US Soldiers for Contract Hits
Mexican drug cartels are recruiting American soldiers to act as clandestine hit men in the United States, paying them thousands of dollars to assassinate federal informants and organized crime rivals, law enforcement experts tell the Daily News.
The most recent -- and blatant -- example came this summer when 22-year-old Michael Apodaca, a former private first class at Fort Bliss in Texas, was sentenced to life in prison for executing Jose Daniel Gonzalez-Galeana, a member of the infamous Juarez Cartel in Mexico and a snitch for the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.
The Juarez Cartel paid Apodaca $5,000 to off the confidential informant outside his home in a quiet, upscale neighborhood in the border city of El Paso, Texas. The police chief lived just a few doors away.
Apodaca, who had served in Afghanistan, calmly testified earlier this year about the day in 2009 when he emptied eight rounds into Gonzalez-Galeana, then jumped into a get-away car driven by an accomplice.
"As I shot him, I was moving, then I ran out of rounds," Apodaca said on the witness stand. Then he recounted how he telephoned the cartel member who'd given him the contract killing and reported, "I did it." The private, who was on active duty at Fort Bliss at the time, then dismantled his handgun and threw its magazine out the window.
Last September, two military members stationed at Fort Carson in Colorado pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit murder-for-hire after accepting a contract hit from men they thought were operatives of the ultra-violent Los Zetas drug syndicate. They actually were undercover federal agents.
The soldiers volunteered they were skilled in "wet work" (a euphemism for covert assassinations) and not only would they kill for money, they also would provide military training and weapons -- including grenades, assault rifles and body armor, according to a federal criminal complaint filed by the DEA in Laredo, Texas.
Federal officials have denied comment beyond the court filing. Repeated interview requests from the Daily News to ICE seeking comment on the Fort Bliss case went unanswered.
Law enforcement experts warn that such incidents may only increase as highly trained military members struggle to find civilian jobs after mass deployments to killing zones such as Afghanistan and Iraq. Where better to offer high-paying killing contracts than to low-paid soldiers trained to and out of work, they say.
"The cartels operate like corporations. They have the money to go out and hire the talent they need to get the job done," said Ricardo Ainslie, who has documented drug cartel violence and culture as an author and a filmmaker.
"They are very aware of how highly trained the US military is and that the skills they've learned in the military don't readily translate to civilian life," Ainslie, who wrote "The Fight to Save Juarez: Life in the Heart of Mexico's Drug War," told the Daily News.
And the deadly Zetas are well versed in military operations. Its founders were members of the Mexican military's special forces division who deserted their elite combat units to reap illegal billions while operating with relative impunity in Mexico's Wild West drug trade.
Some also received US military training at Fort Bragg, N.C., in counter-insurgency and counter-narcotics techniques during the 1990s.
It's impossible to quantify how pervasive cartel contract killing is among the American military -- there are no statistics and the players, most notably confidential informants and their federal handlers, operate in an often surreal, secretive world with the blurred morality of a John le Carre novel.
That was most evident in the Fort Bliss case, where a US confidential informant and Juarez Cartel lieutenant successfully ordered the assassination of another US confidential informant working for the same cartel. The murder occurred while both snitches were reporting to the same ICE agent, according to court testimony.
PFC Apodaca, the triggerman, was hired in 2009 by ICE informant (and double agent) Ruben Rodriguez Dorado to kill Juarez Gonzalez-Galeana, after the latter had been outed as an ICE snitch. Ultimately, Dorado pleaded guilty to murder-for-hire charges and received a sentence of life in prison. Wheelman Christopher Duran got 20 years.
Their trials proved embarrassing for ICE, which initially refused to cooperate in the Texas criminal trials, frustrating both prosecutors and the judge. Ultimately, ICE agent Pete Loera, the handler for both informants, was allowed to give limited testimony. The agency knew there was a contract out on Gonzalez-Galeana, Loera said. But he did not know that Dorado had issued it, he testified.
The highly unusual case gave a rare glimpse into the cold-blooded workings of Mexican organized crime and a particularly blundering effort by US agents to infiltrate it, experts said.
READ FULL SOURCE ARTICLE: 09/13/2013
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