Special Segment: Chicago's Cartel Connection

April 20, 2009 8:56:25 PM PDT
Federal agents will soon have a new team of special agents on the streets here to help fight the war on drugs. When it comes to drugs and money, the feds say Chicagoland is the Midwestern hub for the cartels, especially the Gulf, Sinaloa and Juarez cartels. And given that, the u-s has announced it will help Mexico by spending $700 million to catch and prosecute law breakers on both sides of the border.

In Chicagoland, that means the Drug Enforcement Administration will soon have a new team of special agents on the streets.

Cartel violence in Mexico is ruthless. Beheadings. Assassinations. Gun battles. That violence is at a fever pitch now that Mexican President Felipe Calderon is using the country's military force to fight the cartels.

Mexico's president is working with the U.S. And the special agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration in Chicago says Calderon's overall commitment to fighting the drug war is unprecedented.

"There have been numerous seizures - and the intelligence that is being shared by both countries. It's a courageous effort on behalf of President Calderon's administration," said Gary Olenkiewicz, DEA special agent in charge, Chicago Field Division.

The drug battle is fierce and some border cities have reported an uptick in violence. It's the type of violence Chicago is following closely.

"Our citizens don't have to worry about the type of violence we're seeing at the border and south of the border," said Ernest Brown, Chief of Organized Crime Division, Chicago Police Department.

The CPD is vigilant in developing intelligence so should that shift occur we would be able to preempt it at some point.

The DEA reports that Chicago is a Midwest drug hub. Drug smugglers make short hops across the border. But then, cartel shipments leave Los Angeles, Phoenix and Houston - all headed for Chicago and also Atlanta. From there, drug routes cover the East Coast.

With all the expressways, the feds list Chicago and Joliet as the local hubs. Law enforcement officials, like Chicago Police who provided pictures and videos of several drug busts, say drugs are transported in private and commercial vehicles. They say drugs are often stuffed in fake compartments and sealed.

If drug shipments arrive and they're not caught, the DEA says high-level dope dealers called "cell heads" take over.

"We're going after these cell heads and the organization to disrupt and dismantle," said

The DEA says there are less than 100 "cell heads" in Chicagoland. And often times, on this level, drugs are stored in "stash houses," often rental properties, garages or sometimes homes where they try to blend in affluent communities like Hinsdale, Naperville and Schaumburg.

Stash houses have also been located in Romeoville, Bolingbrook, Aurora, Melrose Park, Cicero and Chicago.

The drugs are cut down - two or three times - before reaching street-level gang members.

"We have a gang problem in terms of gangs vying for distribution territories and that's essentially the largest portion of the violence that we see," said Chief Brown.

And gang members use deadly, high-powered weapons - like these - according to the special agent in charge of Chicago's office for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

"Having a gun is an essential tool for a gang member or a drug dealer," said Andrew Traver ATF, special agent in charge, Chicago Field Division.

In fact, the ATF reports, in Chicago, about 10,000 guns are recovered in crimes every year. ATF officials say these powerful weapons are the same kinds seized in Mexico. And each gun is a potential lead so the ATF is sending 120 agents to help at the border, including agents from Chicago.

"They have identified a large number of leads that need to be fully investigated," said Traver.

Drugs heading north, money heading south. The DEA estimates that, every month, $10 to $25 million is shipped from Chicago to the border.

It's the price of America's drug addiction on one side of the border and the deadly consequences on the other.


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