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Drug Threat Overview

Mexican DTOs are the primary drug-related threat to the Arizona HIDTA region. They regularly smuggle ton quantities of marijuana and multikilogram quantities of cocaine, heroin, and ice methamphetamine from Mexico into the HIDTA region. According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials, more marijuana is seized along the border in Arizona than in any other Southwest Border state; most of this marijuana is seized from Mexican traffickers. Mexican DTOs have established sophisticated and far-reaching drug transportation and distribution networks along the U.S.-Mexico border in Arizona. Most of these networks incorporate operational cells based in communities within Arizona HIDTA counties. Their expansive trafficking networks extend from the Arizona HIDTA region throughout the United States, including to the New England, New York/New Jersey, Southeast, and West Central regions of the country.

Mexican commercial-grade marijuana is the most commonly abused illicit drug in the Arizona HIDTA region. Methamphetamine distribution, abuse, and its related violence pose considerable problems for the region, despite domestic law enforcement initiatives and public awareness campaigns as well as Mexican law enforcement and military operations aimed at dismantling Mexican DTOs, including those that produce and smuggle methamphetamine to the United States. Cocaine and heroin are also abused within the HIDTA region, but to a lesser degree than are marijuana and methamphetamine.

Illicit drug production in the Arizona HIDTA region is limited--small quantities of powder methamphetamine are produced, some cannabis is cultivated, and small amounts of powder cocaine are converted to crack cocaine. The Arizona HIDTA's proximity to Mexico and the abundance of illicit drugs available in Mexico mitigate the need for large-scale drug production in the area.

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Drug Trafficking Organizations

Mexican DTOs and their smuggling operations are firmly entrenched in border communities within the Arizona HIDTA region. Their influence and control over drug trafficking in the region is unrivaled by any other trafficking group. Mexican DTOs operate sophisticated and widespread drug smuggling, transportation, and distribution networks that extend from Mexico, through Arizona, to many regions of the United States; these networks facilitate the DTOs' transportation and nationwide distribution of large quantities of cocaine, heroin, marijuana, and ice methamphetamine. In addition, many Mexican DTOs operating in the HIDTA region either produce drugs themselves in Mexico or maintain direct connections to organizations that produce illicit drugs in Mexico. Such production capabilities and connections ensure the flow of Mexican marijuana, methamphetamine, and heroin to drug markets within and outside the HIDTA region.

Drug Trafficking Organizations, Criminal Groups, and Gangs

Drug trafficking organizations are complex organizations with highly defined command-and-control structures that produce, transport, and/or distribute large quantities of one or more illicit drugs.

Criminal groups operating in the United States are numerous and range from small to moderately sized, loosely knit groups that distribute one or more drugs at the retail level and midlevel.

Gangs are defined by the National Alliance of Gang Investigators' Associations as groups or associations of three or more persons with a common identifying sign, symbol, or name, the members of which individually or collectively engage in criminal activity that creates an atmosphere of fear and intimidation.

Caucasian criminal groups, independent dealers, and Jamaican DTOs are active in the Arizona HIDTA region. Prison, street, and outlaw motorcycle gangs (OMGs) also transport and distribute illicit drugs in the region. For instance, the Arizona Department of Public Safety (AZ DPS) Gang and Immigration Intelligence Team Enforcement Mission (GIITEM) reports that the Arizona New Mexican Mafia prison-based gang works cooperatively with the Barrio Hollywood street gang; both gangs operate in Tucson to transport ton quantities of marijuana into Tucson and Phoenix for distribution throughout the area. GIITEM further reports that East Side Torrance, a Douglas-based street gang, transports wholesale quantities of marijuana from the border and distributes the drugs to members of the West Side Brown Pride street gang in the western part of Phoenix. Moreover, law enforcement reporting reveals that numerous Bloods sets distribute wholesale quantities of marijuana throughout the HIDTA region.

Traffickers in the HIDTA region generally negotiate drug transactions and prearrange meetings with customers using cell phones. Traffickers prefer to conduct business conversations by phones with point-to-point capabilities. Text messaging is also used by traffickers to communicate and arrange meetings between distributors and customers. Traffickers typically use cell phones for a limited period of time before switching to a new phone with a new number to further reduce the possibility of having calls monitored.

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