The border town of McAllen, Texas is one the poorest towns in America, in fact according to the US Census Bureau, the palm enriched enclave of Hidalgo County has a 34% poverty rate among its residents, and yet within this Lone-Star town only a mere 8-miles from the Mexican border, the annual retail sales for luxury items is over $3 billion dollars a year. Let those two incompatible numbers sink in for a moment, and impoverished border town with a record number of poor residents, boasts dozens of plush jewelry stores and fashionable boutiques, including a new Maserati dealership, a polo club, and a number of upscale shopping malls, the ones you might find on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, California.
Logic would suggest something doesn’t make sense, or does it?
Illegal immigration and drug trafficking in this little stretch of Texas real-estate just across the border from Mexico, has become a boomtown for human smugglers and drug cartels, easily laundering their illicit cash bounty, in exchange for luxury goods, such as Rolex’s and imported African diamonds, with many high-end jewelry stores looking the other way, thus becoming a vital part of the revenue stream within the illicit business of illegal immigration including the drug trade.
“It’s all about smuggling here,” said a federal law-enforcement source. “Whether it’s drugs, or people smuggling, the cartels are laundering their cash right here.”
However in order for human smugglers and the drug cartels to flourish on our side of the border, criminals need to pay off the local politicians and law enforcement. One such individual was a former Democratic county sheriff named Guadalupe “Lupe” Trevino, a charismatic character and one of the most influential and powerful lawmen within the state.
Trevino was finally brought to justice in 2014, accused and convicted of laundering drug money for the Mexican cartels. In one such transaction he took $120,000 from convicted kingpin Tomas “El Gallo” Gonzalez. Some of that cash went to his re-election campaign, prosecutors said.
In another incident Trevino allowed the owner of a trucking business who regularly traveled across the border using his business as a front to easily transport drugs without being detected. Trevino was finally caught and sentenced to just five years in federal prison and released in January.
Trevino including the entire squad under his command at the time of his arrest, had links to the Gulf Cartel, which is said to be one of the oldest criminal syndicates in Mexico, known by its Spanish-language acronym, CDG.
The cartels have also expanded their criminal empire to include the extremely lucrative business of human trafficking, forcing migrants who wish to come to America to pay thousands of dollars hoping to be smuggled across the Rio Grande Valley into the United States, and into nearby border towns like McAllen.
Rodolfo Karisch, chief patrol agent for the Rio Grande Valley Section of US Border Patrol, said in testimony to the Senate last week, “The current migration patterns have reaped huge profits for the transnational criminal organizations that use smuggling as a cash flow source.”
Once the migrants make it across the border, they’re hidden in stash houses within the border towns and forcibly detained for weeks until the smugglers can extort even more money from family members in the United Sates, threatening to either use the migrant as drug mules or if it’s a female threaten to exploit her as a sex slave, if they do not pay.
The stash houses are usually nondescript large homes nestled within middle-class neighborhoods, the smugglers usually pay cash upfront to rent the homes for up to 6-months, with a little extra cash up front to the rental agents, to simply look the other way. The homes can hold dozens of migrants indefinitely.
Typically, local teenagers are used to deliver the migrants to the stash houses earning between $250 and $300 in cash per migrant.