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Rising Violence in Chihuahua, Mexico Points to Homegrown Disputes


The border state of Chihuahua, Mexico is confronting a resurgence of violent crime, but the fight seems more about local revenue streams than international trafficking routes.

Data from the Mexican government shows that Chihuahua logged a total of 791 gun murders in 2016, a 40 percent increase over the number of gun murders recorded in the state in 2015.

The violence has continued in 2017. According to statistics obtained by InSight Crime from Chihuahua’s Attorney General’s Office, the state logged a total of 321 murders during the first two months of 2017.

Many of these killings appear to be hits targeting individual victims. And in many cases there are signs that the recent wave of attacks is tied to organized crime and local level retail drug dealing.

On March 20, for example, Chihuahua’s State Attorney General’s Office confirmed the death of suspected local crime leader César Raúl Gamboa Sosa, alías “El Cabo,” in a confrontation with a rival group the previous day.

Less than a week earlier, on March 14, armed civilian gunmen attacked a group of police officers in the town of Bachiniva south of Ciudad Juárez in the center of the state of Chihuahua. One officer was killed and two were injured in an attack that mirrored a similar incident in the same area one week earlier.

On February 5, three college students were killed at a taqueria in Ciudad Juárez, the largest city in the state. Prosecutors allege that the three men were involved in local level drug dealing.

And on January 23 two men were killed and two others were injured in an ambush while driving through Villa Bravo in Chihuahua City. Police found more than 300 .223 mm and 7.62 X 39 mm shells at the crime scene, ammunition used in AR-15 and AK-47 assault rifles. Prosecutors in Chihuahua have stated that the victims were alleged members of La Línea, one of the state’s major organized crime groups.

SEE ALSO: Mexico News and Profiles

Chihuahua’s State Attorney General César Peniche acknowledged last year that “since the start of [2016] an increase in the number of homicides in Ciudad Juárez as well as Chihuahua and other towns has been reflected in the statistics.”

But the battles are not just urban. In one particularly dramatic incident on October 12, 2016, a large convoy of heavily armed men near the rural town of Madera confronted police in a gunfight that lasted several hours and left ten dead, including three municipal police.

And on October 27, gunmen killed seven people at a motel outside of Ciudad Juárez, in a shooting prosecutors said was linked to competition over street-level drug dealing.

InSight Crime Analysis

The recent crime wave in Ciudad Juárez and Chihuahua is different from the hyper-violent period of 2008-2012 because the fight appears to be mostly focused on retail drug dealing rather than a wider battle for control of smuggling routes.

“We attribute this [uptick in violence] to the repositioning of certain criminal organizations that are fighting for territory for the retail drug trade,” Peniche explained, specifically citing the methamphetamine business as a flashpoint.

But while incidents of violence in the world of retail drug dealing have become more frequent, Chihuahua is not experiencing a similar rise in murders of taxi drivers and street vendors who often work as informers and lookouts for organized crime groups engaged in cross-border drug smuggling.

Additionally, the rise of gangland violence does not appear to have been accompanied by a commensurate increase in crime targeting innocent residents or local police officers and police captains. The number of kidnappings reported in Chihuahua in 2016 is around 7 percent of the level recorded in 2011. Even as violent crime rose in 2016 the state recorded only nine kidnappings.

In fact, current levels of violence in state are still far below levels experienced during 2008-2012, when the Juárez and Sinaloa Cartels battled for control of the lucrative Juárez corridor. For instance, in 2010 Chihuahua recorded 3,210 gun murders. Since 2010, however, the overall level of violence in Chihuahua diminished. The state logged 2,382 gun murders in 2011, 1,093 in 2012, and a low of 393 in 2013. 

Since 2012, Ciudad Juárez has enjoyed major improvements in overall security. And the recent crime wave has not erased the broader trend of improving security for ordinary citizens. So far, the violence appears to be highly concentrated among low income, low-level drug dealers or in rural areas like the Sierra Madre.

“The current uptick in Chihuahua and Ciudad Juárez probably has a lot to do with competition within Chihuahua to control the domestic trade in meth and heroin. The killings we’re seeing appear to be fairly low-level people, street dealers,” Julián Cardona, a researcher from Ciudad Juárez, told InSight Crime.

Researcher Molly Malloy of New Mexico State University agreed, telling InSight Crime, “A lot of the violence in Juárez may have to do with local street gangs and their fight to control their territory to sell heroin and meth. They kill people because they want to sell drugs. That’s where the violence is generated. There are violent street gangs that control neighborhoods and fight each other.”

The dynamic is complicated by the fact that international trafficking groups often use local street gangs as soldiers and enforcers. The Sinaloa Cartel, for instance, has been allied with groups such as Los Artisas Asesinos and Los Mexicles, while the Juárez Cartel has its own enforcement arm, La Línea, as well as an alliance with the street and prison gang Barrio Azteca. 

Rising Violence in Juárez, Mexico May Signal Return of Cartel War


Violence in Ciudad Juárez is on the rise. This year is on track to be the deadliest since 2012, signaling the possible renewal of warfare between the region’s dominant criminal groups.

Seven people were killed and one injured in an October 27 attack at a motel in the city of Chihuahua, a few hours south of Ciudad Juárez on the highway that links the two cities.

According to eyewitnesses, four men entered the motel at around 5:45 pm wielding heavy caliber weapons, and opened fire on the victims. Afterward, the assailants fled north, stopping to change vehicles, according to El Diario.

Chihuahua Attorney General Cesar Augusto Peniche said that both the victims and the perpetrators were members of criminal groups. The authorities have apprehended one of the individuals involved in the slaughter, according to Proceso.

Additionally, ten other people were killed that day in various attacks in Juárez, reported Proceso.

