Massive haul of meth, cocaine, heroin seized at US-Mexico bridge

A drug bust at the U.S.-Mexico border in Texas earlier this week exposed nearly $7 million worth of narcotics at a cargo facility. Border agents at the Pharr-Reynosa International Bridge cargo facility were alerted to a commercial shipment of stone blocks on Monday. Officers with drug-sniffing dogs discovered packages of narcotics hidden within the shipment. … Continue reading “Massive haul of meth, cocaine, heroin seized at US-Mexico bridge”

A drug bust at the U.S.-Mexico border in Texas earlier this week exposed nearly $7 million worth of narcotics at a cargo facility.

Border agents at the Pharr-Reynosa International Bridge cargo facility were alerted to a commercial shipment of stone blocks on Monday. Officers with drug-sniffing dogs discovered packages of narcotics hidden within the shipment.

The bridge crosses the Rio Grande, connecting Texas with Mexico.

Officials said they seized 35 packages believed to be methamphetamine weighing 320 pounds, seven packages believed to be cocaine weighing almost 40 pounds and two packages believed to be heroin weighing around seven pounds.

IS BORDER WALL BATTLE WORTH SHUTTING DOWN THE GOVERNMENT?

The total street value is estimated at $6,998,000, border officials said.

The drugs and the trailer they were in were turned over to U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the case is being investigated by Homeland Security Investigations agents.

Paulina Dedaj is a writer/ reporter for Fox News. Follow her on Twitter @PaulinaDedaj.

El Chapo’s beauty queen wife disses media’s ‘unfair’ caricature of her drug-lord husband in rare interview

Emma Coronel Aispuro, the 29-year-old wife of Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán and the mother of their twin 7-year-old daughters, claimed in a rare interview that the media have given her husband a bad rap: she said he’s normal and ordinary, and not an infamous horror media fabrication.

“They don’t want to bring him down from the pedestal to make him more like he is, a normal, ordinary person,” the former beauty queen told the Spanish-language network Telemundo about the media’s “unfair” portrayal of “El Chapo.” The interview aired Monday evening; it was unclear where it took place.

“I think he did like it, he does like it a little,” Aispuro added about the media attention’s effect on her 61-year-old husband who has been on trial in federal court in Brooklyn since Nov. 13.

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Aispuro has been dubbed the Kim Kardashian doppelgänger of Mexico — a beauty queen fond of flaunting her designer dresses, oversized sunglasses and bikini body for a growing flock of followers across social media.

CRUELTY OF EL CHAPO'S SINALOA CARTEL KNOWS NO BOUNDS

The notorious drug lord has been denied contact with his wife as a security measure since being brought to New York City to face drug conspiracy charges.

During the trial, witnesses have described how her husband used tunnels dug under the border and fake jalapeno cans to smuggle tons of cocaine into the United States during the 1990s and early 2000s.

The Sinaloa cartel, sometimes referred to by insiders as "The Federation," made hundreds of millions of dollars, most of it in U.S. currency collected in such volume it had to be stashed in safe houses while the gang figured out what to do with it. Guzmán spent some of it on a private zoo, a diamond-encrusted pistol and paying off police and politicians.

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Aispuro has been trying to humanize her husband who allegedly runs the multibillion-dollar cartel that continues to operate from Mexico and throughout the United States.

“That’s what he really wants,” she added to Telemundo. “For everyone to realize how things really are and see it all from another perspective. More than anything, I think that’s what he wants. Just tell it like it is.”

EL CHAPO'S SINALOA CARTEL DOES HUGE U.S. BUSINESS

She said she is happy to stand by her man during his trial, and she told Telemundo she is looking forward to the future.

“I don’t dream of big things,” Aispuro said. “Tranquility, happiness, nothing out of the ordinary.”

Fox News’ Hollie McKay and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Frank Miles is a reporter and editor covering geopolitics, military, crime, technology and sports for FoxNews.com. His email is Frank.Miles@foxnews.com.

3 Sonic Drive-In employees arrested after ecstasy pill found in kid’s meal, police say

Three employees at a Texas Sonic Drive-In were arrested Thursday after an ecstasy pill was found in a kid’s meal given to a 4-year-old boy, police said.

Tanisha Dancer, 30, Jonathan Roberson, 35, and Jose Molina, 22, were arrested after the boy’s 11-year-old sister unwrapped a hamburger from a Sonic kid’s meal and found the drug Thursday night, FOX7 Austin reported.

The boy’s parents then brought the fast food order to the police station in Taylor, where the pill tested positive for ecstasy.

Officers went to the Sonic Drive-In on Friday and arrested Dancer, the manager, Roberson and Molina, both employees at the fast food joint.

Dancer, who was arrested on her outstanding warrant for a parole violation out of Guadalupe County, had three ecstasy pills with her at the time of the arrest. She also faces charges of possession of controlled substance.

