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San Antonio Market Area


San Antonio, county seat for Bexar County, is the largest and most populous drug market in the South Texas HIDTA region. The city is home to approximately 1.3 million people, rendering San Antonio the seventh most populous city in the United States. The economic and transportation systems that support the city create an environment conducive to drug trafficking. Mexican drug traffickers conceal their operations among the city's large Hispanic population, use the extensive highway system to receive and transport illicit drug shipments, and exploit commercial businesses and financial institutions to launder illicit proceeds. Many Mexican DTOs place cells in San Antonio to facilitate the transportation and distribution of illicit drugs from Mexico, the South Texas border area, and San Antonio to drug markets across the country.


Bexar County--specifically, San Antonio--is the principal drug production center in the South Texas HIDTA region; considerably more illicit drug production takes place in the metropolitan area than in any other locale in South Texas.

Bexar County is the primary location for the limited methamphetamine production that takes place in the South Texas HIDTA region. Through the first 10 months of 2008, only three methamphetamine laboratories were seized in Bexar County, according to NSS data, compared with six laboratory seizures in 2007 and 15 in 2006.5 (See Table 4.) Small-scale methamphetamine laboratories remain a persistent problem in Bexar County and are sources for most of the methamphetamine production taking place in the area. The laboratories and their operators cater to a small portion of the local methamphetamine market that prefers locally produced methamphetamine. Despite the continued small-scale production of methamphetamine in Bexar County and San Antonio, law enforcement officials have not noted any incidents or evidence of large-scale, organized pseudoephedrine smurfing6 activity in the area, a practice common elsewhere in Texas and the Southwest region, that supports local methamphetamine production or production in other areas of the state.

Table 4. Number of Methamphetamine Laboratory Seizures in the South Texas HIDTA, 2006-2008

County/Region 2006 2007 2008 Total
Bexar 15 6 7 28
Remainder of South Texas HIDTA region 0 0 0 0
Remainder of Texas 57 41 59 157
Total 72 47 66 185

Source: National Seizure System, run date February 2, 2009.

Note: National Seizure System is a voluntary reporting system. Its data may not reflect all laboratory seizures.

Cannabis cultivation and marijuana production occur infrequently in the San Antonio area. Cannabis grow sites encountered by law enforcement officers are usually operated by individuals who are not associated with large trafficking organizations. These sites generally incorporate unsophisticated equipment and growing methods. Occasionally law enforcement officers encounter a grow site with more sophisticated lighting, watering, or cultivation techniques, but these incidents are not commonplace in San Antonio. As such, most San Antonio grow sites are capable of producing only personal use quantities of the drug and do not contribute significant amounts to the local drug market, which is dominated by low-cost Mexican marijuana.


San Antonio serves as a transshipment center for Mexican DTOs as a result of its proximity to Mexico and its extensive transportation network. San Antonio is located approximately 150 miles from the U.S.-Mexico border; consequently, it does not receive the heightened law enforcement scrutiny common along the border. As a result, many Mexican DTOs are establishing cells in the city that specialize in drug transportation to other transportation and distribution centers in Texas and to drug markets in other regions of the United States. The highway network that supports San Antonio facilitates the movement of illicit drug shipments into and through the city. Most of the major roadways serving the area originate at the U.S.–Mexico border and connect with other roadways that serve drug markets throughout the country. (See Figure 2 in South Texas Border section.) This transportation network also provides drug traffickers with various routes to transport bulk quantities of illicit drug proceeds to the South Texas border area and eventually into Mexico.

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Mexican DTOs use San Antonio as a national-level distribution center for wholesale quantities of cocaine, heroin, marijuana, and methamphetamine. San Antonio's role in drug distribution is evident in the quantity of illicit drugs seized. The larger population in San Antonio, as compared with that in the South Texas border area, enables drug traffickers to better conceal their operations. In addition, some Mexican DTOs use familial ties and long-established criminal connections to maintain control over wholesale drug distribution in San Antonio and throughout the South Texas HIDTA region. As a result, the city is an ideal location for Mexican DTOs to base distribution operations and maintain drug and money stash houses.

