A bloody, bullet-riddled body slumped inside of an SUV on a lonely stretch of road. Five people shot execution-style inside a sparsely furnished apartment. Drug disputes turning into violent kidnappings and brutal deaths.
These stories have become commonplace in Nuevo León, Michoacán, Sinaloa and other Mexican states, but they’re not from Mexico. They’re from quiet areas in Minnesota, Oregon, South Carolina and across rest of the U.S. as Mexican drug cartels – and groups affiliated with them – move deeper into the country and bring with them their violent tactics.
A few years ago law enforcement didn’t see this as a problem for somewhere other than the border. What happens at the border doesn’t stay at the border. It makes its way to my county pretty soon.
- Rockingham County Sheriff Sam Page
While most law enforcement agencies want to make clear that the level of violent crime currently embroiling Mexico is not likely to spread to the U.S. anytime soon, officials from both local and federal organizations say that the reach of that country’s feared drug cartels has spread north and with it, at least to some degree, so has the violence.
“In recent years the DTO’s [drug trafficking organizations] have changed their tactics and become bolder,” Lt. Gerry Adcock of Oregon’s Marion County Sheriff’s Office told Fox News Latino. “The men and women involved in today’s [drug trafficking] kill or make other drug traffickers disappear without fear of consequence. I have personally investigated homicides and violent incidents directly related to DTO’s and have seen the destruction they have caused to families in our community.”
One such case was the murder of Rogelio Hernández-Davalos, who was killed at point-blank range in the front seat of his Ford Expedition in January of 2012. The Marion County Sheriff’s Office investigation found that Hernández-Davalos, a native of Sinaloa, Mexico, was purportedly moving about 30 pounds of heroin every two weeks and is believed to have been executed by a Mexican cartel for either stealing from his bosses or attempting to branch off on his own.
In the last few years, Oregon has become a hotspot for drug trafficking and cartel-related violence as traffickers use the Interstate-5 corridor to run drugs from California up to Washington State and even into Vancouver. Just like on the East Coast with the Interstate-95 corridor, these drug organizations are finding it easier to operate in more rural and suburban areas as law enforcement officials in major cities crack down on organized crime groups.
“The main reason for moving to these areas is that the police in cities and along the border have become much more sophisticated in fighting the cartels,” George W. Grayson, an expert on Mexico’s drug war and a politics professor at the College of William and Mary told FNL. “When you don’t deal with that type of crime day in and day out you’re not going to have the expertise in combatting the cartels.”
Officials at the Drug Enforcement Administration said that the incursion of Mexican cartels and their proxy groups in the U.S. is nothing new. A Justice Department report from 2011 found that Mexican-based cartels were operating in more than 1,000 U.S. cities between 2009 and 2010 and have expanded from marijuana and cocaine trafficking to heroin and methamphetamine as well as taking part in human smuggling operations.
Mexico’s Sinaloa cartel, the country’s largest and headed by the now incarcerated Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, operates in every region of the U.S., according to statistics compiled by the National Drug Intelligence Center.
“Mexican drug trafficking organizations have been in control of every major drug market in the U.S. for a long time,” DEA spokesman Rusty Payne told FNL.
Payne added that the cartels try to keep the violence in the U.S. to a minimum to detract from any unwanted attention from law enforcement authorities.
“The Mexican drug war has not spilled into the U.S.,” Payne said. “They’re not here to cause havoc. They know it’s bad for business and that they have to be well-behaved.”
Well-behaved for cartels and gangs, however, is a relative term and for regions of the country not used to violent crime, a brazen act of gangland violence can send shockwaves through smaller communities and regions not traditionally thought of as strongholds of cartel activity.
The Sinaloa Cartel allegedly hired members of the MS-13 street gang to carry out torture operations in Minnesota and a series of murders in Virginia have been attributed to drug cartel feuds. Authorities in rural Rockingham County, North Carolina said that 15 drug cartel associates have been arrested there in the last three years, including the arrest of two alleged cartel associates whose home was filled with 1,060 pounds of marijuana, more than $600,000 in cash and an AR-15 assault rifle.
“A few years ago law enforcement didn’t see this as a problem for somewhere other than the border,” Rockingham County Sheriff Sam Page told FNL. “What happens at the border doesn’t stay at the border. It makes its way to my county pretty soon.”
Violent crime related to the cartels may occur in the U.S., but most law enforcement officials and experts agree that the main worry for Americans is the drugs – not the violence – that the cartels bring with them. Still, many say that is something to be concerned about.
“Every American needs to be concerned about drug trafficking organizations being in the U.S.,” Payne said, “and where they are and where the money goes.”
Follow Andrew O'Reilly on Twitter @aoreilly84.