COULD WE START WITH YOUR OVERALL VIEW OF THE DRUG CARTELS IN GENERAL.....CAN YOU SUM IT UP?
|Thomas A. Constantine is the administrator of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).|
One of the things that I think is important for the
American public to understand - but that is sometimes difficult to understand - is that when we say
organized crime in the United States, we all have a vision of 'The Godfather' or John Gotti going to prison, in the sense that they control a
lot of the criminal destiny in United States.
What I think people never
understood, and that now we are gradually understanding, is that the group from Cali, Colombia were really the most sophisticated
organized crime syndicate the world had ever seen. And
they make the mafia in the United States look like elementary school children for the amount of money they earn, the amount of violence that was involved, the influence that they had -- they virtually influenced the
And what has happened in the last 4 or 5 years is they (Cali) in
essence have taught these criminal organizations from Mexico. We have really kind of decimated the people in Cali, Colombia. The groups from Mexico have in essence taken their place. I don't think
they're quite yet at a level of the people from Cali, but they are the
most powerful in the world, as we sit here in 1997, because of the
destruction of the people and the organizations in Colombia.
THIS PHENOMENA STARTED HAPPENING ABOUT WHEN?
Well, they never told us the date that they were going to start. But
as far as we can picture, it was in the late 1980s when we cut
off to a degree the Caribbean and the east coast of Florida and the major
places that cocaine was coming into the United States. The
people from Colombia went to Mexico, sent people to Mexico and made an
arrangement to use the Mexican organized crime as a transportation group,
just land the tonnage into Mexico, drive it across in cars into
the United States and turn it back over to Colombian organized crime
for a thousand dollars a kilo, we heard.
The light bulb must
have went off someplace when somebody said, wait a minute, they're making $14,000 a kilo and we're only getting $1,000. So then a decision
was made somewhere along the line, we think about 2 or 3 years ago, that
half of the load as it landed in Mexico would be the property of
these huge gangs in Mexico. All of the cocaine would come across the
border to United States, half would be turned over to Colombian
organized crime cells, usually on the west or east coast, and the other
half would be taken over by these new Mexican organized crime cells.
What we've seen, especially in the last six months, is that as
we have had, we think, an impact on the organizations out of Cali, we've
seen the Mexicans become predominant in the major areas of the
United States where we've never seen them before. We had never, ever
observed them in any degree of substantial operation in the
northeast or in New York City, and all of sudden, all at once, we had 3 or
4 major cases involving multi-ton shipments.
MEXICO EXPERIENCED ITS WORST ECONOMIC RECESSION, DEPRESSION
TWO YEARS AGO. WHAT YOU'RE SAYING IS THAT
THERE IS A GROWTH SECTOR IN THE MEXICAN ECONOMY.
Oh, they were never touched, I wouldn't think, by all of those economic
situations that touched the normal business or economic system
of Mexico. In fact they became a growth industry and became more powerful. They probably make billions of dollars a year tax-free that
goes into the hands of the leaders of these immense criminal organizations.
If you could take the movie 'The Godfather' and look at some of
the scenes and as people talked about distributing drugs in the leadership
and replace those figures that we're familiar with, with
individuals named Carlos Fuentes and the Arellano-Felix brothers that's really
what you're dealing with.
SO THIS STARTED ABOUT THE LATE 80S, THIS TRANSFORMATION? SO IT
STARTED WITH THE BEGINNING OF THE SALINAS PRESIDENCY IN MEXICO AND REACHED ITS APEX YOU'RE SAYING TOWARDS THE END.
Well, it started in the late 1980s because of the pressure the
United States put on in the area of Florida and the east coast. And it
started as just using transportation groups, kind of a fee based transaction.
They then began, and I think it had little to do with the political situation,
to do more with criminals recognizing a chance to make a great
deal of money, and they changed from being a transportation group to an
organized crime system.
