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Richard Valdemar

Richard Valdemar

Sgt. Richard Valdemar retired from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department after spending most of his 33 years on the job combating gangs.

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Is Mexican Cartel Activity In the U.S. Exaggerated?

A recent newspaper story questioned Mexican cartel activity levels in the U.S.

August 30, 2013  |  by Richard Valdemar - Also by this author

Graphic via Washington Post.
Graphic via Washington Post.
A Monday Washington Post article questioned the well-established National Drug Intelligence Center's (NDIC) published statistics that U.S. Senator John McCain used to warn us about the spread of Mexican drug cartels in this country.

Quoting the stats in a speech during an Armed Services Committee hearing last year, McCain said, "The cartels now maintain a presence in over 1,000 cities."

Post reporters Scott Higham, Sari Horwitz and Steven Rich interviewed several law enforcement officials from various jurisdictions who questioned the reported activity in their areas. Many were unaware of such Mexican drug cartel activity.

The article claims that the number "is misleading at best, according to U.S. law enforcement officials and drug policy analysts interviewed by The Washington Post. They said the number is inflated because it relied heavily on self-reporting by law enforcement agencies, not on documented criminal cases involving Mexican drug-trafficking organizations and cartels."

In my humble opinion, the drug intelligence statistics on Mexican cartels in the U.S. are on the conservative side, and not exaggerated!

The local cops do a good job curbing low-level street sellers and distributors but the wholesale and major suppliers from which the local distributors get their products are not usually on the local radar. If those sources come from El Salvador, Panama, or Columbia, they almost always come through Mexico and are therefore under the sponsorship of Mexican Drug Trafficking Organizations (DTO).

Rarely are there ever any small, independent sources. Even the locally grown marijuana and locally produced methamphetamine are often under the control of Mexican DTOs. As a result, the city and county cops don't see the intelligence links in the big picture. Even locally assigned federal agents from the DEA, FBI, or Justice Department don't always understand these drug source organizations.

Believe me, I've read some intelligence reports generated by federal government analysts that seemed like they were written by science fiction writers. Reports on local or ethnic gangs from California often misunderstood the structural difference between West Coast and East Coast gangs and gave some "gang histories" gleaned from newspaper articles

The national gang intelligence statistics also were problematic because they also rely on self reporting. This ignores the problem of the tourist towns that wish to avoid painting their city as a gang turf. Some jurisdictions avoid reporting these figures entirely. It was my complaint about these erroneous federal reports early in 2000 that brought me into the NDIC loop. 

When that National Drug Intelligence Center's "store front" office mentioned by the Washington Post article opened up in Johnstown, Pa., the supervising intelligence analyst, Margaret "Peggy" Potter, came out to ride with me in Los Angeles and the surrounding counties. Peggy had been the national gang intelligence analyst, and I had met her at a California Gang Investigators conference. During her several trips to California, she met with local gang cops and gang members and even hung out with and interviewed "Mundo" Mendoza of the Mexican Mafia. Her aim was always to de-mystify those federal intelligence statistics.

Peggy established great intelligence sources who were the "boots on the ground" and the most knowledgeable on the subjects of gangs and drug organizations. This included the Mexican cartels that had a great influence in California at the time. She was a strong woman who was not afraid to cut the fiction from facts. Her statistics were solidly built on verifiable facts and the experiences of intelligence-minded local law enforcement active in these investigations (unlike most other federal statistic gatherers).

I would like to also mention another law enforcement intelligence analyst whom I respect and who has written extensively on the subject of Mexican Drug Trafficking Organizations. Sylvia Longmire is the author of "Cartel: The Coming Invasion of Mexico's Drug Wars," and I would recommend this book to anyone seriously interested in the activities of Mexican cartels. She was a senior intelligence analyst for California during this period.

It is interesting to me that the federal officers mentioned in the Washington Post article now working under President Obama's administration won't validate the figures obtained from their predecessors in the Bush or Clinton administrations. "It doesn't surprise me that the DEA doesn't support those numbers," said Michael F. Walther, who ran the agency between 2005 and 2012. "They like to paint a more positive portrait of the world. I stand by the work that our analysts did at NDIC."

Many of the sources for these statistics were law enforcement sensitive and when such statistics are reviewed later by other analysts who don't have the same sources, there are always questions. The Washington Post writes, "They say there are Mexicans operating here and they must be part of a Mexican drug organization," said Peter Reuter, who co-directed drug research for the nonprofit think tank Rand and now works as a professor at the University of Maryland. "These numbers are mythical, and they keep getting reinforced by the echo chamber."

So he's suggesting that red-necked bigoted cops made up these mythical figures because they were stereotyping Mexicans? More likely in my opinion, because these Mexican drug cartel operatives are not usually involved directly in the street sales, and the local distribution, they don't need to be present in large numbers. Instead the Mexican sources are supplying or transporting larger quantities of drugs to the wholesalers, who provide the drug distributors, who then supply the street venders. So it might be only a few people in a city who are DTO members and even fewer who are caught and reported.

Many of the Mexican cartel crimes in the illegal alien community go unreported. The ugly crimes of kidnapping, human trafficking, extortion, gang violence, and unsolved murders are often committed by Mexican cartel members in cities across the United States but remain unreported. These jurisdictions benefit by this under-reporting.

It has been my experience while lecturing to law enforcement agencies across the country that many jurisdictions are clueless about the activity of organized crime, and even more so about Mexican cartels, especially outside of the Southwest. Many jurisdictions are still in denial and are often influenced by the politically powerful "pro-illegal immigration" agenda. I think that maybe the Washington Post article is motivated more by this new political push to accept illegal aliens and less on questioning the validity of the old NDIC statistics.

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