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Who are the Sinaloa Cowboys?

A veteran law enforcement officer explains what cops need to know

manequins of Jesus Malverde and Saint Judas Thaddeus

A man walks past a street shrine with two fully-dressed manequins representing Jesus Malverde, the hero or “saint” worshipped by many drug traffickers, left, and Saint Judas Thaddeus, Patron of Hopeless Causes at a street in Mexico City, Jan. 2007.

AP Photo/Dario Lopez-Mill

By David Ibarra

Sinaloa Cowboys began surfacing in 1988 and 1989 in Southern California. They were originally used by Columbians as drug runners, street dealers and enforcers. During this time, the Columbians became more active in money laundering and the illegal European drug trade. The Sinaloa Cowboys now have a strong hold on the illegal market in California and most of the United States due to the illegal immigrant population coming from Mexico. Some of the illegals were already involved in the illegal drug trade business in Mexico and continue with this illegal activity in the States.

A large number of drug crimes in the United States are committed By Mexican nationals and Sinaloa Cowboys. The Sinaloa Cowboys deal in marijuana, heroin, cocaine, as well as the cooking and distribution of meth. They deal in large sales as well as small street sales. They run their operation as a tight group, and won’t usually deal outside this group.

They normally want to know the buyer prior to a big deal. Bars located in low-income Hispanic neighborhoods and Hispanic nightclubs (like the Rio Bravo) are common meeting places. Regular customers, bar employees and even security guards will act as lookouts and can usually tell if police are inside or nearby.

When I worked undercover in these bars and nightclubs (San Bernardino and Los Angeles county), if one of the bar employees suspected a cop was in their establishment they would turn the lights off to let everyone know the place was “hot.” Security would conduct pat-downs on the customers before they entered the nightclub, but the Sinaloa Cowboys would get their firearms from the waitress or band members. The cowboy’s girlfriends would “hide” the weapons and drugs on their person and bring them into the club.

The Sinaloa Cowboys come from the state of Sinaloa. The capital of Sinaloa, Culiacana, is a very dangerous city. Here, shoot-outs between rival drug traffickers are common. This is where the “drug lord patron saint” statue, “Jesus Malverde” is located. This saint is not recognized by the Catholic church; nonetheless, drug dealers will light candles and leave money at the shrine to help them with their “business.” You will see Sinaloa Cowboys and Mexican nationals wearing “Jesus Malverde” medallions; some even have shrines in their homes.

Other areas of Mexico where Sinaloa Cowboys come from are Los Mochis, Guaymas, Mazatlan, Guasave, the state of Durango, the state of Sonora, the state of Jalisco, Guadalajara and Tepic in the state of Nayarit. The border cities of Tijuana, Nogales, Ciudad Juarez, Nuevo Ladero, Reynosa and Matamoros are popular staging areas for Sinaloa Cowboys.

When interviewing a Mexican Nation, ask him what city, in Mexico he is from. You’ll find that nationals from Mexico City, who are known as “chilangos” will have a different accent from Mexican nationals from other parts of Mexico. A good form of a Mexican identification is their voter ID card. This will have their thumb print on it, along with their Mexican address and D.O.B.

The largest population of Sinaloa Cowboys and Mexican Nations are in Los Angeles county, primarily the cities of Huntington Park, Maywood, Bell Cudahy, Bell Gardens, Paramount, Lynnwood, South Gate, Pico Rivera, La Puente, Walnut, Pomona and Palmdale. Other cities include Santa Ana, Fontana, Riverside, Fresno, San Jose, San Deigo and Sacramento. They’ve spread all over the western United States and Arkansas. Their operations are set up to use our nation’s highways to transport drugs.

  • Male Hispanics born in Mexico and usually illegal aliens
  • Late teens to adulthood
  • Like to flash money
  • Wear gold jewelry
  • Wear expensive cowboy attire. e.g., cowboy hats, boots, buckles, and nice long sleeve cowboy shirts
  • Pays cash for everthing
  • Brag about their drug business
  • Listens to nortenos and banda narco-corridos” music- like “chalino,” “lupillo rivera” or “Tigres del Norte”
  • Open a business to launder their money, e.g., bars, nightclubs, car lots and even landscaping businesses

They commonly drive full-size pick up trucks that are decorated with large murals painted on the sides or tailgate. Extra lights and chrome are also common. Other popular vehicles are top-of-the-line SUVs with expensive rims and tires and large American made sedans with expensive rims and tires. Hidden compartments are common in their vehicles to transport narcotics or illegal aliens. A good indicator for a hidden compartment are pressure plates, which are normally found on the driver’s side floor board. If a pressure plate is present, this area may be scuffed or worn. The hidden compartments may be electronic with power coming from the lights, radio, or other power source. If a switch or pressure plate is located follow the wires to the source and the compartment.

Other types of hidden compartments are common. Look for raised truck beds, gas tanks with after market welds, bed liners, hydrolic lift kits, fresh paint spots with weld marks. If you are following the suspect vehicle and the vehicle makes frequent stops for fuel, this could be a good indication that the gas tank is a storage compartment. In large sedans, side panels and back seats are good storage areas. They have been known to hide weapons in the engine compartments and will even store contraband in the tires.


The residences are normally one –story, single-family dwellings with attached garages in low-income areas. The windows are normally equipped with security bars and doors with security screens. The residence is used as a stash house, however it is common for it to be lived in. The dealer and his family may live in the house, or hire a family to live in it for them. If the family lives in it for the dealer they are usually not allowed into one of the rooms and may not know what is going on.