InSight Crime Analysis

Juárez and the state of Chihuahua have seen rising levels of violence in recent months, raising speculation that the dark days of brutal killings that the city saw in between the years 2008 and 2012 could be making a comeback. Just in the month of October, there have been 90 homicides in Juárez, and 183 in the state of Chihuahua, according to Proceso. Mexico’s army — which many human rights activities have blamed, at least in part, for a spike in violence that began in 2008 — was sent back onto the streets of Juárez in August this year.

At the current pace, 2016 will be most violent year in Juárez since 2012, according to Mexican security analyst Alejandro Hope, who also noted that violence is not confined to Juárez, and that murders have been on the rise around the state of Chihuahua. The level of brutality and style of the killings, notes Hope, are reminiscent of those seen during the 2008 to 2012 war between the Juárez and Sinaloa Cartels.

SEE ALSO: Mexico News and Profiles

The notion that the conflict between the two groups could be revived was lent credence via an interview the newspaper El Universal recently conducted with “Jorge”, a leader of La Linea (The Line), the enforcement wing of the Juárez Cartel. Jorge said that the latest rise in homicides were just the beginning. According to him, “war” is returning to Juárez and the worst is yet to come. 

Gustavo Fondevila, a security expert, told InSight Crime that it is likely that the possible extradition to the United States of Sinaloa Cartel leader Joaquín “El Chapo Guzmán has weakened the crime group and disrupted its control in Juárez. When criminal groups contest strategically important territories — like Juárez, which is a major transshipment point for drugs headed to the United States — violence tends to increase, Fondevila said.

Mexico Pursues Top Drug Lords Amid Fragmented Criminal Landscape


Authorities in Mexico continue to focus on hunting down the heads of the country’s most prominent cartels, pursuing a kingpin strategy that will probably do little to cure a dire security situation given the the nation’s increasingly fragmented organized crime landscape.

Mexico’s Attorney General’s Office holds a list of 15 individuals considered to be the most prominent drug lords from various criminal organizations, reported Posta. Their arrest is considered a high priority following the re-capture of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzmán earlier this year.

Sinaloa Cartel

Five of the individuals are members of the Sinaloa Cartel, arguably the most infamous drug trafficking group in the country and El Chapo’s former organization.

Ismael Zambada Garcia “El Mayo” was El Chapo’s partner and heads one of the most prominent factions of the cartel. Juan Jose Esparragoza Moreno, alias “El Azul“, is a former police detective whose history in the drug business stretches back to the defunct Guadalajara Cartel in the 1980s. More recently, he played an important but discrete role within the Sinaloa leadership.

Dámaso López Núñez, alias “El Licenciado”, rose through the ranks of the organization after having facilitated El Chapo’s first of two prison escapes in 2001. He was considered for some time to be El Chapo’s designated successor, although the cartel’s decentralized structure weakens those claims. His son, Dámaso López Serrano, alias “El Mini Lic,” a godson of El Chapo, is also on the list. He heads the cartel’s “Los Ántrax” faction which operates in Culiacán.

Rounding out Sinaloa’s top fugitives is José Antonio Cueto López, who the Attorney General’s Office believes operates as intermediary between the cartel and public officials in the Mexico City, according to Posta.


Juárez Cartel

The Juárez Cartel has been a major player since the 1980s but is thought to have experienced significant decline in recent years. Two members of the organization are on the list. Juan Pablo Ledezma, alias “El JL”, is considered to be its current leader following the arrest of Vicente Carrillo Fuentes, “El Viceroy,” in October 2014. Juan Pablo Guijarro Fragosa, alias “El Mónico” or “El H1,” is head of the cartel’s enforcement arm “La Línea.”

Beltrán Leyva Organization (BLO)

Fausto Isidro Meza Flores, alias “Chapo” or “Chapito” Isidro, is believed by some to have taken control of the BLO following the arrest of Hector Beltran in 2014. He allegedly headed the group known as the “Mazatlecos” in the war against the Sinaloa Cartel for the control of the Golden Triangle, a strategic poppy cultivation and trafficking region in northern Mexico.

Francisco Javier Hernández García, “El Panchito,” was the intermediary between the BLO and the Juárez and Gulf cartels. He was reportedly arrested in February 2016.

Los Rojos

Two members of the BLO splinter group Los Rojos appear on the list. Its leader Santiago Mazari, alias “El Carrete” or “El 8,” and his partner Omar Cuenca Ramírez, “El Niño Popis,” who is in charge of the group’s operations in Guerrero, according to Posta.

La Familia Michoacana

Ignacio Rentería, alias “El Nacho,” is in charge of the Familia’s operations in Uruapan, Michoacán’s second biggest city. The Attorney General’s Office offers a 10 million peso reward for information leading to his arrest. Johnny Hurtado Olascoaga, “El Pez,” or “El Fish,” controls the organization’s activities in the Terra Calienta region and is allegedly responsible for a 2014 wave of kidnappings in Valle de Bravo, State of Mexico.

Los Zetas

Maxiley Barahona Nadales, alias “El Contador,” is in charge of Los Zetas’ activities in Veracruz, Tabasco and Chiapas. He was allegedly a close lieutenant of Miguel Ángel Treviño,“Z-40,” the former head of the cartel who was captured in 2013.

Jalisco Cartel – New Generation (CJNG)

Nemesio Oseguera Cervantes, alias “El Mencho,” is the leader and founder of the CJNG. His organization has become one of Mexico’s most powerful cartels, operating in a total of eight states, more than any other group in the country.

InSight Crime Analysis

President Enrique Peña Nieto’s administration has persistently oriented its antidrug strategy on the basis of an evolving most wanted list, all while attempting to minimize the public awareness of it.

Keeping the names of high-valued targets secret could be justified by the need to protect ongoing investigations. But it also makes political sense for an administration whose president ran on the promise of abandoning his predecessor’s kingpin strategy before adopting an almost identical drug policy. The government has recently claimed important advances in its fight against crime, even as Mexico’s homicide rate is climbing.