AND WE READ THAT IF THE TRAFFIC NETS $10 BILLION FOR THE MEXICAN
CARTELS, $SIX BILLION OF IT GOES INTO CORRUPTION?
Well, the information that we have, this mostly starts with the
Colombian Cali. We know that the group who taught the groups from
Mexico a great deal of this, that half of the money that was
received, that .....has set up 60% of all of the cash that came back into Colombia; half the 60% went to corrupting public officials.
There actually was a plane that landed with $30 million. $15
million was given to the trafficker, the other $15 million was
kept for the corruption of public officials in Colombia. Given that the
model 's so similar and that the figures we see on corruption with the value of some of the corrupt acts that have been reported, we think it
might be similar or equal to the same thing in Mexico.
SO WHAT HAS BEEN THE RESULT OF ALL THIS MONEY IN TERMS OF THE LAW ENFORCEMENT SITUATION?
Well it's very difficult. I mean the law enforcement institutions in
Mexico were never that strong to begin with. Now you have a
situation where you have a powerful organized crime syndicate, organized
crime syndicates can only exist in Sicily or New York or in Cali
or in Guadalajara if they're able to corrupt the government and
to intimidate the common citizen. That's the only way organized crime
syndicates prosper. So the fact that they are so powerful and
they're able to operate often without being arrested or being charged is
indicative of the fact that they have influenced the system greatly.
RECENTLY THERE HAVE BEEN ALL KINDS OF INDICATIONS THAT THE LEVEL OF CORRUPTION GOES UP
Well that's not shocking to us. High level corruption, of individuals by drug traffickers--there have been
rumors and innuendoes about that for a long time. I think that
since the arrest of the general who had been placed in charge of the DEA
for Mexico, the INCD, was symbolic of the problem and the level
that it had reached. I don't think anybody was shocked by that in effect.
The second thing that I thought was very interesting to us was the civil
trial and the money for the former deputy attorney general of
Mexico in which people testified that millions of dollars was delivered to
the general and apparently the judge and jury in Houston, Texas
believed that at the trial. That is obviously the demonstrated level
publicly where this has reached.
BUT IN THE CASE OF THE GENERAL REBOLLO
OUR UNDERSTANDING IS THAT HE HAD ACCESS TO ALL THE INTELLIGENCE FILES OF THE MEXICAN ATTORNEY GENERAL OR THE INCD FILES. AND APPARENTLY HE WAS BRIEFED BY U.S. LAW ENFORCEMENT TO SOME EXTENT IN TERMS OF WHAT OUR INFORMATION WAS WHO DO YOU DEAL WITH IN MEXICO NOW?
Well as far as the briefing, we gave the briefing to the attorney general
of Mexico right here at DEA, but it was very much an open,
unclassified briefing. So there was not any substantial information that
could have been compromised in that particular briefing. Our concern
is that for the 10 or 12 weeks that he was in office, he had
access to each and every investigation that was ongoing with the INCD or
with the INCD in concert with the DEA.
We also know that his
predecessor has indicated that he turned over all of the files of every
open investigation to an individual we now know was effectively
totally corrupted. We're operating on the assumption that every
investigation that he knew about or was involved has been
compromised, and what we're doing now is a damage assessment to determine
how seriously they've been compromised.
THE FEDERAL JUDICIAL POLICE IN MEXICO ARE NOTORIOUSLY
CORRUPT. THE INCD APPARENTLY WAS COMPROMISED. THE ARMY IN MEXICO HAD A
HISTORY OF INVOLVEMENT IN CORRUPTION PARTICULARLY IN THE DRUG AREA. WHO DOES U.S. LAW ENFORCEMENT TURN TO WHEN
IT COMES TO DOING OPERATIONS IN MEXICO?
