Mexican cartels are exporting drugs to Northwest Indiana's streets, but the violence surrounding it is all made in the U.S.A., according to law enforcement officials.
"The majority of cocaine and marijuana being brought are controlled and organized through those cartels, but not at the street level. They are mostly American citizens who live in our neighborhoods and communities," Gary Police Lt. Jeff Trevino said.
Trevino works with federal drug enforcement.
"You have a crew of guys working together and pooling their money to buy narcotics. The actual cartels themselves aren't employing those individuals. They are just supplying them."
Federal and local law enforcement officials said they keep a wary eye out for the Mafia-style drug trafficking organizations. They have had a propensity for mass murder in Mexico where tens of thousands have died in armed combat over the billions of dollars to be earned annually in selling cocaine, marijuana and other drugs to America.
Last weekend, federal agencies launched a Chicago Strike Force to target the cartels' control over narcotics in that city. The strike force, which includes the DEA, FBI, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and other law enforcement, estimates 90 percent of the drugs originate from Mexican organizations.
But Northwest Indiana has had its own umbrella group, the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area task force, called HIDTA, which has been coordinating the work of dozens of federal, state and local law enforcement agencies for the last 15 years.
"We know where the supply is coming from, through Chicago, and then it migrates to their local contacts here," HIDTA Executive Director Charles Porucznik said.
"We see a lot of violence associated with these cartels in fighting over distribution territories. We haven't seen the violence they are experiencing, but we would be naive not to think we may see some of that," he said.
Robert Ramsey is the supervisory agent in charge of GRIT, short for Gary Response Investigative Team, which works with federal and local police investigators.
"Homicides are up in Gary. Some are probably drug- and gang-related," Ramsey said. "In terms of Hispanic or Mexican criminal enterprise gangs, we have heard some reports in (Gary's) Black Oak (section), but we tend to get a lot of 'claimers' who say they are associated with these people. Whether they actually are is hard to verify."
Porucznik praised U.S. Attorney David Capp's office for its sweeping indictment and detention of Imperial Gangsters' and Latin Kings' leadership.
Capp declined to comment for this story, but the charges his office filed laid out in detail the inner workings of the local chapters of nationwide criminal street gangs who buy drugs wholesale from Mexico for distribution in Lake County.
Violence ranging from savage beatings to standing "kill on sight" orders ensures discipline within the gangs and fends off competition from rival street organizations. The indictments allege the two gangs have committed robbery and murder in Lake County.
The U.S. Attorney recently won the convictions of former Chicago police officers for using their former police badges and uniforms to assist the Latin Kings by robbing rival drug dealers.
A source within federal law enforcement said the Imperial Gangsters and Latin Kings are independent groups, not cartel employees.