The Sinaloa cartel — that’s the biggest and baddest of the drug cartels. It has tentacles nationwide but are deepest in Arizona. Those words were spoken by U.S. Drug Enforcement Acting Special Agent in Charge for Arizona Doug Coleman at a Dec. 19 news conference at the Tempe Police Department announcing a 15-month investigation resulting in 203 arrests and the seizure of $7.8 million in cash, 650 pounds of marijuana, 435 pounds of methamphetamine, 123 pounds of cocaine and 4.5 pounds of heroin.
Present with Coleman were Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne and Tempe Police Chief Tom Ryff to announce what was described as the largest drug investigation in Tempe’s history. Tempe detectives and DEA agents are to be commended.
The Sinaloa cartel is considered to be the most powerful drug trafficking organization in Mexico and defines a modern day definition of organized crime that makes billions off of more than just drugs. It’s run by Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán. Forbes Magazine named him the 55th most powerful person in the world.
This is Tempe’s second large drug investigation involving the Sinaloa cartel. Two years ago they announced the arrest of 130 people involved in extensive drug trafficking. At the time, Tempe police called that case the biggest bust in their city’s history.
In 2010, Tempe police arrested 40 people for heroin possession and distribution.
Heroin and meth users contribute greatly to serious crime.
Tempe has long had the highest serious crime rate in the East Valley. According to the Arizona Association of Crime Analysts, in 2010 Tempe had 57.5 serious crimes committed per 1,000 residents. That’s 22 points higher than Chandler, nearly 20 points higher than Mesa, and over 9 points higher than Phoenix.
Tempe has blamed Arizona State University and commuters for its crime rate. But could it really be tied more to drugs and organized crime than college kids?
In a 2009 Tribune letter to the editor, the Arizona Department of Public Safety estimated organized crime is believed to be responsible for 60 percent of serious crime in Arizona.
The 2011 DOJ National Gang Threat Assessment reported “Gangs are responsible for an average of 48 percent of violent crime in most jurisdictions and much higher in others. Some jurisdictions in Arizona report that gangs are responsible for at least 90 percent of crime.”
Arizona street gangs have been linked to the Arizona Mexican Mafia prison gang that the feds have linked to the Sinaloa drug cartel.
Tempe’s La Victoria Locos street gang, one of Arizona’s oldest gangs, was identified in the 2003 DOJ National Gang Threat Assessment as “a primary retail distributor of heroin.” Police sources tell me the gang is still in business.
Following the Tempe police press conference, KTSP Channel 10 did a story, “Today’s Bust Proof Cartels Have Invaded Neighborhoods,” and interviewed retired U.S. Dept. of Justice special agent Neville Cramer. Cramer told Channel 10, “We’ve got thousands of people in this community that technically work for the cartel.”
Tempe police didn’t respond to requests for comments about their city having an organized crime problem.
Based on the most recent Tempe police press conference, hundreds of Sinaloa cartel-related arrests and the seizure of millions of dollars in drugs and cash during the last two years, one has to wonder if Tempe has become the metro Phoenix equivalent of Pinal County’s notorious Vekol Valley when it comes to drug activities involving the Sinaloa cartel? And why Tempe?
Organized crime is here and not just in Tempe and Pinal County.
The time has come for our elected and law enforcement leadership to admit organized crime is here, how extensive it is and then come up with a plan to defeat it before “El Chapo” Guzman is Arizona’s Number One shot caller instead of Governor Jan Brewer.
The longer Arizona waits to act, the deeper the Sinaloa drug cartel’s tentacles will go.
Retired Mesa master police officer Bill Richardson lives in the East Valley and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.