You've hit the problem right on the head. The major civilian law
enforcement institutions in Mexico, the Mexican, the federal judicial
police, which the government has said is dysfunctional as a
result of corruption. The drug enforcement agency for the nation, the
INCD, the general has been removed for corruption and it's our
understanding that 45 other substantial figures in that
organization have been removed on the suspicion of corruption. I can't
tell you what acts they may have compromised or how corrupt they
may be. The opinion of the government of Mexico, the state and the local
police would be corrupted substantially in the area of drug enforcement.
We're placed in a position of trying to find an agency within
the government of Mexico that we could share sensitive information with.
This had to be on a need to know basis, and it's very difficult
for us because there's no way you can conduct an organized crime
investigation that spans the border between two countries unless
you have agencies that you can trust that will take that information and
use it to arrest the leaders of organized crime.
And at the present point
in time, we just haven't found an institution that we feel we can
share that information with. And the secret will be for the government of
Mexico working with the United States for them to develop an
institution that they have trust in. They presently have removed the
civilian law enforcement for the most part from every sensitive assignment and turned it over to the military.
BUT THE MILITARY HAS TURNED OUT TO BE MAYBE AS CORRUPT.
Well we don't know an awful lot about the military because our
interaction has been mostly with law enforcement. Eventually in
any society you have to have civilian law enforcement responsible for the
investigation of crime, it's just not the role for any military institution in
United States, Western Europe or in Mexico. What's going to
have to happen is that there's going to have to be a development of an
institution, a civilian law enforcement that the government of
Mexico says can be trusted and can be trusted completely and then we can
share sensitive information. That has to start some place and we hope it's
going to start fairly soon.
THERE'S BEEN PLENTY OF PUBLICITY RECENTLY ABOUT INDIVIDUALS
RANGING FROM GONZALES CALDERONI TO OTHERS WHO WERE INVOLVED IN THE SALINAS ERA, WHO HAD TIES TO MEXICAN ORGANIZED CRIME AND MEXICAN DRUG CARTELS, OF GETTING INTO THE MEXICAN, LET'S SAY INTO THE PRESIDENCY OF MEXICO. IS THERE ANY REASON TO BELIEVE THAT THE CORRUPTION IN THE ZEDILLO ADMINISTRATION DOESN'T GO AS HIGH?
Well, I have to take it as a given in dealing with President Zedillo that he's honest. I'm heartened by the fact that they arrested two high ranking generals.We've never seen that before. Which indicates a commitment to doing something about it. There is no information that we would have
that they have been corrupted. We just have to see how it plays out. The
secret in all of this I think will be the results, are the leaders of these
organizations, arrested, brought to justice and punished
commensurate with their crime. That will be the proof for everybody.
Whenthe Arellano- Felix brothers and all of their key lieutenants, when Amado Fuentes and all of his key lieutenants, and that whole structure
is arrested, tried, brought to justice, and sentenced as the organized crime
fugitives that they are, that will be the ultimate passion I
think of any government.
BUT EVEN THE GOVERNMENT OF MEXICO TOLD US THAT IN THE CASE OF FOR INSTANCE
TIJUANA, THEY DON'T REALLY HAVE CONTROL. THE PARTY IN CONTROL
IS THE OPPOSITION PARTY, EVERY POLICE COMMANDER THEY SEND IN TO
ARREST THE ARELLANO-FELIX BROTHERS IS ASSASSINATED, OR THE PROSECUTORS WHO
COME IN TO MAKE THE CASE THAT THE POLICE CHIEF'S BEEN BUMPED OFF, THEY
CAN'T EVEN DO ANYTHING AFTER THEY KILL A CARDINAL.
Well that was one of our major concerns this summer and fall, was the assassination of leading law enforcement officials
and the police and prosecutor's office unsolved crimes--unsolved in
the sense that the people really ultimately responsible for it were not brought to justice. Being a career police officer, when you see that
happen, you realize that lower level police officers and the people
who were involved are going to be very, very uncomfortable with their
present position. I think those are the types of things that
have to be brought under control if there's going to be any success.
