Chicago drug sales: fueled by Mexican cartels?

Recent drug raid arrests netted suspects with ties to Zeta cartel; feds say they have contacts with many of the city's gangs

By Alejandro Escalona
Chicago Sun-Times (Commentary)

CHICAGO — Everybody has long known that Chicago has a gang problem, but we're just beginning to understand that we have a perfect storm brewing of street gangs with ties to the Mexican narcos.

Just last week, the Chicago Police and federal agents announced more than a dozen arrests in the city and suburbs in a coordinated drug raid. The authorities think the suspects arrested have ties to a Mexican drug cartel.

Back in November, the FBI and the Drug Enforcement Administration arrested 12 people in Chicago and charged them with drug trafficking.

U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald said then that the charges were part of the first federal prosecution in Chicago of defendants with ties to the Zetas, one of Mexico's most powerful drug cartels - and an extremely violent one.

According to federal reports, the Chicago region is one of the nation's largest drug markets and a distribution center for illicit drugs.

The feds and local cops know that gangs are increasingly involved in the retail sale of illegal narcotics across Illinois. And gangs have only one source to get drugs for resale: the Mexican cartels.

The feds say the Mexican drug cartels operate in more than 2,500 cities across the country. In Chicago, they have contact with high-level members of the Gangster Disciples, the Vice Lords and the Latin Kings, supplying them with drugs for street distribution, according to federal agencies.

Most homicides committed in Chicago are gang-related and many are the result of rival gangs fighting for turf to sell drugs.

You need only to connect the dots.

The arrest of people with alleged ties to the Zetas is very worrisome. The Zetas, formed by former members of an elite Mexican army unit, are behind some of the most gruesome violence in the Mexican drug war, a conflict that has claimed an estimated 60,000 lives since Mexican President Felipe Calderon launched an all-out war against the cartels five and half years ago.

The Zetas also are capable of launching sophisticated operations, not only in Mexico but the United States.

This week, federal authorities announced they have cracked a race horse-breeding scheme on this side of the border that allowed Mexican nationals with ties to the Zetas to launder millions of dollars in drug money.

Sylvia Longmire, a retired Air Force captain and former special agent with the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, told me that Mexican drug cartels operatives live and work in the United States without calling too much attention to themselves.

"The last thing they want is to arouse the ire of the U.S. authorities by committing the kind of violence we see in Mexico," said Longmire, author of the book Cartel: The Coming Invasion of Mexico's Drug Wars.

Longmire said that there have been killings related to Mexican drug-trafficking groups on the Southwest border. And she pointed out that the potential for cartel-style vicious violence in the streets of American cities is very real because the cartels need to keep the business going "and they are being crunched by Mexican and U.S. law enforcement agencies."

Curbing the spiral of violence in Chicago will require not only fighting gangs in city and suburbs, but also going after their narco friends.

I've been saying this for a while now: The narcos are already here.

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