Thomas A. Constantine
Drug Enforcement Administration
United States Department of Justice
Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control, and
The House Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation
National Drug Control Strategy and Drug Interdiction
Rayburn House Office Building
September 12, 1996
Senator Grassley, Chairman Coble: It is an honor for me to appear before this joint hearing to discuss DEA's role in the national drug control strategy, and to provide the committee with DEA's concerns about the issue of international drug trafficking.
The crime situation in the United States is directly related to the actions of the international narcotics trafficking syndicates operating in Colombia and Mexico, who employ thousands of surrogates within the United States to transport and traffic their poison. The heads of these international drug groups are not household names for most Americans, yet each and every community across the nation has been touched by the handiwork of either the Cali drug trafficking organizations or the Mexican Federation. Whether it is New York, or Los Angeles---or a small town in Iowa or Rocky Mount, North Carolina---crack cocaine, heroin or methamphetamine have damaged the fabric of big cities and communities across the nation.
I have often commented that based on over 20 years of conducting organized crime investigations in New York State, organizations such as the Cali and Mexican organized crime syndicates make the American mafia look like schoolchildren by comparison. While the American mafia is most often associated with extortion and racketeering, these sophisticated international trafficking organizations from Colombia and Medico are well-versed in violence and murder, in addition to their lucrative multi-billion dollar drug empires. We conservatively estimate that at the height of their power, the Cali mafia's annual revenue was $7 billion.
These organizations are a threat to every American. Despite their geographic distance from the average American citizen, leaders of the Call mafia and Mexican Federation are daily making business decisions about which product to push, which community to target and which violent American drug gang to conscript to distribute their drugs. In truth, the global drug trade is a seamless continuum, with no clear line of demarcation between international and domestic drug trafficking.
As a nation, we should also be concerned about the effect that these recent trends bode for the future. By the year 2005, there will be more teenagers than ever before in our country, and many of them will be reaching their most crime-prone years. If we do not reverse these increases in drug use very soon, I fear that our country will be experiencing a tremendous increase in juvenile crime. Given that half of all homicides are drug-related, and that over one-third of all violence is attributed to drugs, the need for action is urgent.
International Traffickers in our own Backyard
A recent multi-agency case that was headed by the DEA and the FBI, along with the Criminal Division including 42 state and local police departments, called Operation Zorro II clearly illustrated the direct relationship of the international drug cartels in our violent domestic crime problem. In May of this year, the 8-month investigation was culminated with 156 arrests, the seizure of almost 5,600 kilograms of cocaine and over $17 million. Zorro II was the first long-term investigation undertaken as part of the Southwest Border Initiative, a complex law enforcement response to the problems of drug trafficking along the US-Mexican border. DEA, working with the FBI, the US Attorneys' offices, and other state, local and federal agencies, coordinated and shared information gleaned from over 90 court-authorized wiretaps.
The information painted a clear picture of how Mexican cocaine transporters worked closely with Colombian cocaine traffickers and violent drug gangs within the U.S. to provide their product to major cities and small communities across the nation.
The drug cartels have a very long reach and are capable of insinuating their drugs and violence into every city and town in the United States. Despite the fact that they are headquartered in Colombia, drug leaders have ordered executions in our cities and towns. The assassination of Manuel de Dios, a prominent journalist in New York was ordered by Cali chieftain Jose Santa-Cruz Londono in March of 1992. John Mena, the architect of the de Dios murder, pled guilty and admitted being responsible for three additional contract killings on behalf of the Cali cartel. Last summer, good police work resulted in the apprehension of a Colombian hit team in Memphis, Tennessee. This team was sent to the United States to collect on a drug debt, with orders to kill if the debt was not repaid. These incidents clearly illustrate the long reach of these violent trafficking groups.
