National Drug Intelligence
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.
Mexican DTOs dominate the wholesale distribution of cocaine, ice methamphetamine, and marijuana; they exert more influence over illicit drug trafficking in the Atlanta HIDTA region than any other trafficking organization or group. Mexican DTOs use a complex network of transportation and distribution cells to coordinate drug shipments from sources of supply operating in California, Texas, or Mexico to the HIDTA region. Law enforcement reporting indicates that Mexican DTOs located along the Southwest Border and/or in Mexico often manage cell leaders in the region. The Atlanta-based cell leaders are responsible for overseeing drug shipments to the HIDTA region, managing stash houses, and establishing midlevel and retail-level distributors. In fact, when Atlanta-based cell members suspect that law enforcement investigations are targeting one or more of their members, the Atlanta-based cell head reports this information to the Southwest Border-based DTO, who then reassigns the targeted cell members to a cell operating in another state, thus effectively thwarting the investigation in Atlanta. In addition to the Atlanta area, Mexican drug trafficking cells in North Carolina are using cities such as Charlotte as drug distribution centers. To illustrate, in December 2007 a federal grand jury in Atlanta indicted 22 defendants for conspiracy to possess, with the intent to distribute, a controlled substance. The defendants were purportedly members of a Mexican DTO that regularly transported large quantities of cocaine, ice methamphetamine, and marijuana from the Mexican states of Nuevo León, Guerrero, and Michoacán across the Southwest Border and into the Atlanta HIDTA region. Some of the drugs are believed to have remained in the Atlanta area for local distribution and abuse; however, most of the drugs were further transported to Alabama, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia. The proceeds derived from the sale of these drugs were consolidated in Atlanta and then transported across the Southwest Border to Mexico.
Other DTOs and criminal groups of various races/ethnicities, including African American, Caucasian, Cuban, and Jamaican, distribute drugs in the Atlanta HIDTA region. Most of the traffickers obtain powder cocaine, ice methamphetamine, and marijuana from Mexican DTOs. African American criminal groups typically distribute crack cocaine and marijuana at the retail level. African American criminal groups are increasingly distributing MDMA at the retail level; most of the MDMA these groups distribute is obtained from Asian DTOs and Caucasian criminal groups. Caucasian criminal groups distribute marijuana, diverted pharmaceuticals, and other dangerous drugs (ODDs) in the HIDTA region; Caucasians are also the primary outdoor cannabis cultivators in the area. Miami-based Cuban DTOs and their affiliates are the predominant large-scale indoor cannabis cultivators in the HIDTA region. Jamaican DTOs distribute small quantities of powder cocaine in the HIDTA region and often arm themselves with assault weapons.
Asian DTOs, predominantly Laotian and Vietnamese, distribute MDMA and small quantities of Canadian marijuana in the Atlanta HIDTA region. These DTOs maintain sources of supply in Canada; they smuggle MDMA and Canadian marijuana across the U.S.-Canada border and transport the drugs to Atlanta using private vehicles or commercial flights. Asian DTOs generally do not interact with Mexican DTOs; however, a 2007 HIDTA investigation revealed that an Asian DTO cooperated with a Mexican DTO to obtain ice methamphetamine.
Street gang activity is prevalent among African American and Hispanic youths in the Atlanta HIDTA region. Most street gangs in Atlanta are locally based; they commonly adopt multiple facets of gang culture from national-level street gangs that members often garner from the Internet, but typically do not have any ties to those national-level gangs. Moreover, local gangs typically do not exhibit the organizational structure, written code, or defined member roles associated with national-level street gangs.
African American street gangs such as Most Dangerous Click (MDC), Mechanicsville Bird Gang (MBG), and the Pittsburgh Gangsters typically distribute crack cocaine and marijuana at the retail level; these street gangs depend on Mexican traffickers as their source for powder cocaine, which they generally convert to crack cocaine. African American street gangs are geographically based, usually forming around public housing areas or school associations. Atlanta authorities, however, have been closing and demolishing many of the public housing units that fostered African American street gangs; families of gang members have been relocated to housing elsewhere in the city or beyond. The impact of these relocations on gang-related crime remains unknown and constitutes an intelligence gap.
African American street gangs in the Atlanta HIDTA region frequently fight over gang affiliation and territory and occasionally fight over drug turf. Several street gangs, such as International Robbing Crew (IRC), which is composed primarily of former New Orleans, Louisiana, residents, and Black Mafia Family (BMF), frequently use violence to advance their gang activities. To illustrate, BMF is a national-level gang that used violence and intimidation to facilitate the distribution of large quantities of crack cocaine in Atlanta. According to Atlanta Police Department officials, BMF members had a reputation for violence and flamboyant displays of wealth; they purchased large billboards to mark gang territory, held lavish parties, and boasted about their wealth on the Internet. This violence and high-profile activity, however, attracted the attention of local law enforcement officials, and in summer 2007, 16 BMF members were indicted on conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance and multiple distribution charges; they are awaiting trial in Atlanta.
Street gang members, primarily African American, often use music such as rap and hip-hop to spread gang culture. Many African American street gang members have joined to establish musical groups and record companies. These companies are licensed and have company officers but often have no physical location--only a post office box. Gang members use some of these record companies to distribute illicit drugs and launder drug proceeds. They also use the Internet to communicate with other gang members in the Atlanta HIDTA region and to spread gang culture. A number of these rap groups and record companies produce music videos that depict their drug distribution activities and post them on Internet web sites.
Hispanic street gangs such as Latin Kings, Sureños 13 (Sur 13), and Vatos Locos maintain a strong presence in the Atlanta HIDTA region; they typically distribute cocaine and marijuana that they obtain from Mexican DTOs. Hispanic street gangs appear to be more organized than African American street gangs and exhibit more violence in direct support of their drug distribution activities. For example, in February 2008 four members of Sur 13 were sentenced to life in prison for murdering suspected rival gang members in Atlanta. In one instance, gang members drove into a rival gang's perceived territory and shot and killed a man; it was later discovered that the victim was not a member of the rival gang. During another altercation at a local recreation center between members of the Sur 13 and Vatos Locos, a Sur 13 member fatally shot a nongang member in the back.
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