SEE ALSO: Mexico News and Profiles

While the government focuses on top drug lords, the country’s has witnessed further fragmentation of its criminal landscape, with Mexico’s Attorney General’s Office admitting to the existence of more than 40 gangs working for nine powerful cartels in 2014.

Is the Godfather of Mexico’s Drug Trade Back in Business?


The founder of Mexico’s notorious and now defunct Guadalajara Cartel, Rafael Caro Quintero, has been linked to two recent events that have raised alarm among authorities three years after a controversial court ruling freed the veteran drug lord and current fugitive from prison.

Caro Quintero, now in his mid-60s, has been dubbed the “narco of narcos” and the godfather of Mexico drug trafficking. After establishing himself as one of the country’s most powerful drug lords in the 1980s, he was imprisoned in 1989 for drug trafficking, murder, and perhaps most importantly, for the abduction, torture and killing of Enrique “Kiki” Camarena, an agent for the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

Now, authorities suspect that the legendary crime boss could be attempting a comeback, after reports hinted at his involvement in a pair of recent confrontations involving the infamous Sinaloa Cartel and its jailed leader, Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzmán — a one-time underworld associate of Caro Quintero.

Caro Quintero started his career in the drug business in the 1970s running a mega-marijuana farm in northern Mexico to supply the US16-07-25KikiCamarenaMug1 market. He later progressed to the more lucrative business of trafficking Pablo Escobar’s Colombian cocaine into the United States.

Shortly after the brutal murder of the DEA agent Camarena in 1985, Caro Quintero was detained in Costa Rica and transferred to Mexico. After nearly three decades behind bars, he was released on a technicality in 2013 and soon went underground.

Almost as soon as Caro Quintero was released, The US State Department offered a $5 million reward for information leading to his arrest. The DEA also put him on their most wanted fugitives list, and Mexican authorities issued a new warrant for his arrest, saying he should serve out the remainder of his original 40-year sentence.

Since his 2013 release from prison, Caro Quintero seemed to be laying low. However, his name has surfaced in connection with an attack in mid-June on “El Chapo” Guzmán’s hometown in Sinaloa state. Guzmán was reputed to be Mexico’s most powerful contemporary drug lord before his three recent arrests and two escapes, but the Sinaloa Cartel kingpin’s luck seems to have taken a turn for the worse after his latest capture. He is now fighting extradition to the United States.

SEE ALSO: Sinaloa Cartel News and Profile

While the circumstances of that spate of violence in the mountains of Sinaloa remain unclear, most versions indicate the gunmen were working for the rival Beltrán Leyva Organization (BLO), and some accounts have linked Caro Quintero to the events.

Farther to the north, in the neighboring state of Chihuahua, some official sources have said Caro Quintero has been trying to move in on territory controlled by Guzmán’s Sinaloa Cartel. Beginning in 2008, the Sinaloa and Juarez cartels waged a bloody turf war centered on the strategic border outpost of Ciudad Juárez. After several years of bloodshed, Guzmán’s organization came out on top.

More recently, Caro Quintero himself resurfaced in a secretly recorded interview with Mexico’s Proceso news magazine published on July 25.  He denied having problems with anyone except the authorities, whom he offered an apology. He said he had nothing to do with Camarena’s 1985 murder, but was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

“I am not at war with anyone. El Chapo and El Mayo are my friends,” he told Proceso, referring to Guzmán and another top Sinaloa Cartel boss, Ismael Zambada Garcia, who remains at large. Caro Quintero said he was trying to get out of trouble, not into it. 

If the official reports about Caro Quintero’s return to active participation in Mexico’s organized crime arena are accurate, any assessment of the notorious capo and his network’s role in the country’s current criminal dynamics should start with an understanding of their history.

The Logic of Cartel Violence

A good place to start is an examination of the interaction between the logic of the clan and the logic of the criminal organization.

Logic of the clan takes things personally. It tends to lead to revenge killings and collective punishment. For example, the violent attack in June that dislodged El Chapo’s mother from her home in the mountains of Sinaloa was reportedly motivated by the murder of a member of the Beltrán Leyva family, a killing allegedly ordered by El Chapo’s brother, Aurelino Guzmán.

The weekly Rio Doce magazine has reported that “El Chapo” opposed his brother’s actions. These reported protestations apparently were not enough to forestall what the news site Estado Mayor characterized as the “reactivation of the bloody conflict between the Beltrán Leyva and Guzmán Loera clans.”

SEE ALSO: Coverage of the Beltran Leyva Org

On the other hand, the logic of organized crime revolves around territorial control. Disputes over trafficking routes and “plazas,” as key centers of illegal activity are known, involve selective attacks targeting important individuals such as crime bosses, hit men, and even small-scale traffickers working for a rival.

The historic battle between the once-allied Sinaloa and Beltrán Leyva cartels is an example of this logic. In fact, the recent violence in Sinaloa has a precedent in conflict between the two groups that caused the displacement of thousands of Sinaloa residents in 2013.

These two forms of criminal logic — of the clan and of the organization — are not mutually exclusive. Rather, they constantly interact in an ebb and flow, at times reinforcing one another. The question now is how Caro Quintero might be inserting himself and his networks into this logic of criminal violence.

The veteran drug trafficker’s roots in Badiraguato, Sinaloa — the site of recent violence that displaced several hundred people — provide personal connections and an opportunity to form or renew alliances in the area. However, it is the logic of the organization that poses the biggest threat to security and poses the most relevant questions.


Where is Caro Quintero?

Looking further south to Guadalajara, in Jalisco state, the US Treasury Department has linked Caro Quintero to luxury properties and the financial network of Ismael Esparragoza “El Azul,” who reportedly worked with both the Sinaloa and Juarez cartels and promoted an alliance between them. In May 2016, the US Treasury Department designated Caro Quintero’s common-law wife a narcotics trafficker and accused her of managing assets on his behalf. The couple met in a Jalisco prison around 2008 and allegedly have luxury real estate holdings in the state capital, Guadalajara.