Roberson was arrested on four outstanding warrants in Travis County. Molina was arrested and charged with possession of marijuana.

The trio may face additional charges following an investigation with the Williamson County District Attorney’s Office.

Katherine Lam is a breaking and trending news digital producer for Fox News. Follow her on Twitter at @bykatherinelam

Cruelty of El Chapo’s Sinaloa cartel knows no bounds: Beheadings by chainsaw, body parts strewn in the streets

It’s a level of violence so brutal, it is almost unfathomable.

”A couple of years ago, citizens around the world were utterly shocked by the beheadings and immolation murders perpetuated by ISIS. This caught me by surprise,” Joshua Fruth, a former military and intelligence officer and consultant on transnational threat networks, told Fox News. ”Because these tactics have been perpetuated by Sinaloa for some time.”

Fruth was referring to the multibillion-dollar cartel that continues to operate from Mexico and throughout the United States, despite the fact its accused leader, Joaquin ”El Chapo” Guzman, stands trial in a Brooklyn, NY courtroom.

Fruth said the cartel's horrific tactics include the injection of adrenaline and other substances that affect the central nervous system of its victims, "which kept them awake to enhance the responses of pain receptors during slow, prolonged torture." These tactics are used on women and children, Fruth said, including "family members or rivals or snitches, to elicit information and sow fear. These cartels have a history of sexually assaulting the family members of their target, and forcing the target to observe.”

And that's only the tip of the blood-soaked iceberg. Other methods used to murder are too callous for even the most horrid of Hollywood horror movies.

There’s beheading by chainsaw – a rumored favored method of Guzmán, who is said to feature in a 2010 video doing exactly that to murder victim Hugo Hernandez. Even worse, Hernandez's face was reportedly peeled off after he was killed, and stitched on a football.

Then there is the practice of putting people in drums and either boiling them or setting them on fire, or feeding humans to exotic animals like lions and tigers.

One wealthy Tijuana native described to Fox News the day she came home from work one day to find a package containing her husband's body, chopped up in pieces and sent back by cartel associates.

EL CHAPO CONSORT OPENS UP ABOUT CARTELS' RUTHLESSNESS

Drug cartels like the Sinaloa have been known to torch buses and blow apart roadways. (Fox News)

In other cases, it is referred to as “disappearing” people – as bodies will routinely never be found, or are unable to be identified. The reasons for “disappearing” cartel enemies varies.

Perhaps they were connected to a rival gang, or didn’t do their jobs correctly. Maybe they ran up too high a debt, or were deemed a security concern, by speaking to law enforcement. And of course, sometimes it’s merely a case of mistaken identity, or simply being caught in the crossfire.

One senior U.S law enforcement official said it's routine to wake up to reports of a murder accompanied by a swath of intensely graphic images – from headless torsos dumped into acid baths, to gouged-out eyes and other body parts.

”The cartels really seem to like decapitations. They chop off heads, throw body parts in the street or at parties to intimidate and threaten,” said Derek Maltz,  former Special Agent in Charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration Special Operations Division in New York. ”They are killing at unprecedented levels.”

Craig Caine, a retired longtime veteran of the U.S Marshals Service in New York, said the ”tricks of the trade” learned by the Sinaloa were developed by preceding Colombian cartels in the 1980’s and 90’s.

”The Italian mob mostly (was) hands off with a gun to the back of the head. Then Colombian cartels came in and wanted to send a message and instill terror,” Caine said. ”The Mexican cartels have their own ways … And now, they have just become greedier and don’t know where to stop.”

Caine recalled seeing warehouses in Brooklyn loaded with drugs and money, in which the enforced dress code for women was being naked, while mixing bags of crack cocaine on behalf of the cartels. The women would then endure humiliating body searches before leaving, to ensure no product had been pilfered.

In another case, Caine said, a young couple who had crossed the cartels were discovered dead – hog-tied, feet-tied together, naked and impaled on a fence – with ”his lower parts stuffed in her mouth.”

”The violence is ruthless,” Caine conjectured. ”There is no honor code.”

HAS BIBLE-CARRYING EL CHAPO REALLY FOUND GOD? SKEPTICS AREN'T BUYING IT

Bodies lie beside a road after a shooting in Mexico’s Sinaloa state this past June. (AP Photo/Enric Marti, File)

And while the vast majority of the barbarity takes place south of the U.S. border, American soil is far from immune. Authorities refer to this as "overflow” violence.

In June, the body of 49-year-old Alabama grandmother Oralia Mendoza and her 13-year-old granddaughter Mariah Lopez, a middle-school student with special needs, were viciously slain – the alleged result of being caught up in Sinaloa cartel violence.