The powerful Organized Crime Syndicates in Colombia and Mexico
Eighty percent of the world's cocaine is controlled by Colombian organized crime. At the current time, all of the major players in the Cali syndicate are either in jail or deceased. Just last week, the last remaining Cali drug lord, Helmer "Pacho" Herrera, surrendered to Colombian Police after being on the run for over a year. These mafia leaders were almost virtually ''untouchable'' for over a decade as they amassed a fortune and ran the largest drug organization in history. During 1995, the Colombian National Police, working with the Drug Enforcement Administration, hunted down the leaders of the Cali cartel and made the historic arrests. The CNP, under the leadership of General Serrano, took enormous risks and accomplished what many people thought was impossible.
During the 1980s the Colombian drug lords worked closely with organized Mexican groups that agreed to transport cocaine into the United States after it was delivered to Mexico from Colombia. Currently, the greatest proportion of cocaine available in the U.S. is still entering the United States through Mexico. Using their skills as seasoned drug traffickers with a long tradition of polydrug smuggling, crime lords from Mexico soon established their own trafficking routes and contacts, and evolved from mere transporters of cocaine to major cocaine traffickers in their own right. Colombian organizations had paid Mexican transporters cash for their services, but during the last several years the Mexican operators began demanding and receiving cocaine--in many cases up to half of the shipment--as payment for their services. These Mexican traffickers are violent and powerful, and with the arrest of the Cali drug lords, members of the Mexican Federation are now forces with whom to be reckoned.
Mexican organized crime syndicates share a loose consortium of major trafficking organizations with well-established organized crime credentials that compose the Mexican Federation. Four organizations comprise the Mexican crime groups: the Tijuana organization; the Sonora cartel; the Juarez cartel; and the Gulf group.
The Tijuana organization is headed by the Arellano Felix brothers, Benjamin, Francisco and Ramon, and is headquartered in Tijuana, Baja California Norte. This group controls smuggling across the border to California and is among the most violent of the Mexican organizations and has been connected by Mexican officials to the violent death of Cardinal Juan Jesus Posadas-Ocampo who was killed in the cross fire of rivals drug gangs at the Guadalajara Airport in 1993. During 1994, this group was engaged in a turf battle over methamphetamine territory in San Diego. Twenty-six homicides were committed during one summer as rival groups battled over trafficking regions. Benjamin Arellano Felix was indicted on May 2, 1989 in San Diego on charges of operating a continuing criminal enterprise which involved the importation and distribution of cocaine. Arellano Felix is frequently seen in Mexico and has never been arrested on these charges. Francisco Rafael Arellano Felix, his brother, was indicted in San Diego in 1980 for possession and conspiracy to possess cocaine. He too, has not been arrested.
The Sonora cartel is headed by Miguel Caro Quintero, and operates out of Hermosillo, Agua Prieta, Guadalajara and Culican, as well as the Mexican states of San Luis Potosi, Sinaloa and Sonora. Rafael, Miguel's brother, is in jail for his role in the killing of DEA Special Agent Enrique Camerena in 1985. The Sonora cartel has direct links to the Colombian cartel and operates routes into California, Arizona, Texas and Nevada. Miguel Caro Quintero was indicted in Arizona for shipping two tons of cocaine fiom Mexico to Arizona, and he has been indicted twice in Colorado. He continues to be a fugitive, but claims publicly to travel freely in various areas of Mexico.
The Juarez cartel is headed by Amado Carillo Fuentes, the most powerful figure in the Mexican drug trade. His organization is linked to the Rodriquez Orejuela organization in Cali, and has family ties to the Ochoa brothers in Medellin, Colombia. For many years, this organization ran transportation services for the Cali cartel, and used aircraft including 727's to fly cocaine from Colombia to Mexico. He also used to move drugs from regional bases in Guadalajara, Hermosillo and Torreon. Carillo Fuentes has been indicted in Dallas and Miami, and has also been a fugitive for eight years.