Despite Caro Quintero’s ties to Jalisco, the Jalisco Cartel – New Generation (CJNG) has in recent years taken over some of his old areas of operation there, according to the news outlet Milenio. Assuming Caro Quintero is still active and has focused his attention further north, it is unclear if he was displaced from Jalisco by competition or has moved voluntarily in search of greater opportunity.

SEE ALSO: Mexico News and Profiles 

The aging fugitive may be avoiding Jalisco because law enforcement is generating too much heat there. Authorities have mounted a heavily militarized hunt in Jalisco for CJNG leader Nemesio Oseguera, alias “El Mencho.” The state is also home to the penitentiary where Caro Quintero last served time. Exploring opportunities further north in places where he has contacts and that are less heavily patrolled by Mexican authorities might be a logical choice.

Sonora is another possible base of operations, security sources recently told the newspaper La Jornada. Sonora is a large state north of Sinaloa that accounts for most of Mexico’s border with the US state of Arizona. In the south, Sonora also borders Mexico’s Golden Triangle, a strategic region for both opium poppy cultivation and drug trafficking.

La Jornada’s sources claimed Caro Quintero has enlisted the support of former Beltrán Leyva hit men who created their own groups, Los Pelones and Los Gueros. In February 2015, a close associate reportedly married to one of Caro Quintero’s family members was arrested in Sonora and accused of managing cross-border drug traffic.

Who is Caro Quintero Working With?

The security sources cited by La Jornada speculated that Caro Quintero had strengthened his position in Sonora following the February 2016 arrest of Francisco Javier Hernandez Garcia, alias “El 2000.” Authorities identified the captured trafficker as a member of the Hernandez clan, allies of the Beltrán Leyva cartel, and a controller of drug routes through the state.

Whether or not Caro Quintero had anything to do with the violence in and around El Chapo’s home town in June — and which side he might have been aligned with in that conflict — is unclear at best. Reporte Indigo recently cited federal government intelligence sources who said Caro Quintero continued to operate during his long years in prison with the help of “El Chapo,” and has assumed control of much of the Sinaloa Cartel’s operation since Guzmán went back to prison in January 2016.

Sorting out fact from fiction is rarely easy when it comes to matters of organized crime. But if the central government’s intelligence is true to its name, it does appear that Caro Quintero, despite 28 years behind bars, has maintained a variety of contacts and networks in the drug trafficking world. In a criminal landscape that is characterized by a multitude of actors and continuous shifting of alliances, the “narco of narcos” appears to be in an advantageous position.

*Jesús Pérez Caballero is an independent researcher of issues related to organized crime, drug trafficking and penal law in Latin America. He is currently with the post-doctoral program at the Autonomous National University of Mexico (UNAM). InSight Crime Managing Editor Dan Alder contributed to this report.

Juarez Cartel Operator a Player in International Soccer Deals


A convicted financial operator of Mexico’s Juárez Cartel is also the legal representative of a firm involved in the buying and selling of European soccer players.

The first part of this investigation documented how Rodolfo David Dávila Córdova, who was sentenced for having been the financial operator of the Juárez Cartel, obtained a government contract in 2013 for 207 million mexican pesos as the legal representative of Grupo Comercializador Cónclave. (See part one of the series here.)

A second contract from the same federal program, the National Crusade Against Hunger, was awarded to Prodasa SA de CV for 188 million mexican pesos. Dávila Córdova is the majority shareholder in that company.

This article was originally published by Artistegui Noticias in collaboration with CONNECTAS and the International Center for Journalists. It was translated, edited for clarity, and reprinted with permission, but does not necessarily reflect the views of InSight Crime. See the Spanish original here.

But this investigation has uncovered another startling truth about Dávila Córdova’s Grupo Comercializador Cónclave: it is involved in the hugely lucrative arena of professional soccer in Europe. 

Reports submitted by the Portuguese club Porto to the country’s financial regulator show the participation of Cónclave as an intermediary in the dealing of European soccer players.

“During a six-month period that ended on December 31, 2012, the entities Northfields Sports BV, Grupo Comercializador Cónclave SA, and the agent Giancarlo Uda provided brokerage services,” states one of the reports shared with the investors of the Porto soccer club.

The financial report states that during the period in which Cónclave acted as an intermediary (July 2012 – December 2012) Porto added to its roster Mexican national Diego Reyes from Club América, as well as the Colombian nationals Jackson Martínez and Héctor Quiñones, who played for Club Jaguares of Chiapas, Mexico, and the Asociación Deportivo Cali in Colombia.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Soccer and Organized Crime 

The report from the Portuguese club does not state which of these player transfers Grupo Comercializador Cónclave helped move to Europe. Nonetheless, during this investigation, it became clear that Northfields Sports was the brokerage company that managed the transfer of Diego Reyes to Porto for 9,092,320 euros. 

And the Mexican agent Guillermo Lara participated in the transfer of Jackson Martínez. Lara made a multi-million dollar deal with the transfer of Jackson, since the player cost him $100,000 and he was sold from the Jaguares in Chiapas to Porto for 9.6 million euros.


In its 2012 year-end report, Porto explains that the additional charges related to the sale of players ($750,000 in the case of Jackson Martínez) correspond to several different expenses, including what the brokerage companies charge.

In the financial report for the first trimester of 2013, Porto still had Grupo Comercializador Cónclave in its portfolio of brokerage companies.


But in 2014 and 2015, Cónclave no longer appeared in the financial documents of the Portuguese soccer squad.

Jackson Martínez began playing in Mexican soccer leagues in 2010 with the Jaguares of Chiapas, where he stayed for two-and-a-half years and registered a record 33 goals. He was transferred to Porto in July 2012. The acclaimed soccer player was just 25 years old when he moved to Europe.

The same month that he was transferred, the Colombian radio station RCN and Mundo Fox from the United States aired an investigation that said that Guillermo Lara, the promoter of the Colombian player, had links to drug trafficking. 

