos and Norteņos gang associations.
The two groups are adversaries both inside and outside the prison system.
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