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Drug Trafficking Organizations


Drug trafficking organizations are a persistent and evolving domestic criminal threat and are a significant concern to federal, state, and local law enforcement officials. Mexican and, to a lesser extent, Asian DTOs are the leading DTOs operating in the United States. Colombian, Dominican, Cuban, and Italian DTOs also distribute significant quantities of illicit drugs in the United States. Mexican and Asian traffickers have extended their influence in U.S. drug markets. Colombian and Dominican DTOs transport large quantities of drugs into the United States for distribution; however, their direct influence over drug distribution in U.S. drug markets is declining. Cuban DTOs are increasingly engaging in indoor and outdoor cannabis cultivation, and their distribution networks are growing. Italian criminal organizations are smuggling and distributing wholesale quantities of drugs while reestablishing trafficking networks. Each of these DTOs continually develops new methods of operation, constantly reacting to law enforcement pressure and changing laws.

Strategic Findings

Mexican DTOs are the greatest drug trafficking threat to the United States; they control most of the U.S. drug market and have established varied transportation routes, advanced communications capabilities, and strong affiliations with gangs in the United States. Mexican DTOs control a greater portion of drug production, transportation, and distribution than any other criminal group or DTO. Their extensive drug trafficking activities in the United States generate billions of dollars in illicit proceeds annually. Law enforcement reporting indicates that Mexican DTOs maintain drug distribution networks or supply drugs to distributors in at least 230 U.S. cities. (See Map A5 in Appendix A.) Mexican drug traffickers transport multiton quantities of drugs from Mexico into the United States annually using overland, maritime, and air conveyances. The use of varied conveyances enables Mexican drug traffickers to consistently deliver illicit drugs from Mexico to warehouse locations in the United States for subsequent distribution.

Mexico- and U.S.-based Mexican drug traffickers employ advanced communication technology and techniques to coordinate their illicit drug trafficking activities. Law enforcement reporting indicates that several Mexican DTOs maintain cross-border communication centers in Mexico near the U.S.-Mexico border to facilitate coordinated cross-border smuggling operations. These centers are staffed by DTO members who use an array of communication methods, such as Voice over Internet Protocol, satellite technology (broadband satellite instant messaging), encrypted messaging, cell phone technology, two-way radios, scanner devices, and text messaging, to communicate with members. In some cases DTO members use high-frequency radios with encryption and rolling codes to communicate during cross-border operations.

Mexican DTOs continue to strengthen their relationships with U.S-based street gangs, prison gangs, and OMGs for the purpose of expanding their influence over domestic drug distribution. Although gangs do not appear to be part of any formal Mexican DTO structure, several Mexican DTOs use U.S.-based gangs to smuggle and distribute drugs, collect drug proceeds, and act as enforcers. Mexican DTOs' use of gang members for these illegal activities insulates DTO cell members from law enforcement detection. Members of most Mexican Cartels--Sinaloa, Gulf, Juárez, and Tijuana (see footnote 28)--maintain working relationships with many street gangs and OMGs.28

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Asian DTOs control a large portion of the wholesale- and retail-level distribution of high-potency marijuana and MDMA in many U.S. drug markets. Asian DTOs and criminal organizations, primarily ethnic Vietnamese and Chinese, are trafficking multihundred-kilogram quantities of high-potency marijuana and multimillion-dosage-unit quantities of MDMA monthly for distribution in at least 100 U.S. cities (see Map A6 in Appendix A). According to law enforcement reporting, the threat posed by Asian DTOs is increasing as these groups expand and improve their criminal transportation and communication networks in the United States. Law enforcement reporting also indicates that some Asian DTOs are very aggressive in surveillance and countersurveillance of law enforcement officers in the areas where they operate. Moreover, U.S.-based Asian DTOs are expanding their working relationships with other DTOs, criminal groups, and gangs in order to increase their wholesale- and retail-level high-potency marijuana and MDMA distribution operations. According to law enforcement reporting, some Asian DTOs also trade their marijuana and MDMA for cocaine supplied by Mexican DTOs.

