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2010 killings

The March 2010 killings in Ciudad Juarez of U.S. citizens Lesley Enriquez, 25, an employee at that city’s U.S. Consulate, and her husband, Arthur Redelf, 30, a 10-year veteran of the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office, and the slaying that same month of Douglas Krentz, 58, a Douglas, Ariz., rancher, fueled concerns that Americans were fair game for Mexican gangs seeking control of U.S. smuggling routes.

In September, David Hartley, 30, was shot and killed as he and his wife, Tiffany, 29, were jet skiing on Falcon Lake along the U.S.-Mexico border in Zapata, Texas. Mrs. Hartley managed to escape and Sheriff Gonzalez said the shooters were members of the Zetas. Shortly after the attack, the lead investigator on the case in Mexico was decapitated.

It also was a Zetas hit squad that killed U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Agent Jaime Zapata in a Feb. 15 ambush on a major Mexican highway 250 miles north of Mexico City. Attacked with AK-47 assault rifles, Mr. Zapata was shot five times in the chest and his partner, Victor Avila Jr., was wounded twice in the leg after being forced off the highway and attacked — despite identifying themselves as Americans and being in a vehicle with diplomatic plates.

The agents were unarmed as Mexico does not authorize U.S. law enforcement personnel to carry weapons in that country. But the brazen daylight attack did not surprise U.S. law enforcement authorities. The Justice Department began warnings in July 2010 that the Zetas new drug smuggling routes could result in increased violence to U.S. personnel.

In September, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) even posted signs along Interstate 8 in Arizona, more than 100 miles north of the border, warning travelers the area was unsafe because of drug and illegal-immigrant smugglers. The signs were posted along a 60-mile stretch of Interstate 8 between Casa Grande and Gila Bend, the major east-west corridor linking Tucson and Phoenix with San Diego.

Pinal County, Ariz., Sheriff Paul Babeu, whose jurisdiction includes the posted area, said Mexican drug gangs “literally do control parts of Arizona,” noting that gang members are armed with radios, optics and night-vision goggles “as good as anything law enforcement has.

“This is going on here in Arizona — 30 miles from the fifth-largest city in the United States,” he said.

Baltimore operation

In Baltimore, prosecutors said cocaine and marijuana dealers gave $1.2 million to Zetas members for drugs. Convicted were Wade Coats, 45, and James Bostic, 39, both of Baltimore, and Jose Cavazos, 43, of Midlothian, Texas. Investigators seized $610,000 in heat-sealed bricks of cash wrapped in aluminum foil in two suitcases and recorded a meeting between Bostic and cartel members in which he handed over $590,000 for marijuana and cocaine.

“A substantial portion of the illegal drugs distributed in Maryland are imported from the Mexican border,” U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein said in announcing the convictions. “This case demonstrates the international ties of a local drug dealer.”

According to U.S. and Mexican law enforcement officials, the Zetas also have reached across the Mexican border into Central America for new recruits, including former members of Los Kaibiles, an elite special operations force of the Guatemalan military trained in jungle warfare and counterinsurgency tactics.

Guatemalan officials said the Zetas have established bases in several jungle areas and formed alliances with Central American gangs to take control of cocaine shipments from Guatemala to Mexico. Other links have been forged between the Zetas and the Ndrangheta, one of Italy’s most powerful crime syndicates that specializes in cocaine distribution and arms trafficking.

The Zetas also have pushed their way into legal and illegal businesses by killing, kidnapping or extorting those in control, a scheme known as “plata o plomo,” Spanish for “money or lead.” According to U.S. law enforcement and intelligence reports, they use their massive supply of weapons and high-tech equipment to instill fear to take over numerous businesses.

Mr. Grayson said the Zetas use blatant violence to take over lesser-equipped criminal gangs and extortion to assume control of legitimate businesses. He said they extort business owners with threats of kidnapping family members “and think nothing of cutting them up if they don’t get their money.”

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