...You don’t have to look south across the border to see the Mexican drug cartels in operation. They are operating right next door.
Heroin rings and methamphetamine dealers with direct connections to international drug traffickers based in Mexico have operated out of stash houses in Albuquerque’s Northeast Heights, horse ranches in Valencia County, communities on the Navajo Nation and small towns a stone’s throw from the Mexican border.
And while we in New Mexico focus on drug-fueled property crimes such as auto theft and horrific violence such as the murders of 10-year-old Victoria Martens and Rio Rancho police officer Gregg “Nigel” Benner, our state is much more than a local market. It is a primary corridor for the cartels to ship drugs nationwide.
Federal law enforcement estimates the Sinaloa Cartel alone controls somewhere between 40 and 60 percent of illegal drugs used in the United States. It supplies dealers in cities and states including New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, Phoenix, New England, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New Mexico.
The Juárez Cartel supplies heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine and marijuana dealers in North Carolina, Alabama, Oklahoma, Minnesota, New Mexico and parts of Texas.
There is plenty of proof of Mexican cartel operations in New Mexico, as evidenced by some of the operations taken down by law enforcement. For example:
• In May 2012, Luis Rangel and his brother, Miguel, set up shop in Shiprock, on the Navajo reservation. Their business: selling methamphetamine obtained from the Sinaloa Cartel in Phoenix to their Navajo neighbors and in the nearby community of Kirtland, just off the reservation.
• Since the 1990s, members of Ivan Romero’s family have run a tight-knit distribution network that cornered the heroin market in Taos County, serving addicts in the villages and towns of northern New Mexico with heroin imported through Albuquerque from Mexico.
• In Albuquerque, Jesus Munoz Lechuga ran an auto body shop in the far South Valley, receiving cocaine, marijuana and heroin from La Linea faction of the Juárez Cartel and then shipping it to Minnesota, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Illinois and Alabama.
• Homero Varela ran a racehorse business in Valencia County when federal law enforcement broke up the Sinaloa Cartel associate’s $15 million cocaine, methamphetamine and marijuana business.
• At the time of his arrest in July 2015 in Roswell, Joseph Mendiola and his associates were caught by federal and local agents holding 16 pounds of methamphetamine, most of it coming from the Phoenix area and delivered by Francisco Aguilar-Larios. The methamphetamine was destined for sale across the southeastern part of the state.
• From his home in Socorro, Carlos Tafoya Jr. turned out to be one of three suppliers of highly pure methamphetamine to dealers for $800 to $1,200 an ounce who then sold it in smaller amounts on the Mescalero Apache Reservation.
• In the past year, federal agents have broken up two methamphetamine and heroin rings operating in and around Sunland Park, often following the drugs as couriers crossed the bridges in El Paso and made their deliveries in the small New Mexico city.
...Will Glaspy, Drug Enforcement Administration special agent in charge of the El Paso division, is responsible for an area that extends from the Big Bend area in Texas to the New Mexico-Arizona line.
“If you look at that entire area, we’re still seeing marijuana, we’re seeing cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine,” Glaspy said. “If you look at the last four, five years of seizure data, cocaine is the only seizure stat that I have that is going down. Marijuana, meth and heroin are all going up.
“Seizures may be going down in some corridors, but not in our corridor.”...
It is accepted law enforcement wisdom that illegal drugs drive crime in communities.
“Most violent and property crime ties back to drugs,” said Deputy APD Chief Eric Garcia. “Both heroin and methamphetamine are extremely addictive,” he said. “We’re finding more polydrug users. Meth users take heroin to come down from their high. As a result, we’re seeing more polydrug dealers on the street.”
Last year, agents from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and APD ran an undercover operation in Albuquerque expecting to make gun and drug deals with up to 50 career criminals.
They made 104 cases in four months, almost overwhelming the ability of the U.S. Attorney’s Office to handle.
While heroin overdose deaths caught the attention of health officials, law enforcement usually ranks methamphetamine abuse as a greater threat to public safety than heroin addiction.
“The crimes with meth tend to be more heinous, more shocking,” Garcia said.
And New Mexico is no stranger to the horrific crimes linked to both drugs.