Colombian, Dominican, and Cuban DTOs and Italian criminal organizations are involved in national-level wholesale drug trafficking. These groups pose a considerable domestic threat, albeit lower than that posed by Mexican and Asian DTOs. Colombian DTOs supply multiton quantities of illicit drugs to distributors in U.S. drug markets. In 2007 Colombian DTOs distributed illicit drugs--primarily cocaine and heroin--in at least 40 U.S. cities, according to law enforcement reporting. (See Map A7 in Appendix A.) Colombian DTOs were once heavily involved with wholesale-level transportation and distribution of cocaine. However, Colombian DTOs have largely relinquished these aspects of the cocaine trade to Mexican and Dominican DTOs. Nonetheless, Colombian DTOs remain involved in trafficking multikilogram quantities of cocaine, as well as heroin, to the United States. By relinquishing much of the direct transportation of drugs into the United States, Colombian DTOs have been able to continue generating significant income while limiting risk to their leaders.

Dominican DTOs distribute large quantities of cocaine and heroin in many drug markets, primarily in the New York/New Jersey, New England, and Mid-Atlantic Regions. U.S. and foreign-based Dominican DTOs have been identified in at least 54 cities in 18 states and the District of Columbia, according to HIDTA and other law enforcement reporting (see Map A7 in Appendix A). Dominican DTOs and criminal groups trafficking drugs in New York City and Miami are a particular threat because of their strong ties to Colombian wholesale suppliers and their growing affiliation with Mexican DTOs. Dominican DTOs and criminal groups are developing close working relationships with Mexican DTOs to access large quantities of cocaine, marijuana, and heroin.

Cuban DTOs are expanding their role in indoor and outdoor cannabis cultivation. U.S.- and foreign-based Cuban DTOs have been identified as marijuana, cocaine, and methamphetamine distributors by law enforcement offices in at least 25 cities in 11 states and the District of Columbia (see Map A7 in Appendix A). Several U.S.-based Cuban DTOs maintain a close affiliation to drug traffickers in Cuba, Peru, Venezuela, and Colombia. Cuban DTOs operating in the Miami area, in particular, pose a growing threat because they are expanding indoor cannabis cultivation operations and distribution networks into the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic Regions.

La Cosa Nostra (LCN)29 operates primarily in the New York/New Jersey and New England Regions, although members are active in at least 19 cities in 13 states, according to law enforcement reporting (see Map A7 in Appendix A). LCN members engage in numerous criminal activities, including wholesale distribution of high-potency marijuana and MDMA and, to a lesser extent, cocaine and heroin. LCN members facilitate drug smuggling through several major U.S. maritime POEs, have very close working relationships with Italian organized crime (IOC), and are increasingly working with Mexican DTOs. LCN members also work with midlevel and retail-level distribution groups and street gangs such as Latin Kings, OMGs such as Hells Angels Motorcycle Club, and independent dealers who distribute drugs in bars and clubs.

U.S.-based IOC--Sicilian Mafia, 'Ndrangheta, Camorra, and Sacra Corona Unita (Sacred Crown)--operate in at least 19 states, according to law enforcement reporting (see Map A7 in Appendix A). IOC members engage in myriad criminal activities, including assault, counterfeiting, extortion, fraud, money laundering, and drug trafficking. IOC members smuggle multiton quantities of marijuana and cocaine into the United States for distribution; they also smuggle lesser quantities of heroin and MDMA. IOC trafficking networks have been severely diminished by several successful law enforcement operations over the past 2 decades. Law enforcement reporting reveals that U.S.-based IOC, primarily Sicilian Mafia, is reestablishing its trafficking networks despite arrests, indictments, and convictions of high-ranking IOC members.

End Notes

28. See NDIC Situation Report Cities in Which Mexican DTOs Operate Within the United States, April 11, 2008.
29. La Cosa Nostra, also known as the Mafia, consists of several family-based criminal groups that generally are organized geographically and engage in various racketeer crimes. The origins of La Cosa Nostra are rooted in Italian organized crime, and La Cosa Nostra groups cooperate in various criminal activities with Italy-based criminal groups.

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