SAN ANTONIO – Mexican cartels, considered the nation’s greatest drug threat by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, are at the root of the persistent violent flare-ups on the city’s East Side.
“There’s no doubt those cartels have a significant influence in San Antonio — right down to having influence on the people on the street selling the narcotics,” said Will Glaspy, special agent in charge of the DEA's Houston division.
In its 2017 National Drug Threat Assessment, the DEA points to the Sinaloa, Gulf, Nueva Generacion and Los Zetas cartels, which supply the drugs that street gangs sell for their own profit or to pay back what they owe the cartels.
“That’s a direct involvement, in my opinion,” said Melesio Hernandez, U.S. marshal for the Western District of Texas. “Everybody’s in it to make money.”
Both Glaspy and Hernandez said that given what’s at stake, the violence is often over territory, turf wars or infighting over who gets to sell where.
“Greed is always at the top of that list,” Glaspy said.
“Wherever you have drugs, you’re going to have guns, and where you have guns, you’re going to have violence," Hernandez said.
Glaspy said although the cartels’ command and control remain in Mexico, their presence is felt in San Antonio and other parts of the U.S.
“They have distribution cells. They’ve got transportation cells. They’ve got money laundering cells,” Glaspy said.
He said that often one cell doesn’t know what the other is doing or even who the players are.
“They kind of wall themselves off for their own protection,” Glaspy said. “If somebody gets arrested, they can’t bring down the whole organization.”
Glaspy said that makes it difficult for law enforcement, which is why agencies join forces.
“That’s how we can best attack, disrupt and dismantle their organizations,” Glaspy said.
For instance, the Lone Star Fugitive Task Force announced Monday that its 90-day Operation Triple Beam had resulted in 215 arrests, with the apprehensions of 40 fugitives and the seizure of cash and weapons. Its goal was to reduce gang violence on the East Side.
“It’s that street-level issue. That is what we’re trying to target because that’s what causes the violence," said San Antonio police Capt. Troy Torres, with the East Side substation.