Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Atlanta Now Home to Mexican Drug Cartels

Over the last five to seven years, the Atlanta area has become the main distribution hub to move drugs and cash throughout the East, Drug Enforcement Administration officials say. The cartels are drawn to Atlanta because of access to major transportation systems and proximity to large population centers.

Drugs destined for Atlanta are brought across the U.S.-Mexico border into Texas in relatively small quantities — 20 to 25 kilos — frequently hidden in secret compartments in personal or commercial vehicles. They are accumulated near the border, and then larger shipments are sent along Interstates 10, 20 and 40 to Atlanta, often in commercial trucks carrying legitimate cargo.

Once the drugs reach the Atlanta area, they are taken to stash houses and broken down into smaller shipments that are sent via Interstates 75, 77 and 85 to cities like Miami, New York and Detroit. Cash collected is heat sealed in plastic to prevent tampering and sent on the reverse journey back to Mexico.

In suburban Atlanta, Mexican drug trafficking organizations generally rent nondescript houses in middle-class neighborhoods in suburbs like Lilburn. They often have one house for storing and processing drugs, one house for storing and processing money and a third for conducting transactions, so when an arrest happens at one house, they don't lose everything, Porter said.

Unlike the Colombian traffickers in south Florida in the 1980s, the Mexican cartels tend to keep a low profile, said Jack Killorin, director of a government program to fund drug-fighting efforts in the region.

"They tend not to be too bling and high-living," he said. "They're very quiet, they try to stay hidden in the communities. They want to be low key. They prefer not to be observed. They're serious businessmen — they bring their drugs here and money back, and that's what they focus on."

The violence in the Atlanta area, like in other distribution hub cities, tends to be limited to those involved in the drug or human trafficking trade, authorities said.

But Miles said he thinks the violence is already increasing and cited about a dozen unsolved homicides in Gwinnett County that he believes are drug related. He cited a case in which two men apparently shot each other to death in a house where a money counter was found. As busts net increasingly large amounts of drugs and cash, he said, law enforcement officers are also finding more and bigger guns.

All of this must be good news for one person in particular. Allegedly.

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