Mendoza had reportedly tried to shift a quarter kilo of meth from Norcross, Ga. to Huntsville, Ala. with her Sinaloa-associated boyfriend, and an ex-boyfriend. But on the journey, the men are said to have raised the alarm about someone double-dealing. Sensing the danger, Mendoza texted an unidentified friend, asking her to meet them.

But the men with Mendoza are believed to have discovered the texts late that night. They woke up Mendoza and her grandchild, and told them they would be transported to safety. They instead took them to a nearby cemetery, where Mendoza was repeatedly stabbed, prosecutors said, and left to die.

The headless body of Lopez – presumably a witness to her grandmother's murder -  was later discovered by a farmer, still wearing her gingerbread man pajamas. Both men have been charged with two counts of capital murder.

South of the border, meanwhile, officials say the Sinaloa is responsible for much of the cartel-linked violence that has left an estimated 80,000 dead since 2006, when the Mexican government officially launched a war on drug trafficking. Other experts put that number much higher, and say as many as 200,000 may have fallen victim to the drug gangs. Another 26,000 people are said to have gone missing during that time.

”The Sinaloa Cartel is a savage and brutal organization. There is an epidemic of murder in Mexico and the majority of it is committed by organized crime,” said Jeffrey James Higgins, retired Supervisory Special Agent with the Drug Enforcement Administration. ”The Sinaloa Cartel is the oldest and largest cartel in Mexico and as such, it has an outsized influence on the murder rate south of the U.S. border.”

David Gaddis, CEO of international protection firm G-Global Protection Solutions, and a former chief of enforcement operations at the DEA, said the Sinaloa Cartel at one time slaughtered more than a thousand people per month. ”Now it typically varies between 200 and 300 per month."

Violence typically surges in times when cartels are squabbling for further territorial control or when faced with a military offensive.

Given the power vacuum since Guzman’s arrest and extradition, analysts say the mayhem is again on the uptick.

”Judges, prosecutors, and police are killed because they refused to take bribes, or as a way to free defendants under their control, or as messages to threaten other members of the law enforcement community,” Higgins said. ”Military may be killed in direct confrontations with cartel members, or to protect the cartel's produce. Politicians are often killed for standing up to the cartel or to damage the rule of law. Civilians are killed for testifying in court or for informing on the cartel.”

According to experts, specialized hitmen have a crucial and increasingly important role within the Sinaloa structure. ”Assassinations are generally carried out by sicarios – professional hitmen,” said Fruth. ”But I surmise it is not uncommon for junior members to be de-sensitized to the violence by showing their loyalty through an initiation that requires the performance of an execution.”

And it's a threat seemingly not limited by geography.

”The cartels have hit men who will travel anywhere or anytime to take care of their dirty murderous business,” Maltz added. ”The Mexican cartels like Sinaloa should be designated as foreign terrorist organizations and we should apply way more pressure to stop the madness around the world.”

Hollie McKay has a been a Fox News Digital staff reporter since 2007. She has extensively reported from war zones including Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Burma and investigates global conflicts, war crimes and terrorism around the world. Follow her on twitter and Instagram @holliesmckay

Man posed as doctor, gave meds to unsuspecting patients, authorities say

A Wisconsin man posed as a doctor and gave medication to a handful of unsuspecting patients, authorities said.

Prosecutors said Kyle Larsen, 32, of Appleton, operated Medical Psychology of Wisconsin and met with people with mental health diagnoses, including one patient with schizophrenia, the Appleton Post-Crescent reported.

"He treated a number of different patients, according to the allegations in the criminal complaint, including giving someone what was reportedly a flu shot but unknown what was ultimately injected," said Outagamie County District Attorney Melinda Tempelis at a Wednesday court hearing.

Larsen told investigators he was a licensed practical nurse but had been fired for theft, the paper reported. He said eventually wanted to bring on a real doctor on board.

"He stated he had a hard time getting started, which led him to do stupid things," the complaint states.

FAKE DOCTOR GETS 10 YEARS FOR BOGUS, DEADLY BUTT INJECTIONS

Larsen faces six counts of theft through false representation, delivery of a prescription drug, distribution of a controlled substance, maintaining a drug trafficking place, four counts of practicing medicine or surgery without a license, three counts of practicing pharmacy without a license, and two counts of unlicensed practice of psychology.

Calling Larsen's alleged actions a "prescription for disaster," Outagamie County Court Commissioner Brian Figy ordered him held on a $200,000 bond.

According to the complaint, Larsen told various patients he was a doctor and prescribed patients Ritalin and other drugs. He told one woman with schizophrenia that he was a doctor of neuropsychology and pain management and gave her medications, which she never took, the complaint said.

Another patient who sought help for depression said she paid Larsen about $1,000 for treatment in October and November. Larsen also prescribed amoxicillin to one patient seeking treatment for a tick bite.

That patient took all of the medication.