IN OUR INVESTIGATION, THERE SEEMED TO BE A SMALL CLIQUE OF VERY WEALTHY PEOPLE--SOMETIMES THEY'RE
POLITICIANS, SOMETIMES THEY'RE JUST BUSINESSMEN, OR THEY'RE BOTH-- WHO ARE IN A SENSE THE POWER STRUCTURE OF THE COUNTRY. TO WHAT EXTENT ARE THEY INVOLVED IN THIS NEW GROWTH INDUSTRY?
Well, our information is for the most part restricted to
criminals who are involved in the actual criminal activity . We go after
them and we use all of our energy to try to identify crimes that Carrillo
Fuentes, or the Arellano-Felix brothers would be involved in.
From time to time as a result of those investigations, we determine that
there's some corrupt information. For the most part that's in the
police or a prosecutor's office. When we can, if it's
worthwhile, we would share that with the government. Aspects in the
business community, in the economy of Mexico, would really be
beyond my knowledge and beyond the knowledge of DEA as a law enforcement institutions.
BUT ISN'T THE DEA AWARE OF, LET'S SAY, U.S. FINANCIAL INSTITUTIONS THAT HAVE
BEEN INVOLVED IN HANDLING BILLIONS OF DOLLARS OR HUNDREDS OF
MILLIONS OF DOLLARS IN SOME CASES, OF MONEY LAUNDERING AND MEXICAN DRUG PROFITS IN THIS COUNTRY?
From time to time, when we do a money laundering investigation,
we will determine that one of the stops of the money would be
individual legitimate institutions, and there may very well be from time to
time corrupt people or people who've been corrupted in those
institutions. But systemic corruption or looking at those economic
institutions, really that is not the role for the DEA either in the
United States but certainly not in another country.
The DEA is fairly narrowly defined in the narcotics trafficking and we
have enough to do just going after those targets. But to go on farther
into somebody's business community or a ruling elite is just
really not a role that we're equipped to do.
THE FOREIGN MINISTRY OF MEXICO SAYS TO ME -- 'ASK ADMINISTRATOR
CONSTANTINE WHO HE TRUSTS IN MEXICO.'
Well, there are institutions and some of them that we have trusted in the
past, we trust Mr. Madrazo the attorney general. We were asked by the foreign ministry to trust General Gutierrez, and that has turned out to
be an individual, as we now know, that we could not trust.
THAT WAS A BIG DISAPPOINTMENT.
The attorney general of
Mexico and the foreign ministry had attested that this was an individual
with whom we would be able to do even more. I'd never met him before, I did not know of him. Then to see that he had been arrested, it really
compromised so many investigations. But I would feel comfortable sharing
information with the attorney general of Mexico, both attorney general
Madrazo and also attorney general Lozano before him.
SO IT ISN'T A QUESTION OF THE DEA, IN A SENSE, GIVING UP ON MEXICO?
Well, how could you give up? Because the organized crime syndicates that
control so much of the events that happen in United States are based in
Mexico. And the interaction on crime is so day to day. I mean
as we sit here today, somebody is deciding how much cocaine they should
ship to Houston, how much cocaine to ship to New York City, how to get
the money out, who should be assassinated in San Diego County or
Los Angeles County? What individual has committed an act that harms the
leaders of these drug trafficking organizations? Who should be
murdered on a highway? As long as that happens and the crime spans from one country to another, I don't think you can disengage. I
think you have to stay engaged.
DO YOU THINK THIS IS BASICALLY THE BIGGEST INTERNATIONAL CRIME THREAT TO UNITED STATES?
It is presently in my experience. I mean I look at 37 years of
dealing with criminal activity and law enforcement, a lot of it in the area
of organized crime, traditional organized crime in the United States.
I've worked on families in New York City and New York state.
I've never seen organizations this powerful as the ones in Cali and now,
the ones in Mexico. And in my opinion, they're the most powerful
in the world, at least as far as the impact on the United States is