Mexican drug cartels are recruiting American soldiers to act as clandestine hit men in the United States, paying them big bucks – up to US$100,000 – to whack out federal informants and organized crime rivals, according to DEA officers quoted in the New York Daily News last year.
In September 2012, two infantrymen stationed at Fort Carson in Colorado pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit murder-for-hire after accepting a contract hit from three cash-rich men they thought were operatives of the ultra-violent Los Zetas drug syndicate. Hungry for greenbacks, the soldiers insisted they were skilled in “wet work” (a euphemism for covert assassinations). For the right money they could, they said, supply grenades, assault rifles and body armor, according to a federal criminal complaint filed by the DEA in Laredo, Texas. Not only would they commit murder for money, they could also furnish military training and weapons.
Entrapment, however, is not a concrete means of ethical prosecution. Clearly it’s ethically questionable to both prosecutors and the general public. But then there’s the case of 22-year-old Michael Apodaca, once a private first-class out of Fort Bliss in Texas. He was sentenced to life in prison for executing Jose Daniel Gonzalez-Galeana. Señor Galeana was an executive member of the infamous Juarez Cartel in Mexico. Galeana, it turns out, was not only a thug but also an informant for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. For as little as $5,000, Apodaca emptied eight rounds into Gonzalez-Galeana as he walked out of the door of his house in quiet, upscale El Paso neighborhood of Sunnyland before calmly jumping into a get-away car driven by an accomplice.
Apodaca, just home from Afghanistan and still on active duty at Bliss, called the cartel member who’d given him the contract killing, dismantled his handgun and then threw the weapon and its magazine out of the car window into the Rio Grande.
Taking into consideration the high amount of unemployment in general and the accompanying inability of so many returning veterans to cope with the stress of employment and civilian life in general, many law enforcement experts believe such incidents are certain to increase as highly-trained military members struggle to cope after mass deployments to killing zones in Afghanistan and Iraq.
In spite of their reputation for simple brutality cultivated by the media, the cartels are cash-rich and operate like corporations. Clearly aware as to how highly trained the U.S. military is and that the skills they’ve learned in the military don’t readily translate to civilian life, they’ve opened up a whole new world to any young American who is ruthless and enterprising. Clearly, it’s impossible to quantify how pervasive cartel contract killing is among the American military because such statistics will never be forthcoming; but, in the manner of a Robert Ludlum novel, it turned out that Apodaca was hired to do the hit on Galeana by another double-agent, Ruben Rodriguez Dorado, after he had been informed on by a high-level DEA agent in the pay of Los Zetas. Despite this web of deceit, PFC Apodaca clearly did not receive good legal help and received a sentence of life in prison. His wheelman, Christopher Duran, got 20 years.
As so many such trials prove embarrassing to the FBI, the DEA and ICE, their representatives often refuse to cooperate in Texas criminal trials, frustrating both prosecutors and judges. This could be a sign of politics as usual, or something much more insidious.
One major issue involves U.S. gang members. They often enter military service to gain weapons and battle experience before returning to gang life after mustering out, or, as is happening in cities like Chicago, Los Angeles, Atlanta and most thoroughly in Houston, joining their local police force. As such, both police officers and gang members increasingly find extra employment as sub-contractors to Mexican drug cartels. Police officers especially are able to supply the cartels with muscle and weapons training. Theoretically unknown to the authorities, local police are often the ones moving narcotics, human traffic, and all kinds of laundered cash being moved back and forth across the border, according to federal drug agency reports. Like an elderly Alzheimer’s-ridden man who only periodically checks the fortune he’s hidden under his own bed, military and police recruiters are only now starting to check the backgrounds of enlistees for gang activity and telltale gang-related tattoos. Indeed, the most recent FBI statistics show that 53 gangs have been identified with members who have served in or are affiliated with the U.S. military. Those gangs include MS 13, the Latin Kings, Crips, Bloods and Barrio Azteca, some of the most notorious and nefarious outlaw groups operating in the U.S. and Mexico.