It was not clear if any of the patients experienced sickness from the medications allegedly prescribed by Larsen.

Larsen said he never charged for the medicine he gave out, according to the paper. He added that the medicine had belonged to him, but that he had put it in different bottles and labeled them.

His next court appearance was set for Dec. 12.

Grenade attack at US Consulate in Mexico may have been cartel hit

Law enforcement authorities from both the United States and Mexico are investigating a grenade explosion targeting the U.S. Consulate in Guadalajara, Mexico, on Friday evening.

It is believed two grenades were thrown, with one exploding on consular grounds around 7.30 Friday evening.

In a statement released Saturday, consular officials said they “were aware of a security incident that took place at the U.S. Consulate General” on Friday evening.

“The consulate was closed at the time and there were no injuries,” the statement continued. “U.S. and Mexican authorities are investigating. We will provide further information (including about consular operations) as it becomes available.”

While the investigation continues and there have been no culprits yet identified, the attack comes just a week after several videos were posted online showcasing an interrogation of a cartel “sicario”– otherwise known as a hitman — allegedly working for the dominant cartel in the area, Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG). He claimed he had orders to attack U.S. embassies or consulates from its leader, Rubén Oseguera González, also known as "El Mencho.”

Derek Maltz, former special agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration Special Operations Division, told Fox News that there was some “unconfirmed information” circulating last week that El Mencho or members of the CJNG had threatened to bomb the U.S. Embassy or Consulate in Mexico.

According to one Mexico-based law enforcement source, municipal police claimed Friday that there was a “false alarm” the previous day, and they found firecrackers.

“Sounds like a test run,” added the source, who was not authorized to speak in the record.

Maltz cautioned that Friday’s attack may have been carried out by a rival cartel as a means of further defaming the CJNG.

Nonetheless, El Mencho, as the leader of an up-and-coming cartel, is among the most wanted men in Mexico.

“CJNG is responsible for sending numerous tons of cocaine, methamphetamine and fentanyl/heroin into the United States,” Maltz said. “Like the Sinaloa Cartel which was headed by Chapo Guzman, the CJNG operates around the world  and has expanded operations beyond the U.S. to Europe, Australia and Asia.”

Mencho has been designated a kingpin under the U.S.Treasury Department designation and is a top fugitive. There is a $10 million dollar reward.

“The latest information is that the CJNG is extremely violent and also concerned they have lost money on the human smuggling business in Mexico recently due to the caravans,” Maltz added. “When the migrants are moving in larger caravans being protected by government officials the cartels are losing money, which is causing some anxiety over lost revenue.”

Hollie McKay has a been a Fox News Digital staff reporter since 2007. She has extensively reported from war zones including Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Burma and investigates global conflicts, war crimes and terrorism around the world. Follow her on twitter and Instagram @holliesmckay

Drug-fueled fight over oatmeal turns fatal: Man dies months later of gunshot wound to the head

A Pennsylvania man died of his injuries this week, months after his wife shot him in the head during a drug-fueled argument about oatmeal, authorities said.

John Maki, 29, of Fayette County, was shot in the head April 5 after smoking crack cocaine with his wife, when he complained that she bought traditional oatmeal instead of the instant variety, authorities said.

Maki’s wife, Rachel Eutsey, 36, was previously charged with attempted homicide, aggravated assault, and child endangerment in connection with the case. No information was immediately available on whether she will face additional charges following the death.

"It's believed (the fight was) over the brand of oats that she purchased for him. Apparently he wasn't happy over the traditional oats that she bought instead of the instant oats that he wanted," state police Trooper Robert Broadwater told Pittsburgh’s WTAE-TV.

"Apparently he wasn’t happy over the traditional oats that she bought instead of the instant oats that he wanted."

— Trooper Robert Broadwater, Pennsylvania State Police

Authorities said Eutsey told them she and Maki had taken their 8-month-old daughter with them hours earlier to purchase crack cocaine. They allegedly smoked some of the drug in a parking lot before returning home and falling asleep.

"She relayed to the troopers that this was an ongoing thing that she and her husband or boyfriend were doing over the last few days," Broadwater said. "They were going out and purchasing crack cocaine with the baby in the car and while they were driving, they were smoking the crack cocaine."

When they woke up, they began to argue over the oats, police said.

Eutsey grabbed a gun and fired at Maki in an attempt to scare him after he choked her, but struck him in the head instead, authorities said.

A family member took the child to Children, Youth and Family Services, authorities said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

Chapo may be on trial, but his Sinaloa cartel still doing huge U.S. business

As Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman stands trial in a New York federal courthouse, facing life behind bars, the massive drug empire he allegedly ran for decades continues to claim lives and pad the pockets of a multibillion dollar operation with tentacles across every region of the United States.

