Authorities fear local gangs competing over cartel work
February 16, 2009 - 7:33 PM
Jeremy Roebuck
The Monitor

A recent spike in gang-related activity has some law enforcement officials concerned that local criminal groups may be jockeying for position with the Gulf Cartel.

Several gangs - including the Tri-City Bombers, the Texas Chicano Brotherhood, the Texas Syndicate and the Hermanos Pistoleros Latinos - are believed to be competing with each other to become the designated South Texas enforcers for the Tamaulipas-based drug trafficking organization, according to reports from gang informants fielded by federal and local police agencies.

To earn the job, the gangs need to show they have the infrastructure to stash drugs, an ability to protect them and the prison network to pressure detained smugglers into keeping their mouths shut, law enforcement officials said.

More importantly, they need to edge out their competition. Some fear violence could erupt as the gangs try to prove their mettle and exert control over their turf.

"It's like a bidding war for a contract," said one local gang investigator. "It's not something you just get. You have to prove yourself."

But other law enforcement officials question those recent reports, saying that while they have tracked a growing relationship between Mexican drug traffickers and U.S. gangs in recent months, the extent of their connection remains unclear.

"We haven't confirmed anything detailed," said Will Glaspy, head of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency's McAllen office.


Traditionally, the cartel has relied on local smugglers to move their product north of the border but lacked the control over those routes that it had established within its home country.

As recently as last October, however, law enforcement intelligence suggested that top cartel leaders sought to expand their control by taxing traffickers operating in the Rio Grande Valley.

Known in Mexico as "el piso," the taxes serve as a type of toll. Those who pay gain the privilege of moving their product with impunity through cartel-dominated areas. Those who refuse face threats of violence and even death.

Last fall, the reported former head of cartel operations in Reynosa - Jaime "El Hummer" González Durán - reportedly sent out orders to kidnap and extort taxes from U.S. smugglers operating in the Valley, federal and local law enforcement officials said.

Two men arrested in connection with a broad-daylight shooting Oct. 3 at a San Juan medical plaza later told police they had been sent by González and opened fire when their intended target resisted.

But since González's arrest Nov. 7 by Mexican authorities in Reynosa, authorities have noted an ebb in cartel-related violence on this side of the border.

Some law enforcement officials believe that new quiet may have more to do with local gangs taking the reins.


As kidnappings and attacks linked to the cartel have quieted down, investigators have charted an increase in gang-related violence.

At least three separate gang-on-gang attacks have erupted across the Pharr-San Juan-Alamo area in the past month - the most recent of which shows signs of a direct link between local gangs and the Zetas, the Gulf Cartel's paramilitary wing.

On Jan. 31, an unknown individual tossed a live grenade into the Pharr nightspot, El Booty Lounge. The ordnance failed to explode and no injuries were reported.

But the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco Firearms and Explosives has since linked the grenade to a cache of South Korean weapons uncovered in a suspected Zeta stash house near Monterrey, according to a report the agency distributed to local law enforcement.

Investigators don't suspect the Zetas of direct involvement in the attack on the Pharr bar. Instead, they believe members of the Tri-City Bombers gang may have been targeting top leaders of the rival Chicanos gang.

Sheriff Lupe Treviño said Monday that he had seen no indication that the gangs were fighting over Cartel work, but that the Booty Lounge incident has made one thing clear.

"It's become very obvious that there is some sort of relationship between the cartel and our local gangs," Treviño said.
Jeremy Roebuck covers courts and general assignments for The Monitor. You can reach him at (956) 683-4437. ... entsPage=2 - 16