The investigation, based on documents seized by the Attorney General’s Office belonging to an alleged member of Colombia’s Norte del Valle Cartel, also said that drug kingpins, paramilitaries, and Colombian guerrillas had invested in Mexican soccer between 2003 and 2006.

The documents show million-dollar payments to professional Mexican soccer teams and businessmen involved in the sport, including Carlos Ahumada and Guillermo Lara.


The investigation found that Lara had benefited from several payments that originated from drug traffickers. Following the publication of the investigation, Lara denied any link to drug cartels.

“They are not accusations. To me they are stupid,” Lara said in August 2012. “These people are not professionals, they have no ethics and write any old lie. The deal involving Colombia was Jackson Martínez’s, who, as you all know, I have just sold to Porto. These are the deals that I do.”

Lara has been linked to drug trafficking operations and individuals with ties to the Juárez Cartel. In February 2014, Tirso Martínez, alias “El Tío,” was arrested in León, Guanajuato. Martínez was an associate of Amado Carrillo Fuentes, alias “The Lord of the Skies,” the former head of the Juárez Cartel who died in 1997. Mexican newspaper Reforma revealed at the time that Martínez had been identified by a witness in the United States as a “member of a network that laundered money by transferring Colombian players in partnership with Promotora Internacional Fut Soccer, owned by Guillermo Lara.”

In the early 2000s, Martínez was also accused of laundering money through the soccer teams Querétaro, Irapuato and Celaya.

Guillermo Lara and his business Promotora Internacional Fut Soccer had already been investigated over a decade ago by the Attorney General Office’s division for specialized investigations against organized crime. The prosecutor’s unit opened a preliminary investigation titled PGR/UEDO/080/2001 to establish the presumed relationship between Lara and the Colombian drug trafficker, Jorge Mario Ríos Laverde, a prisoner in the United States.

When he was captured in October 2002, Ríos Laverde was traveling in a BMW truck belonging to Guillermo Lara.

Suspicion surrounding Lara grew when in July 2003, the soccer player Carlos Álvarez Maya was arrested in Mexico City’s international airport, where he was trying to travel to Colombia with a million dollars in cash. The player was represented by Lara’s Promotora Internacional Fut Soccer.

*This article was originally published by Artistegui Noticias in collaboration with CONNECTAS and the International Center for Journalists. It was translated, edited for clarity, and reprinted with permission, but does not necessarily reflect the views of InSight Crime. See the Spanish original here.

How Mexico Awarded $30 Million to Juárez Cartel Operator


A former executive of the Bank of Mexico received government contracts worth over $30 million despite his conviction years earlier of being a financial operator for the Juárez Cartel.

Four boxes stuffed with 37,000 twenty-dollar bills had been deposited into a black Ford Ecosport truck parked near the intersection of Ave. Universidad and Eje 5 Sur.

The wad of bills, which weighed more than 30 kilos, added up to a fortune: $740,040. But that is just one of the million-dollar transactions the truck’s driver presumably carried out via his currency exchange office as part of a sophisticated money laundering network for the Juárez Cartel.

This article was originally published by Artistegui Noticias in collaboration with CONNECTAS and the International Center for Journalists. It was translated, edited for clarity, and reprinted with permission, but does not necessarily reflect the views of InSight Crime. See the Spanish original here.

One by one, the cardboard boxes were taken out of a grey compact car belonging to Juan Ignacio Izquierdo Sánchez, identified by authorities as being responsible for the logistics of receiving and shipping dollars between Mexico and Colombia.


Officials said that federal police who had been tracking the operation appeared after the boxes had been transferred to the truck on the busy avenue in Mexico City.

Mexico’s Attorney General’s Office (Procuraduría General de la República – PGR) said the driver of the truck, Rodolfo David Dávila Córdova, confessed that the money belonged to the Juárez Cartel, and that he laundered money by making electronic transfers in different parts of the country via his currency exchange offices. The PGR identified Dávila Córdova as the Juárez Cartel’s contact with Colombian drug suppliers, and as the person responsible for the cartel’s commercial and financial transactions.


The two alleged operators of the cartel were thrown into Altiplano prison, where they were sentenced by the Fourth District judge for using illicit capital to carry out financial operations.

The arrests occurred more than a decade ago, on October 26, 2005. But it is relevant now because one of the alleged cartel operators has become a contractor for the administration of President Enrique Peña Nieto, and is involved in the president’s hallmark social program: the National Crusade Against Hunger (Cruzada Nacional Contra el Hambre). More than 396 million pesos (approximately $30.2 million, at 2013’s exchange rate) were handed over to nonexistent businesses for services that were never carried out. This case involved the Autonomous University of Morelos State (Universidad Autónoma del Estado de Morelos) and a former leader of the New Alliance party (Nueva Alianza) who is now an official at that academic institution.

Along with the boxes filled with cash, the investigative agents found in the Ecosport truck documents that allowed them to identify the leadership structure and operational zones of the Juárez Cartel.

The documents also led authorities some 16 days later to Ricardo García Urquiza, alias “The Doctor,” who had assumed the mantle of the cartel following the killing of Rodolfo Carrillo Fuentes in 2004 in Culiacán. According to the official report, the kingpin was captured close to the Perisur shopping center as he arrived for a meeting with a contact that was planning to send him a cocaine shipment from Colombia.

At the time of his capture, García Urquiza was carrying a pistol with a golden handle that was encrusted with diamonds and had the Yin Yang symbol. But the most important discovery derived from his arrest was documents revealing the business structure he had managed to create for the Juárez Cartel.

One example: authorities reported the seizure of 51 accounts in Banamex, Bancomer, Banorte and HSBC that were used to pay the cartel’s drug traffickers.

