Crossing a Mexican drug cartel usually comes with a price — death.
On the U.S.-Mexico border that price is being paid daily with an endless stream of execution-style murders in a war to control drug routes to the north. As Mexican officials crack down on these cartels, violence spreads. Lives are merely the cost of doing business, and since 2007 the international press has documented more than 7,400 drug war-related murders on the border. Police are gunned down in public squares. Failed drug smugglers are tortured to death and bound from head to toe in duct tape. Enemies are beheaded.
U.S. authorities fear the violence is slowly creeping across the border. Yet the truth is the Mexican drug cartels are already entrenched in Oklahoma, casting an ominous shadow on the future of our cities and rural communities.
“Oklahoma's No. 1 threat is the Mexican drug cartels,” said Darrell Weaver, executive director of the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Control. “Make no mistake.”
Intelligence gathered over the past 14 years has revealed a shadowy underworld of “second- and third-generation” Mexican drug smugglers who have gained a foothold throughout Oklahoma. They often operate in rural towns under the guise of a legitimate business such as a meat market or restaurant, and their connections have been traced to nearly all of Mexico's most notorious cartels — Sinaloa, Los Zetas, La Familia Michoacana, La Linea, and Juarez.
“At least 90 percent of the drugs we see here in Oklahoma are coming from the Mexican drug cartels,” said one undercover state agent who agreed to speak on the condition of anonymity.
The agent, known as “Agent M.S.” for this article, is a veteran investigator who often conducts direct buys with major drug distributors. He is a second-generation American citizen whose father once served in the Mexican military, and has participated in many of Oklahoma's largest drug busts in the past 15 years.
“They're really in our neighborhoods,” warned Agent M.S., who posed as a seller in a sting operation in August at Penn Square Mall in Oklahoma City. Unarmed, he met three Mexican dealers who scanned his body with a hand-held metal detector to see if he was wired with a recorder or listening devise. Once satisfied he wasn't an undercover agent or police informant, the men began to talk business and of their connections with Mexican drug cartel members in Dallas and beyond the Rio Grande.
“They mentioned real names of cartel members,” Agent M.S. said. “Suddenly, I realized I'm dealing with a guy on a real level. He wanted 50 kilos (of cocaine) a week. You're talking $1 million to $1.5 million a week worth of cocaine. That's real money ... and whenever you're talking about those kinds of purchases, you're dealing with a Mexican drug cartel.
“That really touches home.”
Information gathered from the encounter led to a Mexican restaurant owner who had been using his popular western Oklahoma business as a front for his drug-smuggling operation. The investigation continues with hopes of netting higher-level cartel members.
“Oklahomans are in danger because they deal with these people without them knowing,” Agent M.S. said. “They'll visit their restaurants (or other businesses) they own. The danger is being caught in the crossfire.”
The cartels are also providing our children with drugs, and rural communities are no longer insolated from the major drug operations. In fact, Agent M.S. said one informant recently claimed there are two large warehouses cooking methamphetamine somewhere in the state. Such warehouses — known as “Fiesta labs” in Mexico — are designed to cook massive amounts of methamphetamine around the clock.
“The average citizen doesn't have a clue as to the reality of the Mexican drug cartels operating in the United States, and specifically Oklahoma,” said another undercover state agent who also asked for anonymity as ‘Agent P.A.' “And it's not just in Oklahoma City ... It's everywhere they can gain a foothold. You go to Elk City, and if you dig deep enough you'll find a connection in Elk City. You can go to Woodward ... Altus ... Frederick ... and you can find a connection if you look hard enough.”
Cartel-related cases of the past have taught agents well.
A legendary lesson
Abraham Weibe seemed like an unlikely source for a major drug smuggling operation in 1999 when police stopped him for drunk driving in the small Custer County town of Thomas. He possessed no education, had a drinking problem, and seemingly had no future after leaving the old Mennonite colony in Cuauhtemoc, Mexico, in the mid-1990s with his wife and children.
Then Weibe began talking.
“Abe told us he knew of major shipments of marijuana coming into Oklahoma on a regular basis — more than anyone had seen before,” Agent P.A. recalled. “At first, no one knew if he was telling the truth. But he knew too many details.”
The State Bureau of Narcotics added Weibe to the payroll, housed him in a rural farmhouse in Thomas, and placed him under surveillance. Soon, shipments of marijuana began arriving from Mexico just as Weibe promised. As weeks passed, the loads got larger — many as large as 1,000 pounds of marijuana valued at several hundred thousand dollars on the streets.