The Gulf group was headed by Juan Garcia Abrego, and is based in Matamoros, Tamaulipas State. It distributes cocaine into the United States as far north as Michigan, New Jersey and New York. DEA has reports that this organization smuggled in excess of 30 tons of cocaine into the United States. Humberto Garcia Abrego, Juan's brother, was arrested in October 1994 by Mexican authorities. Juan Garcia Abrego, one of the FBI's Ten Most Wanted, was arrested on January 14, 1996. After his arrest. Mexican officials worked quickly to expel Abrego to the United States to face charges of conspiracy to import cocaine and the management of a continuing criminal enterprise; however, his organization continues to operate in spite of Abrego's arrest.
Within the last year, several top law enforcement officials from Tijuana have been assassinated. These killings are indicative of the impunity with which the Mexican crime syndicates feel they can operate, and are consistent with the intimidation and narco- terrorist methods of the Cali and Medellin cartels. The capture of these powerful drug traffickers, and the dismantling of their organizations operating on both sides of the border, are top priorities of the Drug Enforcement Administration.
To combat this growing threat fiom the Mexican Federation traffickers, the DEA and FBI, working with the Department of Justice Criminal Division and U.S. Attorneys, the U.S. Customs Service, and in support of efforts by the Government of Mexico in their country, formulated the Southwest Border Initiative. This strategy was designed to bring the combined resources of the Department of Justice to bear in a multi-agency enforcement effort simultaneously targeting the Mexican drug trafficking organizations on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border by creating and sustaining a greatly enhanced operation that involves intelligence and enforcement operations in Mexico that are directly linked to those in the U.S. The Southwest Border Initiative will direct and support major investigations and operations that target the highest levels of the major drug trafficking organizations operating along the Southwest border.Recent Drug Trafficking Trends
Several recent developments in drug trafficking are troubling. Cocaine, heroin, marijuana and methamphetamine are plentiful and cheap. Today, I would like to discuss two particular aspects of the international drug trade which are especially troubling: the emergence of methamphetamine as a critical issue in many areas of the nation; and the re-emergence of cheaper, purer heroin---and the recent Colombian involvement in the heroin trade.
Methamphetamine is cheap, easy to manufacture and widely available across the United States. Within the last several years, deaths from methamphetamine have increased 174 percent. Cities with the most acute methamphetamine problems are Phoenix, San Diego, Los Angeles and San Francisco. At one point, most of the methamphetamine in the United States was controlled by outlaw motorcycle gangs, and the manufacturing and use of meth was limited primarily to the West Coast.
All that has changed. Methamphetamine is now available in the Midwest and the Southeast in addition to California and the southwestern states. Law enforcement officials throughout Iowa report a dramatic increase in the availability and trafficking of methamphetamine; between 1991 and 1993, meth seizures by the Department of Public Safety increased by 67 percent. According to drug experts in Iowa, meth is now the number one drug of choice, and is the primary factor in domestic abuse cases. The methamphetamine trafficked and abused in Iowa comes mainly from California, Arizona and Mexico. There is also meth production in Iowa; in FY 1996 alone, 13 meth labs were seized. In other Midwest states, such as Missouri, Kansas anti Nebraska, methamphetamine production, trafficking, and use have overtaxed law enforcement and social service networks.
The majority of the methamphetamine which is available in the United States is produced by traffickers from Mexico who control every aspect of the methamphetamine business. Meth seizures along the U.S.-Mexican border rose from 6.5 kilograms in 1992 to 665 kilograms in 1995. In the first six months of 1996, 516 kilograms of methamphetamine have been seized along the border.
In April, the Department of Justice transmitted to Congress the Methamphetamine Control Act of 1996. DEA and the Department have been working with Congress to finalize legislation to limit the amount of pseudoephedrine available to drug traffickers for the manufacture of methamphetamine. We are grateful for the support we have received from Senators Grassley, Hatch, Biden and Feinstein, who have demonstrated their commitment to reducing methamphetamine production.
The other troubling development has been the ascendancy of Colombian traffickers in the heroin trade. Nearly two-thirds (60%) of the heroin seized in the United States originates in South America. This percentage is up from 32% just a year ago and from 15% in 1993.