In García Urquiza’s house in Colonia Insurgentes Cuicuilco, authorities seized a document that contained information about how he concealed the illegal operations. He used either male or female names to indicate the day of the month and the hour of meetings where drug shipment transactions occurred.

“We are going to see Teresa in Pedro’s house,” meant that the shipment would arrive on the fifth of the month at 8:00 p.m.

Authorities found $2,886,000 on one of his accomplices known as “The Accountant.”  The wads of twenty-dollar bills were wrapped in plastic, presumably ready to be sent to Colombia to pay for drugs. Agents also found accounting records that revealed expenditures, the cost of the drug shipments, and commissions that the cartel paid to traffickers and authorities linked to the criminal organization.


The seized documents revealed the size of kingpin García Urquiza’s operations: he was buying shipments of at least five tons of cocaine, which according to the PGR made him the principal drug wholesaler operating in Mexico at the time, responsible for between 15 and 20 percent of the cocaine shipments to the United States. The government estimated that his operations earned between $660 million and $1 billion per year.


Rodolfo David Dávila Córdova had an alias that described him perfectly: “The Consul.” He was called that because the alleged Juárez Cartel intermediary had contacts with federal authorities.

From 1988 to 1990, Dávila Córdova had worked for the Bank of Mexico as deputy manager of domestic exchanges. One of his responsibilities was to establish the policy of buying and selling of currencies, in addition to monitoring international transactions in the exchange markets. He later worked as the deputy director of real estate for the Secretary of Communications and Transportation (Secretaría de Comunicaciones y Transportes – SCT). Dávila Córdova worked for the federal government until 2003.

Prosecutors say Dávila Córdova was recruited by the Juárez Cartel to carry out money laundering operations via the exchange center “Envíos del Ahorro,” in which he was a partner with 32 percent of shares.

Authorities say the exchange house’s branches in Illinois and Texas were used to send drug money to the head Envios del Ahorro office in Michoacán. The transactions appeared as remittances sent from fellow Mexicans in Chicago or McAllen.

“This man [Rodolfo David Dávila Córdova] was the one who physically managed the payments and trafficked the funds through the exchange houses,” said the then-head of the PGR Daniel Cabeza de Vaca in November 2005.

In addition to Envios del Ahorro, authorities linked the former Bank of Mexico executive to Casa de Cambio Internacional — later named Ribadeo — which was also involved in money laundering.


Eight years after being incarcerated and three years after he was released, Dávila Córdova became a contractor for the National Crusade Against Hunger.

In two transactions carried out between October and December 2013, two business of which Dávila Córdova is either a partner or the legal representative received more than 396 million pesos ($30.2 million) from the federal program.

The business are called Grupo Comercializador Cónclave SA de CV and Prodasa SA de CV.

The signature of the Juárez Cartel operative is found on a National Crusade Against Hunger contract for 207,779,000 pesos (approximately $15.8 million), where he appears as Conclave’s legal representative.


His brother signed a second government contract worth 188,662,000 pesos (approximately $14.8 million) as the legal representative of Prodasa SA de Cv.


In Prodasa’s charter, Dávila Córdova is listed as the principal partner, with 70 percent of the shares.

Together, the two contracts awarded to businesses linked to Dávila Córdova added up to 396 million pesos ($30.2 million). Most of these funds were transferred to a network of related companies in fake operations.

Both Cónclave and Prodasa are shell companies that charged for services that were never delivered. The physical addresses that appeared on the invoices correspond in reality to a medical office and the office of a law firm.

During the subsequent investigation authorities looked for Dávila Córdova at the addresses listed on the invoices, but did not find him.


On April 15, 2015, an agent from the Mexico’s tax collection office (Servicio de Administración Tributaria – SAT) went to Altiplano prison in search of Dávila Córdova. The agent went to collect a fine that a judge had imposed on the inmate five years earlier. But Dávila Córdova wasn’t in his cell. He had already been released.

An employee at Altiplano then conducted a search through the prison’s database, and found that Dávila Córdova had left the premise on October 26, 2010.


The PGR announced that Dávila Córdova had been found guilty by a federal judge just eight months before the Juárez Cartel financial operator was set free.

Days before being released, Dávila Córdova was working on an alternative plan: an injunction with Gilberto García Mena, alias “El June,” before the second circuit court of the State of Mexico, for alleged torture and medical neglect, according to court file 1188/2010.

García Mena had been incarcerated in Altiplano since 2001 and was serving a 43-year term for drug trafficking and possession of firearms. The PGR had identified him as one of the top lieutenants of the Juárez Cartel.

On October 21, 2010, Dávila Córdova was notified that the court had authorized his and García Mena’s request for a lawyer in the injunction case. The defense lawyer was no longer necessary, however, since five days later Dávila Córdova left the prison after completing his five-year sentence.


On Thursday September 26, 2013, at 3 o’clock in the afternoon, Dávila Córdova met with Wistano Luis Orozco García, former head of the of New Alliance political party in the Federal District. The Juárez Cartel operator handed Wistano a sealed envelope that contained his proposal for becoming a contractor for the National Crusade Against Hunger, records show.

Wistano was an intermediary for the Secretary of Social Development (Secretaría de Desarrollo Social – Sedesol) in Morelos, the state where Dávila Córdova lives.

After retiring as president of New Alliance in Mexico’s capital at the beginning of 2013, Wistano became the coordinator for special projects at the Autonomous University of Morelos. His responsibilities included looking for businesses that could equip President Peña Nieto’s Crusade Against Hunger brigades.

Sedesol commissioned the Autonomous University of Morelos State to equip the brigades; the university subcontracted Dávila Córdova’s shell companies. Dávila Córdova was also a candidate seeking to become a Sedesol supplier. On September 26, 2013, he went to the Center of Research for Engineering and Applied Sciences (Centro de Investigación en Ingeniería y Ciencias Aplicadas) to formalize his petition.

Representatives from three other businesses bidding on the contract were present at the meeting, which took place on Ave. Universidad 1001 in Cuernavaca.