Midlevel and retail drug distribution takes place in all areas of San Antonio, resulting in varying degrees of abuse and crime throughout the city. In low-income areas, dealers distribute crack cocaine and heroin on neighborhood streets; in middle-class and high-income neighborhoods, drugs are often sold in bars or private residences. San Antonio also has sizable street gang and prison gang populations. Many gangs, including Mexikanemi and HPL, rely on drug distribution as their primary income source, but they also commit crimes in the course of their drug distribution activities.

Drug-Related Crime

Drug trafficking and abuse contribute significantly to crime in San Antonio and throughout Bexar County. Distributors and abusers of all illicit drugs commit property crimes and violent crimes to varying degrees. However, local law enforcement officials report that those involved with cocaine trafficking commit the largest percentage of drug-related crime. Additionally, law enforcement officials report that methamphetamine abusers commit a host of property crimes in the city. Methamphetamine abusers frequently commit property crimes, such as residential burglaries, to acquire money or merchandise that can be sold or traded for methamphetamine. Law enforcement officials have also noted a recent increase in home invasion robberies linked to drug trafficking in San Antonio. Such incidents often target residents known or suspected to be involved in the illicit drug business; drugs and money are commonly stolen from these residences. Prison gangs and street gangs are very active in San Antonio; they are often implicated by law enforcement officials in drug-related crime.


San Antonio has a much larger drug abuser population than any other area in the South Texas HIDTA region. As a result, significantly higher drug abuse and drug treatment rates are recorded in San Antonio than in other South Texas locations. Marijuana is the most frequently abused drug in San Antonio, but more San Antonio residents seek treatment for heroin abuse than for abuse of any other illicit drug. Heroin abuse rates have historically been high in San Antonio, owing partially to the involvement of the Mexikanemi prison gang in heroin distribution in the city. The high levels of cocaine trafficking and the wide availability of the drug also result in high levels of cocaine abuse in the city. Admissions to publicly funded treatment facilities for heroin and cocaine abuse increased from 2006 through 2007 in Bexar County. (See Table 5.) Methamphetamine abuse and treatment rates in San Antonio, mirroring abuse trends in the South Texas border area, appear to be well below abuse and treatment rates for cocaine, heroin, and marijuana.

Table 5. Number of Substance Abuse-Related Admissions to Publicly Funded Treatment Facilities, Bexar County, 2005-2007*

Cocaine Heroin Marijuana Methamphetamine
2005 2006 2007 2005 2006 2007 2005 2006 2007 2005 2006 2007
1,409 1,242 1,390 1,437 1,557 1,710 1,315 1,433 1,299 318 322 284

Source: Texas Department of State Health Services.
* The latest year for which data are available.

Note: Actual treatment admissions may be higher than those depicted above as a result of reporting treatment admissions for specific drugs or age groups in which fewer than 10 persons received treatment.

Illicit Finance

Bulk cash smuggling is the primary method used by drug traffickers in San Antonio to move illicit drug proceeds. San Antonio is situated at the juncture of several key transportation routes that extend to POEs throughout the South Texas border area--one of the major bulk cash smuggling areas along the U.S.-Mexico border. Illicit drug proceeds generated from drug transactions in San Antonio and in drug markets throughout the Great Lakes, New England, and Southeast regions of the United States transit the San Antonio area en route to Mexico. The steady flow of traffic between San Antonio and the South Texas border area makes detecting the southbound movement of bulk quantities of illicit cash a significant challenge for law enforcement officers in the South Texas area.

San Antonio-based drug traffickers and distributors use other methods in addition to bulk cash smuggling to launder drug proceeds. The commercial and consumer business infrastructures that support San Antonio's large population also provide alternative methods for drug traffickers to launder drug proceeds. Drug traffickers often commingle illicit drug proceeds with money generated at a variety of cash-intensive businesses or use illicit drug proceeds to establish and operate these types of businesses. In addition, drug traffickers in San Antonio also use money generated from illicit drug sales to purchase real estate and other luxury items, including cars, boats, and jewelry.


5. Data provided by the South Texas High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) indicate that 16 methamphetamine laboratories were seized through the first 10 months of 2008.
6. Pseudoephedrine and ephedrine smurfing is a method used by some methamphetamine traffickers to acquire large quantities of precursor chemicals. This method involves making numerous small-quantity purchases from multiple retail locations.

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