Identical twin brothers Pedro and Margarito Flores on Jan. 27 were the latest to be sentenced in a series of high-profile federal cases targeting the Sinaloa Cartel's operations in Chicago. Accused of running a continent-spanning trafficking ring, they each received 14 years in prison after US District Judge Ruben Castillo agreed to sharply reduce their term in recognition of their work as government informants. Castillo called the Flores twins, natives of Chicago's West Side, the "most significant drug dealers" he'd dealt with in two decades on the bench, stating that they had "devastated the walls" of US national security by bringing at least 70 tons of cocaine and heroin into the country from 2005 to 2008. Prosecutors also charged the twins smuggled $1.8 billion back to Mexico—wrapped in plastic and duct tape. But it was federal prosecutors who pleaded for leniency, hailing the twins for gathering evidence against the Cartel's long-fugitive kingpin "El Chapo" Guzmán, who was finally busted in Mexico last year.
Amid peace talks in Havana, Colombia's FARC guerillas issued an angry communique Dec. 14, insisting "We are a rebel group, not narco-traffickers." This was in response to President Juan Manuel Santos' suggestion that FARC drug-trafficking could be considered a "political crime," potentially sparing guerilla leaders prosecution. This of course won Santos howls of outrage from the right; now he gets it from the other side. The FARC statement accused the government of trying to "confuse the minds of Colombians" with a "distortion," and decried the existence of a "capitalist narco-trafficking business" in the country. (El Espectador, El Tiempo, Dec. 14)
Reuters on Dec. 10 reported that the alleged Chicago jefe of Mexico's Guerreros Unidos narco-gang faces federal charges with seven others for a plot that involved moving heroin and cocaine to the Windy City in passenger buses. Pablo Vega Cuevas and his brother-in-law, Alexander Figueroa, both of Aurora, Ill., were arrested in Oklahoma; three suspected accomplices were busted in the Chicago area. Warrants have been issued for three others, including one believed to be in Mexico. The investigation led to the seizure of 68 kilos of heroin, nine kilos of cocaine and more than $500,000 in cash. "These arrests will have a significant impact on the supply and distribution of heroin and cocaine throughout the Midwest," Dennis Wichern, the DEA's Chicago special agent-in-charge, said in a statement.
The sentencing last month in a case related to the Sinaloa Cartel's Chicago connection provided further fodder for the increasingly plausible conspiracy theory that the DEA protected Mexico's biggest criminal machine. Federal Judge Ruben Castillo sentenced Alfredo Vázquez Hernández, who had been extradited after serving a sentence in Mexico, to 22 years in prison for shipping 276 kilograms of cocaine to Chicago hidden in railway cars. Federal prosecutors said Vazquez was a top-ranking operative of the Sinaloa synidcate, who arranged airplanes, submarines, trains and trucks to move cocaine from Colombia to Chicago via Mexico. Vazquez was characterized as a lifelong friend of the cartel's now-imprisoned top kingpin "Shorty" Guzmán. Judge Castillo said this hadn't been proved, but stated: "Given the amount, it's nonsensical to think this was this defendant’s inaugural voyage into cocaine trafficking."
In an operation dubbed "Saturn II," a unit of the new Honduran National Police elite anti-narco force, the Intelligence Troop and Special Security Response Groups (TIGRES), joined with DEA agents Oct. 2 to raid a house in the pueblo of El Porvenir Florida, near Copán on the Guatemalan border—scoring the arrest of one the country's reigning kingpins, José Inocente Valle Valle. The Valle Valle family is said to control the greatest share of cocaine passing through Honduras. Three other brothers of José Inocente remain at large, and face trafficking charges in the United States. Troops from the Guatemalan National Civil Police also participated in the raid. Among the items recovered in the house were 12 pieces of solid gold each impressed with the inscription "Sinaloa"—presumably indicating commercial ties between the Valle Valle family and Mexico's Sinaloa Cartel. (Tiempo, Honduras, Oct. 2)
Mexico claimed another capture of a long-fugitive cartel kingpin Oct. 9, when Vicente Carrillo Fuentes AKA "El Viceroy" surrendered without a shot after being recognized by federal police at a checkpoint in Torreon, Coahuila. A bodyguard in the car was also taken into custody. El Viceroy, top boss of the Juárez Cartel, was one of Mexico's most wanted fugitives, and the US was offering a $5 million reward for information leading to his arrest or conviction. (CNN, Oct. 9) However, like Héctor Beltran Leyva of the Beltran Leyva Organization, who was apprehended just days earlier, the Viceroy headed a crime syndicate that was already in decline—squeezed out by the twin behemoths of the Sinaloa Cartel and Los Zetas.
Mexican authorities on Oct. 1 claimed another coup against the cartels, announcing the arrest of Héctor Beltran Leyva, last remaining kingpin of the Beltran Leyva Organization—the declining crime machine that once controlled much of the west and central parts of the country. Beltran Leyva was taken into custody by army troops "without a shot fired" as he dined in a seafood restaurant in the tourist town of San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato state. (LAT, Oct. 1) The capture follows that earlier this year of the Sinaloa Cartel's long-fugitive jefe máximo Joaquin Guzmán Loera AKA "El Chapo"—marking another score for President Enrique Peña Nieto, and his supposed new and more sophisticated policy against the cartels.
Well, this is really cute. With refreshing honesty, Fortune magazine on Sept. 14 issued a list of the "Fortune 5"—the biggest organized crime groups in the world, ranked by their annual revenue estimates. No sources are given, but the Fortune editors presumably relied on international law enforcement intelligence. The results are slightly surprising for those of us who grew up in the era of the Sicilian Mafia and Medellín Cartel. Brave new crime machines have long since eclipsed these entities from the global stage, and far outstripped their earnings from human trafficking, extortion, credit card fraud, prostitution and (above all) drug smuggling. In the number one slot, by a mile, is Yamaguchi Gumi, a wing of Japan's Yakuza, with revenue estimated at $80 billion. A distant second is Russian mafia group Solntsevskaya Bratva, with revenue at $8.5 billion. Three and four are two Italian outfits that have long superceded Sicily's Cosa Nostra: the Camorra, based in Naples, with revenues of $4.9 billion; and the 'Ndrangheta, based in Calabria, with revenues of $4.5 billion. Number five is Mexico's Sinaloa Cartel, with revenues of $3 billion.