Two of the companies were eliminated right away. The only candidates left were Dávila Córdova’s Grupo Comercializadora Cónclave and Bombasa SA de CV.

The following afternoon, Wistano Luis Orozco signed a contract awarding 207,779,715 pesos (approximately $15.5 million) to Grupo Cónclave. It was an express appointment.

History repeated itself two months later. On November 29, 2013, Dávila Córdova’s brother attended a meeting at the university and submitted a proposal in a sealed envelope. Prodasa SA de CV was awarded a government contract for 188,662,900 pesos (approximately $14.1 million) 11 days later.

Wistano Luis Orozco declined to comment for this article.

“Will you say something on this topic?” he was asked.

“No, absolutely not,” he answered.


There are many indications that the bidding for Sedesol contracts awarded to Dávila Córdova’s shell companies was rigged. In the contract given to Grupo Cónclave, businesses only had one day to acquire guidelines for the bidding process, which resulted in only four bidders having time to register. Two of them were disqualified almost immediately. Meanwhile, companies only had three days to register for the contract eventually awarded to Prodasa.

A government audit found at least 10 other irregularities in the bidding process. It found that the shell companies lacked the minimum documentation required to make a bid.

These irregularities were reported to the SAT and to the Attorney General’s Office, which is now investigating the multi-million dollar fraud allegedly carried out by Dávila Córdova at the expense of the Crusade Against Hunger program.

*This article was originally published by Artistegui Noticias in collaboration with CONNECTAS and the International Center for Journalists. It was translated, edited for clarity, and reprinted with permission, but does not necessarily reflect the views of InSight Crime. See the Spanish original here.

Serving Mexico’s Cartels, Armed Cells Led to an Explosion of Violence


Beginning in the 1990s, Mexico’s cartels began recruiting hired gunmen to act as armed cells. Since then, violence against civilians with no links to organized crime has escalated as these groups turn to exploiting the population as a source of revenue. 

In January 2010, 17 young people were killed at a party in Villas de Salvarcar, Chihuahua. The perpetrators were soon identified. They belonged to a criminal gang known as “La Linea,” linked to the Juarez Cartel.

Then-President Felipe Calderon was quick to declare the deaths to be a result of “a confrontation between gangs.” Just one more case, according to the government version, of “they only kill each other.”

But it was soon known that behind the crime were orders given to La Linea to finish off members of the gang known as the “Artistas Asesinos,” who worked with the rival Sinaloa Cartel.

This article was originally published by El Daily Post and is reprinted with permission. It is the second installment in a journalism project called NarcoData, developed by Animal Politico and Poderopedia, which seeks to explain the evolution and growth of organized crime in Mexico. See the original article here.

The investigation clearly showed, however, that the murdered young people had no link to organized crime. Even Calderon was eventually forced to offer an apology to the victims’ families.

The reality was that the deadly attack was one more of a growing number of examples of a criminal organization harming or killing a group that had nothing to do with disputes between cartels.  

The attacks on everyday uninvolved citizens have been more common ever since the 1990s, when the cartels began recruiting killers to form armed cells to attack rival groups or other citizens should the perceived need arise.

The same cartels that recruited the killer bands took it upon themselves to arm them with high powered weapons, turning them into the cartels’ first line of attack against rival organizations or government forces.

These armed cells have been the perpetrators of mass murders, such as the one in Salvarcar.

In 2008, for example, 24 bodies were found in La Marquesa in the State of Mexico. Investigators were unable to establish that any of those victims had any link to the criminal world.

The killers in the La Marquesa case turned out to members of La Mano con Ojos (the Hand with Eyes), a cell in the Beltran Leyva Cartel charged with eliminating operations in the State of Mexico by the rival Familia Michoacana.

Another similar case, in July 2010, took place in the major city of Torreon, Coahuila, where 17 persons were murdered at a birthday party by members of the Gente Nueva armed cell, working with the Sinaloa Cartel.

The Zetas Came First

The same cartels that recruited the killer bands took it upon themselves to arm them with high powered weapons, turning them into the cartels’ first line of attack against rival organizations or government forces.

The first armed wing operating under a criminal organization was Los Zetas. In 1998, Osiel Cardenas Guillen, leader of the Gulf Cartel, began recruiting former military men. The strategy turned out to be a key factor in the rise of the Gulf Cartel’s power.

SEE ALSO: Gulf Cartel News and Profile

The Zetas took charge of stopping advances into Tamaulipas by the Sinaloa and Juarez Cartels, both of whom were looking to take over the territory along the Texas border.

Juarez and Sinaloa, however, responded by forming their own armed militias — La Linea and the Pelones, respectively.

At the end of the Vicente Fox administration (2000-2006), those three killer cells were the only ones that existed, or at least the only ones for which any information existed.

By the end of the Calderon administration six years later, the number grew from three to 59.

Then, taking advantage of their intimidating firepower, they had branched out on their own into oil theft from pipelines, trafficking of migrants, kidnapping and extortion.

That huge leap in the number of armed cells inevitably led to a rise in the rate of aggression against everyday citizens. Society at large became a source of revenue, and a victim of daily attacks.

“What’s happening is that groups were created with the advantage of certain criminal infrastructure — arms, vehicles, safe houses, and hired killers who could operate with autonomy,” says Raul Benitez Manaut, a specialist in security issues with the Center for Research on North America at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM). And the best business other than trafficking drugs is to squeeze the population.”

There are various ways of doing that. The Zetas, for example, acting at first as the armed wing of the Gulf Cartel, soon opened up some new business lines, including retail drug sales and pirated goods. Then, taking advantage of their intimidating firepower, they had branched out on their own into oil theft from pipelines, trafficking of migrants, kidnapping and extortion.

“After the Zetas started operating with freedom and began to grow bigger and more powerful, other crime organizations saw that what they were doing was profitable,” points out Guillermo Valdes, former director of the National Investigation and Security Center (Cisen), Mexico’s top intelligence agency.