Hidden rooms and closets and compartments are commonly found in the houses. Another common location for stashing the drugs and money are air conditioning ducts. They will split the money and narcotics up and hide their stash in more than one place. If you find money and or dope in one spot you need to check further.

Columbians normally kept the money and dope separate and not in the same location. The Mexican nationals like to keep it all at the same location. They will also bury the dope and money in the yards, alleys and nearby fields.

If the residence has a phone, it will not be used for business. Phone calls are made on a public phone or cell phone. The Sinaloa cowboys and drug dealing Mexican nationals are violent people with little regard for human life. It’s a status symbol for them to be involved in a shoot out with the police.

They don’t respect police in their country and won’t respect police in the U.S. During police raids, in the United States, the entire residents have been known to attack police officers to avoid


They have written songs, poems and there are music videos about shoot outs with rival drug dealers, shoot outs with the police, along with stories about their drug life. There has been an increase in officer-involved shootings involving Sinaloa cowboys and Mexican nationals. One case involved the murder of a los county deputy who was shot by a Sinaloa cowboy (illegal alien) this subject fled to Mexico and was living on his ranch for several years. Due to lack of cooperation, with the Mexican government, and the fact that they did not want one of their Mexican citizens

Facing life in prison or the death penalty, it took time getting the suspect returned to the United States to stand trial. Other cop killers remain free in Mexico. Search warrants are more dangerous based on the attitudes of the subjects that the police are dealing with. Set-ups and ambushes are common. It is also common for them to run into a room and wait for the officer to come in at which time the subject would immediately shoot the officer.

They like guns and having a good gun is also a status symbol of pride. They will engrave the gun, buy pearl handles and chrome them. They will take pride in their guns and will not hesitate to use them. They love AK47s , which they call “cuerno de chivo” (goats horn). They are known to brag about their illegal activities and tell their girlfriends everything. Having several girlfriends is also a status symbol for them and it is not uncommon for them to be married as well as having a girlfriend. These females make good informants and will usually talk, especially if she is mad at her man.

Sinaloa Cowboys will show off at nightclubs by ordering expensive drinks, giving big tips and paying hundreds of dollars to have the band play their favorite songs. I have seen them spend up to 3000.00 dollars in one night.

In Mexico, drug lords are respected by the general public. They can interact in their communities and conduct their business openly without fear of being arrested. They will often have police officers as body guards. They have more problems with rival drug dealers. Murders and shoot outs involving these subjects are common.

Society in Mexico has learned to accept their way of life and at the same time respect them out of fear. There have been some honest cops who have refused bribes and have placed some of the Sinaloa Cowboys in jail, but they are dead now.

If you arrest a Mexican national for a narcotics violation he/she should be identified via NCIC, because they will lie about their name. You should ask them where they are from in Mexico. If they are from the areas previously mentioned, you may have a Sinaloa Cowboy. If you feel you have one, forward this information to the Dept. of Justice, attention: Bureau of Narcotics.

Homicides are common. If you have a Mexican national that is involved and it appears to be drug-related, that would very well be the tip of an ominous iceberg. As stated, they are violent and will shoot it out with the police.

Shaved head Mexican gang members have switched from dressing in baggy gang attire to dressing up in Sinaloa Cowboy attire (see:

Here’s one verse from a song from a group:

Called ‘los tigres de norte’ [tigers from the north]
They came through San Ysidro via Tijuana
They had their tires full of marijuana
They have their own web site,

Chalino Sanchez and Valentin Elizalde were both Narco-Banda singers. Their songs glorified the drug dealer life. Both were killed gangsta rap-style. Their killings made headlines and other singers took their place.

Here in Arkansas and the surrounding states, the Sinaloa Cowboys will have their dealers work at local factories and chicken plants to not draw too much attention. This is where they network and make transactions. Some of these factory workers make just above minimum wage, but they drive expensive vehicles and will buy homes in cash.

You will also notice a large amount of auto body shops in largely Hispanic neighborhoods. Some are legitimate, others are just fronts. Sinaloa Cowboys and Mexican drug dealers will transport their drugs from Mexico and will start off with one vehicle. Once in the United States, they will take this vehicle to one of their body shops and have the fenders, side panels, gas tanks or other compartments disassembled .

Once this in done, they will transfer the drugs to another vehicle, hence creating another “mule” vehicle. They will remain at their first stop for a week and then move on to the next city. They will repeat this process up to three times until they reach their final destination. The reason they now operate in this manner is because they were drawing too much attention to themselves by using the same vehicle and traveling to their destination

In a short period of time, they would often get pulled over by state troopers or local police, and through police questioning and observations, the subjects were arrested and the drugs were seized.

Now these subjects are taking their time, switching vehicles and rehearsing their lines, so that all the occupants have the same story in the event they get pulled over by law enforcement officers.

A typical transportation route starts off in Mexico (where the main drug dealer lives) through Texas, up through Oklahoma and finally NW Arkansas.

These drug dealers will open a business, ranging from a taco stand or bar to a landscaping business – all of this to launder their money. As previously mentioned, Sinaloa cowboys and Mexican national drug dealers have teamed up with gang members

To distribute drugs through out the United States now with this influx of illegal aliens, the problem will only get worse.

About the author
Officer Dave Ibarra is a 20 year police veteran. He lives in Southern California.