The Drug Enforcement Administration's (DEA) 2018 National Drug Threat Assessment, released earlier this month specifically named Guzman’s Sinaloa cartel as one of the “Mexican transnational criminal organizations” that represent “the greatest criminal drug threat in the United States,” responsible for a wide range of crimes including murder, kidnapping and human smuggling in addition to traditional drug trafficking activiites.

The report said the influence of cartels continue to grow in U.S., and that the Sinaloa in particular – characterized as one of the oldest and most established – maintains distribution hubs in cities that include Phoenix, Los Angeles, Denver, and Chicago. Illicit drugs distributed by the Sinaloa cartel are “primarily smuggled into the United States through crossing points located along Mexico’s border with California, Arizona, New Mexico, and West Texas,” the report said.

And while the profits continue to flow to Sinaloa and other cartels, the bodies continue to pile up. The DEA asserts that in 2016, approximately 174 people died every day from drug poisoning. And in 2017, synthetic opioids like fentanyl were involved in nearly 30,000 deaths – outnumbering those caused by firearms, motor vehicle accidents, suicide, and homicide.

“Mexican cartels continue to make large quantities of cheap methamphetamine and deliver it to the United States through the Southern border,” the report said. “Seizures at the border increased from 8,900 pounds in 2010 to nearly 82,000 pounds thus far in 2018.”

U.S. Attorney Robert Capers, right, speaks during a news conference, announcing charges for Mexican drug kingpin Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman as the murderous architect of a three-decade-long web of violence, corruption and drug trafficking in Jan., 2017. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan) (The Associated Press)

And the Sinaloa is alleged to be operating in every region of the U.S., with its distribution network supplying the overwhelming majority of the cocaine, heroin, marijuana and methamphetamine flooding the black markets. The four reigning hotspots for running the networks, analysts told Fox News, are in Chicago, Los Angeles, Atlanta, and Miami.

“Sinaloa and other cartels often employ smugglers or force unpaid, unwitting parties to march many miles, under challenging conditions and harsh terrain, to smuggle sacks of marijuana – sometimes weighing as much as 100 pounds – into southern U.S. cities, while utilizing other smuggling organizations to move hard narcotics,” said Joshua Fruth, a former military intelligence officer and consultant on transnational threat networks.

Fruth said Sinaloa “uses vehicles traveling along major routes through Tijuana, Nogales, and other areas, ranging from passenger vehicles with women and children as occupants, disguised vehicles, and semi-trucks falsely moving narcotics under the premise of legitimate commercial business.”

But the smuggling methods vary, and the cartel often relies on high-level corruption to penetrate the U.S. Such methods include the use of subterranean tunnels, commercial cargo trains and passenger buses, maritime vessels, backpackers or mules on covert land trails, as well as aerial methods including ultralight aircraft and unmanned aerial systems and drones to conduct air drops and monitor U.S law enforcement along the southwest border.

A common means of getting large drug shipments into the U.S., according to Derek Maltz, former Special Agent in Charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration Special Operations Division in New York, is by using legitimate trucking companies to unwittingly move the product.

“The cartels will hide the cocaine in the produce shipments in very sophisticated ways,” he said. “The tractor trailers will then deliver the large shipment of both legitimate goods and contraband to warehouses where the cocaine is then separated and picked up by the local Sinaloa cartel cell representative.”

And creativity is key. New York federal prosecutors unveiled footage in the trial last week showing how the accused kingpin at one point made arrangements to run contraband narcotics stuffed into jalapenos, via a tunnel, into California. And just 50 feet from an official border crossing.

“There are thousands of smuggling methods to export drugs across the border. Drugs can be hidden in toys and food; concealed inside fuel tanks; hidden in mechanical traps; inserted in bodies, or dissolved in water,” noted James Jeffrey Higgins, a retired Supervisory Special Agent with the DEA and author of “The Narco-Terrorist.” “Drugs are too small and the border is too large to catch much of it. Groups like the Sinaloa Cartel transport the drugs using a higher number of smaller-sized shipments to minimize loss if a shipment is intercepted by law enforcement.”

In this photo provided U.S. law enforcement, authorities escort Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, center, from a plane to a waiting caravan of SUVs at Long Island MacArthur Airport on Thursday, Jan. 19, 2017, in Ronkonkoma, N.Y. (The Associated Press)

The drugs are then dispersed to every region of the country, through well-established distribution hubs, and smaller cells.

“The product most often enters the U.S. through the Tijuana, Tucson, and El Paso areas, and is most often transferred to the western transshipment hub, Los Angeles, or the eastern transshipment hub of Chicago, where it’s broken down into smaller loads for regionalized shipping,” said Fruth, who has also served as a law enforcement officer. “Cities like Atlanta, Minneapolis, and Oklahoma City may be used as intermittent trans-shipment points. L.A. serves as the hub for product movement into Canada, landing in Vancouver, B.C.”