SEE ALSO: Zetas News and Profile

So before 2000, organized crime activities primarily involved the illicit drug trade and were aimed at the exterior market. But after the cartels began recruiting killers to form armed cells, a thriving business took shape based on various forms of aggression against society at large, and the illegal exploitation of local economies.

How this evolution unfolded — its cause and consequences — will be explored in the next segment of NarcoData.

*This article was originally published by El Daily Post and is reprinted with permission. It is the second installment in a journalism project called NarcoData, developed by Animal Politico and Poderopedia, which seeks to explain the evolution and growth of organized crime in Mexico. See the original article here.

Rural Chihuahua, Mexico Still Cartel Battleground


Mexico’s Chihuahua state registered its lowest monthly homicide numbers since 2007, but per capita violence levels in rural areas of the state are alarmingly high as criminal groups continue to make the highlands a key battleground. 

Homicide statistics for the month of September show a historically low homicide rate for the state of Chihuahua with just 75 registered murders. When broken down at the sub-state level, the numbers show relatively low levels of violence in major urban areas with higher rates of violence in the rural municipalities of the Tarahumara highlands in the southwest corner of the state, reported Excelsior

The southern zone of the highlands registered 21 murders in September, the majority of which happened in the municipality of Guadalupe y Calvo — population 50,000. Ciudad Juarez, a border city of 1.3 million, registered just 17 homicides. 

SEE ALSO: Mexico News and Profiles

Confrontation between armed groups such as Gente Nueva and La Linea, considered enforcement of the Sinaloa Cartel and Juarez Cartel respectively, are thought to be fueling much of the violence. (See Excelsior’s map of the disputed routes below)

Responding to the high homicide rates of rural Tarahumara, Chihuahua State Prosecutor Jorge Gonzalez Nicolas characterized the murders as resulting from clashes between cartels, saying that the organizations use the the vast rural territory as an area to resolve disputes. He noted that the homicides are happening in areas removed from towns and communities. 

The cartel battleground in northern Mexico (Source: El Excelsior)

InSight Crime Analysis 

The new numbers suggest that Ciudad Juarez has been largely successful in sustaining its security gains over the last several years. However, they also make clear that the rural violence of the Tarahumara highlands and the Golden Triangle remains an intransigent security concern for the region.

Tarahumara has been a hotbed for years with large, army-like caravans of criminals fighting drawn out gun battles. To cite just one example, in June 2011, 11 people were killed in fighting between criminal groups.

SEE ALSO: Sinaloa Cartel News and Profiles

In 2013, President Enrique Peña Nieto identified the Tarahumara highlands and the larger Golden Triangle — where the states of Chihuahua, Durango and Sinaloa converge — as a national security priority, dispatching federal security forces to the region to patrol the large rural territory.

The Triangle encompasses prime marijuana and poppy cultivation land historically under the control of the Sinaloa Cartel but which is increasingly contested by other criminal groups with a presence in northwest Mexico, specifically the Juarez Cartel.

While still linked to the Juarez Cartel, La Linea is seen as an increasingly independent actor, which could be a factor complicating powers dynamics in the region. 

Barrio Azteca on the Slide, MS13 on the Rise in Texas: Report


The latest report on Texas gangs has downgraded the threat posed by Barrio Azteca while upgrading the MS13, reflecting how US gangs often respond to Latin American underworld dynamics.

The Texas Department of Public Safety’s annual Gang Threat Assessment reports that the threat posed by the once formidable cross-border gang Barrio Azteca has reduced, with the gangs status dropping from Tier 1 to Tier 2. According to the report, the gang’s influence has been reduced as a result of a deteriorating relationship with the Mexico’s Juarez Cartel, successful law enforcement operations and infighting.

However, the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13), the transnational street gang that holds sway over much of Central America and several parts of the United States, has been placed in the Tier 1 category over fears that gang members have been illegally entering the country from countries such as Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. 

The MS13 join Tango Blast and Tango Cliques, Texas Syndicate, Texas Mexican Mafia, and the Latin Kings as Tier 1 threats to public security in Texas.

Each gang?s threat potential — categorized as Tier 1, 2 or 3 — is determined by a threat assessment matrix created by the Joint Crime Information Center. This assessment considers such factors as relationship with drug cartels, transnational criminal activity, level of criminal activity, level of violence, prevalence throughout the state, total strength, organizational effectiveness, juvenile membership , threat to law enforcement, and involvement in human smuggling and trafficking.

However, while the gangs are separated into tiers, the report also notes a growing trend towards “hybrid membership,” in which individuals claim affiliation to various gangs, allowing larger gangs to increase their influence and reach, and providing smaller gangs with greater protection during incarceration.

Joint Crime Information Center 2015 Gang Rankings

InSight Crime Analysis

The Barrio Azteca gang has been a significant player in cross-border organized crime in recent years, and even played a major role in the brutal war between the Juarez Cartel and the Sinaloa Cartel for control of the Mexican border city of Ciudad Juarez. While the war ended with defeat for Barrio Azteca’s allies in the Juarez Cartel, the conflict allowed them to cement their presence in Mexico and increase their involvement in drug trafficking and other transnational criminal activities.

However, according to the report, the continued decline of the Juarez Cartel, which saw its last powerful leader, Vicente Carrillo Fuente captured in October 2014, along with the competition from the now firmly rooted Sinaloans has reduced the Aztecas’ influence in Mexico, which in turn has created a more level playing field with gangs across the border in Texas.

SEE ALSO: Barrio Azteca

While the reports assessment of Barrio Azteca follows a certain underworld logic, its claim that the threat posed by the MS13 is increasing is more dubious. The report repeats claims that the recent increase in migrants from Central America has included large numbers of gang members as the basis for the growing threat — claims that have yet to be substantiated by significant statistical evidence and which often appear to follow a political agenda.