Bill Richardson: The Legislature is once again asleep at the switch that controls the flow of organized crime in and out of Arizona.
"Their violence respects no boundaries, and the danger they pose to public safety in Arizona is significant." Feb. 11, 2010, Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard
Goddard was commenting on the imminent threat Mexican drug trafficking organizations pose to Arizona following the announcement of a $94 million settlement between Western Union and the attorneys general of Arizona, California, New Mexico and Texas after an investigation into Western Union's resources being used inappropriately to transfer drug money from the United States to Mexico.
The investigation was started by Goddard in 2003 and involved multimillion-dollar money transfers by Mexican organized crime groups. According to the 2009 National Drug Intelligence Center's National Drug Threat Assessment: "Mexican DTOs (drug trafficking organizations) represent the greatest organized crime threat to the U.S."
Money is the lifeblood of organized crime. It does the DTOs no good if they can't get the ill-gotten proceeds back to Mexico where it can be reinvested in the legal and illegal enterprises.
The settlement reimburses law enforcement agencies for investigation costs and provides funding for a multi-state approach to combating the problem of cross-border crime and the growing presence of DTOs in Arizona.
For decades the Five C's in Arizona's history and economic foundation stood for cattle, cotton, copper, citrus and climate.
Now, two years before Arizona's centennial, the Five C's stand for cartels, crime, cash, contraband and criminals.
Arizona has been called the "gateway" for organized crime from Mexico into the United States. And the gate swings both ways. Crime comes into the United States through Arizona, and the cash from crime directed by the DTOs goes back to Mexico, through the same gateway.
Goddard has started to close the gate on the flow of money.
A March 23, 2009, Los Angeles Times story, "Drug cartels raise the stakes on human smuggling," reported that Goddard said, "In Arizona, the cartels grossed an estimated $2 billion last year on smuggling humans."
Phoenix is the kidnapping capital of the U.S. thanks in large part to the ease at which the Mexican crime syndicates have been allowed to operate in and through Arizona.
And the state's growing soiled reputation is about to get worse.
On Feb. 14, the Los Angeles Times began a three-part series, "The Heroin Road," by highly respected investigative journalist Sam Quinones. Phoenix is identified as one of two staging areas in the United States for a wave of black-tar heroin that is spreading across the U.S. from Mexico.
Whether it's kidnapping, human smuggling, selling heroin or any one of dozens of profit centers utilized by the drug cartels, the cash has to get from here to there or it does the cartels no good.
Goddard told reporters "the most effective way to dismantle the cartels is to disrupt the flow of funds." The attorney general is making it that much more difficult to conduct organized criminal activity in Arizona.
And while Goddard is chasing real bad guys, the state Legislature is consumed with photo radar, selling kittens by the roadside, chasing day laborers, politicizing the Superior Court and having the cash-strapped and manpower-short Arizona Department of Public Safety place and monitor seismic sensors on the state's thousands of miles of potential small-plane landing locations in hopes of catching an air smuggler of aliens or drugs.
According to Phil Jordan, a retired U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration special agent and former head of the federal government's El Paso Intelligence Center, "there is no air smuggling problem in Arizona thanks to a wall of radar that detects aircraft flying across the international border with Mexico and much less expensive ways, like cargo trucks, to transport contraband into the U.S."
Jordan's opinion was echoed by federal, DPS, county and city law enforcement sources.
The Legislature is once again asleep at the switch that controls the flow of organized crime in and out of Arizona.
Goddard has once again shown us what good law enforcement really is and what the war on crime and the Mexican DTOs can and should be instead of what the Legislature wants it to be.