The affiliates within the U.S., the DEA report said, are an array of compartmentalized cells assigned with specific functions, such as drug distribution or transportation, consolidation of drug proceeds, or money laundering.

“Operatives typically embed themselves in demographically homogeneous Hispanic population centers. Generally, like most of the cartels, Sinaloa operatives, who may or may not have U.S. citizenship due to Sinaloa’s ‘federation’ of international allied criminal organizations, tends to lay low to evade detection,” said Fruth. “Typically, at operational/logistical phases across the U.S. border, Sinaloa operatives’ roles range from logistical support to money laundering cells.”

HAS BIBLE-CARRYING EL CHAPO REALLY FOUND GOD? SKEPTICS AREN'T BUYING IT

CHAPO'S BEAUTY QUEEN WIFE LIVING LAVISHLY – AWAY FROM THE COURTROOM

Sinaloa is also said to diversify its money laundering tactics to “legitimize” and relocate its ill-gotten funds back to Mexico. Such tactics include “limited bulk cash smuggling through vehicles and coyotes. But the majority of funds are tied to trade-based money laundering schemes that make extensive use of layered front, shell, and shelf companies.”

“These companies, which may include Mexican restaurants, convenience stores, gas stations, import/export firms, construction, farming, automotive repair, nightclubs, and others, provide means to justify cash-intensive deposit activity through U.S. banks,” Fruth continued. “Front companies will often be tied to ‘straw men,’ also known as ‘smurfs’ who act as money laundering intermediaries used to provide layers of separation that anonymize the connections to Sinaloa leadership. “

He also pointed out Sinaloa is becoming more tech-savvy, exploiting cryptocurrency ‘privacy coins,’ which are exchanged with Bitcoin to remove the need for bulk cash smuggling and provide increased anonymity that makes audit traceability by investigators more challenging.

But it's not cartel members themselves who peddle drugs in the U.S. That's generally handed off to street gangs.

“Sinaloa makes extensive use of its relationships with American street gangs, like the 5/6 Point Gangs of Chicago, known as Gangster Disciples, or Folk Nation,” Fruth said. “Inclusion of other gangs to facilitate narcotics trafficking after the transshipment points have only increased after the arrest of El Chapo, due to power-struggles, in-fighting, and mistrust among Sinaloa’s leadership echelon.”

Once the local cell distributes the cocaine and collects the proceeds from their shipments, Maltz said, they will turn the money over – which would in many cases goes right back into the same tractor-trailer compartments back to Mexico.

While the DEA’s Threat Assessment points out Mexican cartel members inside the U.S. “strive to maintain low visibility and generally refrain from inter-cartel violence so as to avoid law enforcement detection and scrutiny,” some experts say that's changing.

“Sinaloa’s egregious acts of violence, drug trafficking tactics, and money laundering approaches are starting to become more prevalent in U.S. based, Sinaloa-allied street gangs, with increased reporting of torture, kidnapping, assassination, and other heinous acts intended to instill fear in rivals, demand loyalty from subordinates, and maintain territorial control,” Fruth observed.

As of 2015, Mexican outfits were able to expand into gaining larger shares of eastern U.S. heroin markets, entering into the lucrative “white power” heroin market historically dominated by Southeast and Southwest Asia.

Jan. 28, 2014: Coast Guard officer William Pless communicates on the radio  during a patrol off the San Diego coast. With the drug war targeting land routes across Latin America and the U.S. border, smugglers have been increasingly using large vessels to carry multi-ton loads of cocaine and marijuana hundreds of miles offshore. (AP)

The DEA found heroin-related drug-poisoning deaths are at their highest-ever recorded level, and almost doubled between 2013 and 2016. They also said the heroin available in U.S. markets is “primarily sourced from Mexico, where opium poppy cultivation and heroin production have both increased significantly in recent years.”

Sinaloa, one of at least eight Mexican cartels operating in the United States, still has by far the broadest reach, experts said. Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada-Garcia, a former top Sinaloa honcho who has been extradited to the U.S and testified against his former associate, Guzman, told the court last week that $9 million upfront on a 15-ton shipment of cocaine generally makes $39 million if purchased in Los Angeles, and upwards of $78 million when venturing as far as New York.

The U.S. has charged Guzmán with making more than $14 billion during his 28-year reign as one of the world’s most wanted men. His high-priced defense team argues he was nothing more than a middle-man in the operation.

Hollie McKay has a been a Fox News Digital staff reporter since 2007. She has extensively reported from war zones including Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Burma and investigates global conflicts, war crimes and terrorism around the world. Follow her on twitter and Instagram @holliesmckay

16 Atlanta postal employees convicted of taking bribes to deliver cocaine

Sixteen postal workers in Atlanta have been sentenced to between three and nine years in prison after being convicted of accepting bribes as low as $250 to deliver cocaine on their mail routes, officials said Tuesday.