Recently, our nation has witnessed a renewed interest in heroin and an increase in heroin use by young people. The list of heroin deaths and emergency room mentions continues to grow and musicians, actors and models have become the latest victims of "heroin chic."
The DEA's Domestic Monitor Program, which tracks price purity and availability through analysis of street level purchases of drugs, shows that several cities in the Northeast--- Boston, Philadelphia, Newark, and New York---have experienced increased availability of Colombian heroin. The purity of Philadelphia's heroin was over 70 percent compared to the 7-10 percent purity levels of just a decade ago. Another troubling development is the predominance of Colombian heroin in Miami, traditionally a cocaine market.
Independent Colombian traffickers have moved into the heroin trade by strategically positioning themselves as central players. At their present rate of rapid growth, they will dominate the heroin market by the year 2000. By marketing cheap high-purity heroin, Colombian traffickers are attempting to corner the heroin market by appealing to young people as well as the existing addict population who can snort or smoke the heroin. Once acclimated to the drug, users seek a higher high and turn to heroin injection. With heroin purity as high 94 percent in some places, and with the new crop of heroin users, some as young as 11th and 12th grade, we are gravely concerned about the prospects for heroin control in the coming years.
Mobile Enforcement Teams
Shortly after arriving at DEA, I directed that the agency develop a new program to address drug-related violence through cooperative enforcement efforts with state and local law enforcement agencies. The objective has been to dismantle drug organizations by securing the conviction and incarceration of drug traffickers who have been terrorizing and victimizing the citizens in our nation's urban streets and rural neighborhoods throughout the United States. Nineteen of our field divisions established Mobile Enforcement Teams which have as their mission the reduction of the high rate of drug- related violence in communities that urgently need and are requesting our assistance. MET deployments leave proven the benefits of federal law enforcement assistance to state and local law enforcement organizations besieged by drug violence.
I will cite the results in just one investigation. Texas City, Texas, a small town 35 miles south of Houston, was plagued by extremely violent street gangs that were distributing crack cocaine. In 1994, the police department recorded 117 drive-by shootings and 26 gang- related juvenile homicides. The violence and drug dealing were out-of-hand and beyond the capabilities of local law enforcement. The county sheriff requested assistance fiom DEA, and the Mobile Enforcement Team was deployed. Our joint efforts with the local authorities led to 96 arrests that effectively dismantled two street gangs who were distributing hundreds of pounds of cocaine to juveniles and young adults throughout several Texas counties and three states.
To date MET teams have been deployed to 75 cities at the request of local law enforcement authorities. Those operations have resulted in the arrest of over 2,000 violent drug traffickers, most of whom are members of street gangs bent on criminal activity.
DEA 1997 Budget
I would like to thank both the members of the House and Senate for their generous support for DEA's 1997 budget request. Both the House and Senate Appropriations Committees have provided for significant increases in DEA's 1997 budget request, thereby working to affirm the agency's viability as the leader in the drug enforcement community as this nation moves into the 21st century. Through the ongoing efforts of both the House of Representatives and the Senate, DEA will continue to operate at peak levels of performance, thereby working to ensure this nation is able to turn the corner in the persistent battle against drug trafficking, use, and abuse.
As I mentioned initially, the crime situation that we face in the United States is
directly related to the criminal actions of the drug trafficking syndicates operating in
Colombia and Mexico. These organizations are a threat to every American in every city and
state in the nation, from major metropolitan centers to small-town America. We must
continue to focus the same energy on the organized drug traffickers in Mexico that we have
in the past focused on the Colombian cartels, and we must continue to train and work with
our foreign counterparts, particularly in the source and transit countries to pursue
aggressive investigations that will lead to the incarceration and conviction of these
international criminals. Thanks to your support, I believe that we in the DEA are poised
to expand our efforts, both domestically and abroad; and I assure you that we are
committed to dismantling these large drug trafficking organizations throughout the world.
Travel back to the DRCNet Response to the DEA Home Page
Travel back to the DRCNet Response to the DEA Congressional Testimony List