Stewart Scott

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.


Stewart Scott

Stewart Scott is a security analyst for Stratfor.