Federal agents learned of the deliveries in 2015 while investigating a drug trafficking ring in the city, the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia said in a news release. The mail employees were targeted by traffickers because they believed the workers were less likely to draw attention from law enforcement, the release said.

“Postal employees are paid to deliver mail, not drugs,” said Imari R. Niles, Special Agent in Charge, U.S. Postal Service Office of Inspector General, Capital Metro Area Field Office.  “The vast majority of the Postal Service’s 600,000 employees are hard-working, trustworthy individuals."

Agents used a confidential source to pose as a drug trafficker looking for postal workers willing to deliver cocaine and marijuana, and recorded the interactions. The workers chose to deliver cocaine instead of marijuana, believing they could charge a higher bribe to make the deliveries, the release said.

"When the confidential source asked if they knew any other postal workers who did the same thing, some of the defendants introduced the confidential source to coworkers who also wanted to deliver packages (with the defendant claiming an additional bribe for every package their recruit delivered), the release states.

The workers range in age from 26 to 64 and all must pay $1,450 to $10,500 in forfeiture or restitution.

Has Bible-carrying El Chapo really found God? Skeptics aren’t buying it

Accused Sinaloa Cartel drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman is apparently playing the God card and is exercising his Catholic faith during his trial - though not everyone is buying it.

According to an official source connected to the case, the drug kingpin has perhaps conveniently “found Jesus” in the almost two years since he was extradited from Mexico to the United States.

The source said Chapo requested a Spanish-language Bible when he was brought to the U.S., after informing authorities of his faith and filling out the appropriate legal paperwork with the U.S Marshals. He is said to carry the Bible everywhere – including every time he leaves his cell. And it apparently “sits in his suit pocket during court,” a source said.

“It is small like the size of an iPhone or wallet. It’s like a travel edition,” said the law enforcement source, who was not authorized to speak on the record. “I don’t think he’s reading any of it. He carries it like it’s a symbolic peacemaker. I haven’t seen him pray at all.”

Beyond his Bible, Guzman’s only reading material is in the form of legal paperwork. He is allowed absolutely no computer access, and up until the trial which began earlier this month, spend around 23 hours a day in solitary confinement.

“It seems like Chapo is trying to find religion as he sits in solitary confinement in prison,” said Derek Maltz, former Special Agent in Charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Special Operations Division in New York.

Maltz and others have pointed out Guzman and his Sinaloa cartel were not particularly known to be as faith-driven as other rival cartels in Mexico. But in a region that is overwhelmingly Catholic, church-cartels relationships have a somewhat complicated history.

On the one hand, professing faith has been a popular tack with drug runners. A few years before being killed in 2014 shootout, Guzman’s competing drug gang chief – Nazario Moreno Gonzalez, who first headed the La Familia drug syndicate before leading the Knights Templar Cartel – self-published his own 104-page booklet “Thoughts.”

The faith-driven publication, brimming with crosses and images of Jesus, offered impassioned passage of “Christian living” advice – which included love and respect for others Cartel underlings were reportedly made to take up Bible study and pray the rosary – even if the next orders were to slaughter civilians or manufacture methamphetamine for the black market.

And while there is no evidence the Vatican in any way condoned or enabled suspicious dealings with the cartels, critics have accused the Catholic Church of speaking out harshly against the cartels in public, while quietly accepting “narco alms” – otherwise characterized as dirty money allegedly donated by cartel leaders to finance a variety of reconstruction and charity projects.

In 2009, a church in a poor neighborhood of the Mexican city of Pachuca unveiled a 65-foot-high metal cross. While celebrated by some, an accompanying plaque expressed gratitude to the since-killed top brass of the Zetas Cartel, Heriberto “The Executioner” Lazcano, as the sole benefactor for the project.

A tomb that was allegedly built by Heriberto Lazcano Lazcano, leader of the Zetas, stands at a cemetery in the neighborhood of Tezontle in Pachuca, Mexico, Tuesday, Oct. 9, 2012. The tomb is a small scale copy of a church in Tezontle, which at one point had a plaque naming Lazcano as the donor. (AP Photo/Alexandre Meneghini)

One U.S law enforcement official explained that devout cartel leaders have since taken to funneling money to the church through “middlemen” – leaving the church unaware of the real source of the donations.

“Religiosity is often employed in the service of deeper, more unconscious motivations. Some cartel members may speak in the name of religion in an effort to assuage a sense of personal guilt for their criminal actions,” explained New York clinical psychologist, Dr. Norman Fried. “Psychiatric events such as mania or hypomania are often correlated with strong religious statements. The connection to religion is often intense, unwavering and all-consuming. Then the religiosity wanes, and the individual seems less interested in God.”

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But concerns are also growing for the safety of church leaders in the face of intimidation and warnings by those very same cartels.

