Stratfor and Jessica Alba

Friday, June 15, 2012
Stratfor's Security Weekly column has previously discussed the rise of methamphetamine production in Mexico.

Unlike cocaine, which is a drug the cartels get from other countries and can only skim their profits as they move it north to the U.S., meth is a drug were they're able to  control both its production and distribution. Because that generates more profit, meth is a drug that Mexican cartels are moving into heavily.

This article by Ben West discusses "Dark Angel", a U.S. law enforcement program that broke up a small to medium sized meth distribution operation in the States. Ben does a good job describing the front companies to aid in its shipment, and the means they used to launder the drug money.

The beginning of the article is excerpted below, with a link to the full article after the excerpt.

The operations name -- Dark Angel -- naturally brought to mind the old T.V. series Dark Angel; and so Jessica Alba, that series female lead, was an easy choice for the honor of representing the article as its Hot Stratfor Babe.

Ms Alba started acting at a young age. Because of the age of Ambi Junior I first saw her in Nickelodeon's The Secret World of Alex Mack and later in Flipper, which was an astonishingly tasteless piece of Hollywood ass-hattery (yes, you read that right -- Flipper and tasteless in the same sentence. You had to see its second season to believe it).

At any rate, her big break was in the sci-fi series Dark Angel. In it she played Max Guevera, a genetically engineered girl who had been raised as a super warrior by some Eeeevil corporation. She escaped them and fled to a dystopian Seattle where she tried to find some of her grade school pals who had likewise escaped. Needless to say, she also frequently used her childhood training to beat the crap out of the nefarious goons who were trying to recapture her.

Along the way she hooked up with a paraplegic cyber journalist. I guess these days we would call him a blogger, although I don't recall him always wearing pajamas and living in his mom's basement.

The first season was pretty entertaining, but then it veered into silliness including a "nice" monster and pretty much went off the rails. However, by that time Jessica Alba's popularity had been assured and she has gone on to have a successful movie career.


'Dark Angel' and the Mexican Meth Connection

By Ben West, June 14, 2012

In a U.S. operation dubbed "Dark Angel," local and federal law enforcement officers on May 30 arrested 20 individuals involved in methamphetamine trafficking across five states. Authorities confirmed that the leader of the trafficking network, Armando Mendoza-Haro, has links to Mexico, where the methamphetamine was likely produced. The group appears to have used legitimate companies to transport methamphetamine from California to the Denver area and elsewhere in the Western and Midwestern United States. The group then sent the profits back to California, where the cash was wired to banks in China and the Cayman Islands.

Mexico's methamphetamine trade seems to be booming these days. Earlier in 2012, the Mexican military made the largest single seizure of methamphetamine ever (15 tons, worth around $1 billion) outside Guadalajara. As the United States increased its restrictions on the pharmaceutical chemicals used to produce methamphetamine, Mexican producers stepped in to meet the growing demand. Details from Operation Dark Angel provide insight into how traffickers in the United States are getting their product to market and, more interestingly, how they are laundering their profits.

Compartmentalizing

The Mendoza-Haro organization appears to be a midsized trafficking operation. Agents who arrested the group and raided properties seized only 2.7 kilograms (6 pounds) of methamphetamine and $715,340 in cash (the approximate street value of 7.2 kilograms of methamphetamine). However, this only represents a single shipment. The group handled what appear to be dozens of similar-sized shipments, so total revenues likely added up to millions of dollars over time. According to The Denver Post, authorities involved in Operation Dark Angel believe the drugs were made in Mexican methamphetamine labs. Additionally, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) special agent in charge of the operation said the group was transferring drug proceeds to drug cartel members in Mexico.

One of the defendants, Miguel Angel Sanchez, owned Playboyz Trucking LLC in San Bernardino, Calif. Authorities say that some of the Playboyz drivers knowingly transported the group's methamphetamine and cash revenues between California and Colorado, while other drivers were unaware of their cargos' contents. For example, the $715,340 in cash that authorities seized during the May 30 raid was found hidden in a truck carrying milk.

According to the indictment, more than a dozen people in Colorado, California, Utah and Iowa were involved in trafficking methamphetamine under the command of Mendoza-Haro and Sanchez. The evidence comes from intercepted telephone conversations between Mendoza-Haro, Sanchez and the other defendants that indicate the defendants knowingly participated in the drug smuggling. And there is a pattern in the intercepted phone calls: Mendoza-Haro was evidently in contact with nearly all of the accused smugglers, but there were very few conversations among the smugglers themselves. This group is a good example of how trafficking rings tend to compartmentalize their operations for the sake of operational security.

Money Laundering

The indictment connects two individuals in California to most of the money-laundering charges: Ricardo Paniagua-Rodriguez and Carlos Martin Segura Chang. There are no public records available for Paniagua-Rodriguez that explain how he may have been involved in the trafficking group. He was arrested near the U.S.-Mexico border in San Ysidro, Calif., a location that would easily allow him to facilitate financial transactions with groups in Mexico. As for Chang, public records indicate that he used to own (and may still own) Schang Import/Export Service, which is registered under a residential address in Downey, Calif., where police arrested him.

The indictment does not specifically mention the import/export company as a part of the operation; according to public records, the company opened its doors in August 2008 and reported trade activity only in November 2008, so it's difficult to say definitively whether the company was used to help launder drug money. However, the only country Schang was licensed to import from was China, which means the company would most likely have bank accounts to transfer money to China to buy goods. Since some of the trafficking group's laundered money was going to China, we find it likely that Chang served as some kind of international conduit for the Chinese money-laundering aspect of the operation.

The details of this case aren't necessarily normal operation procedure for drug traffickers in the United States. Many midsized, U.S.-based trafficking gangs like the Mendoza-Haro group purchase drugs wholesale from intermediary groups in the border area who have already paid the cartels in Mexico and derive most of their profits from simply getting the drugs across the border -- a specialized, value-added skill in its own right. But DEA evidence of the Mendoza-Haro group's links to Mexico and the routes the group's revenues were laundered through suggest that it may not have exclusively dealt with border intermediaries.

Read more: 'Dark Angel' and the Mexican Meth Connection | Stratfor


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