“Christian leaders are under threat from drug cartels in Mexico. Cartels target those who speak out against the scourge of drugs on their communities, which puts priests and pastors in their bullseye,” said David Curry, President and CEO of Open Doors USA, a Christian watchdog group.

Curry noted the Vatican has indeed recognized the violence of persecution of Christians in Mexico but insisted the Mexican government can still “do more to protect easy targets like churches and priests in communities where the cartels are working and threatening the clergy.”

In an official visit to Mexico in early 2016, Pope Francis – the first to hail from Latin America – encouraged Mexicans to thwart the lure of illicit drugs and cash. Yet despite an initial sense of hope, observers said, standing up to the violence remains very dangerous.

A statue of Pope John Paul II stands outside the Basilica of Guadalupe during heavy rain in Mexico City, Friday, July 5, 2013. (AP Photo/Ivan Pierre Aguirre) (AP2013)

Some religious leaders have been forced to take desperate measures for their survival. Catholic priest Gregorio “Father Goyo” Lopez has taken to wearing a bulletproof vest from his pulpit in the southwestern state of Michoacán, after repeated death threats.

“I saw how they were killing my friends, my brothers, my sheep, as the pastor I have an obligation for speaking out,” Lopez told TIME. “If a dog bites your children, and you do nothing, then you are worse than the dog.”

Last year, reports surfaced that Mexican cartels had taken up forcibly “taxing” churches in their areas. While the practice was deemed to be “very common,” most cases are believed to go unreported.

Jan. 16, 2014 – Apatzingan, MICHOACAN, MEX – Father Gregorio Lopez Geronimo models the bulletproof vest that he now uses when he celebrates Mass at the Cathedral in Apatzingan, a small city in Mexico’s Michoacan state, Jan. 16, 2014. (Credit Image: © Tim Johnson/TNS/ZUMAPRESS.com)

More than 30 church leaders have been slain in Mexico in the past decade, as documented by the Centro Catolico Multimedial – directly or indirectly caught in the crossfire. In 1993, the Church’s top official, Cardinal Juan Posadas Ocampo, was shot dead at the airport in Guadalajara, Mexico.

“The Roman Catholic Church has expressed concern that violence and corruption have diminished the number of parishioners in the past decades, although Mexican drug cartels have also been increasing their donations to various Mexican Catholic dioceses,” explained J.T. Patten, a former government intelligence operative. “In hearts and minds campaigns for the power to rule people, it is less about religion and more about who can control the message to the masses.”

Pope Francis receives a cross made by an inmate at the CeReSo n. 3 prison in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2016. The pontiff is wrapping up his trip to Mexico on Wednesday with a visit in the prison, just days after a riot in another lockup killed 49 inmates, and a stop at the Texas border when immigration is a hot issue for the U.S. presidential campaign. (Gabriel Bouys/Pool photo via AP)

As for Chapo, he "always saw himself as some kind of Robin Hood,” observed one Mexican law enforcement source. “It is part of the branding.”

That might explain the presence of a six-inch figurine of Mexico's "narco-saint" Jesus Malverde, a popular figure with those in the drug trade, in the conference rooms for Guzman's defense team at the Brooklyn courthouse. The “generous bandit” hailed from Sinaloa in the 19th Century, and was said to have stolen from the rich to give to the poor.

"Most cartel leaders don't believe that what they are doing is wrong. Many can feel like they are just doing what they need to in order to feed their families or make a living; considering themselves ‘family men’,” added Kati Morton, a California-based licensed therapist. “In a way, they compartmentalize their life, and therefore still believe that religion and God are important and necessary. If they ever do feel guilty or like they have done wrong, if they ask God for forgiveness, they can let go of their guilt and be okay.”

The Vatican and Guzman’s lawyers did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In this Jan. 8, 2016 file photo, a handcuffed Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman is made to face the press as he is escorted to a helicopter by Mexican soldiers and marines at a federal hangar in Mexico City. (AP Photo/Eduardo Verdugo)

But for many U.S. law enforcement professionals, such proclamations of faith when facing the fate of the judicial system is a tried and true hat trick pulled by everyone from mobsters to gangsters to serial killers to drug lords.

“I wouldn't know what's in anyone's heart – only they and God know that. But I highly doubt that the likes of Chapo and any money they gave to the Church was not achieved by killing a few hundred people and running drugs,” added Craig Caine, retired Inspector United States Marshal's Service, Eastern District of New York and the New York and New Jersey Regional Fugitive Task Force.

“In other words, they are full of sh*t. This is part of the business. That’s it.”

Hollie McKay has a been a Fox News Digital staff reporter since 2007. She has extensively reported from war zones including Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Burma and investigates global conflicts, war crimes and terrorism around the world. Follow her on twitter and Instagram @holliesmckay