Mexican drug cartels operating in Inland Northwest - Spokane, North Idaho News & Weather KHQ.com

Mexican drug cartels operating in Inland Northwest

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SPOKANE, Wash. - Drugs and violence in Mexico continue to grab national headlines. With the gruesome murders and daily kidnappings the situation is being called a war and if you think it's far away, you're mistaken. Mexican drug cartels are operating in the Inland Northwest.

The images are haunting and the statistics are horrifying.

More than 10,000 people in Mexico have been killed in drug related violence since 2006 including more than 6,000 murders in 2008.

As the War on Drugs rages 1,600 miles to the south, Mexican drug traffickers are moving into the U.S. and into Spokane.

Normally, the Spokane Regional Drug Task Force does not divulge information on their operations, but the problem has become too big and too challenging to keep quiet.

"Generally we don't do these interviews, we want to be under the radar," says an undercover officer with the task force. "We want to be quiet."

The undercover officer says the Inland Northwest has become a distribution hub for the Mexican drug trafficking organizations, citing a case in which more than 100 members of an organization, based out of Mexico, were arrested.

Recent headlines offer proof of the problem: A man stopped on the river with a boat-load of marijuana, 9 pounds of nearly pure meth pulled from a hidden compartment in a car, meth discovered in the airbag of a truck and 15 pounds of cocaine seized in a local bust.

Right now, these drugs are selling for $1,200 - $1,600 an ounce and federal authorities estimate it's a $25 billion a year illicit industry. The exorbitant amount of money propels the criminal element and emboldens these drug cartels back in Mexico and in your neighborhood.

"I've been to the Indian Trail area, I've been into the South Hill area, the Valley, Liberty Lake, Otis Orchards, Airway Heights, Cheney, Medical Lake," says the undercover officer, "there's no place in the Spokane area that we haven't been."

Most concerning for people is the trickle down effect; the crimes that are linked to drugs. Spokane is not seeing the same level of drug violence that's happening in Mexico but graffiti, for example, is a sign of gang activity and according to the DEA, Spokane's gangs are supplied by those controlling organizations in Mexico.

DEA Special Agent Arnold Moorin elaborated.

"If we were to say, have one happy day in our lives and completely eradicate all the drugs coming north from those gangs, then every gang in the Spokane area, the 18th streeters, the Crypts, the Bloods, whoever you want to name, would have no product," said Moorin. "The property crimes, like car prowlings and home burglaries linked to drug use, they might be going down. Instead, they're going up."

Car prowlings are indeed on the rise, up from 210 in February 2007 to 380 in February 2009. Burglaries are also increasing, up from 165 to 215 year over year.

The undercover officer says the crimes are driven by drugs. "I don't steal people's TV's because I need five plasmas in my house, I'm going to a pawn shop, because I money to get my next fix."

The solution to the problem is complicated. Right now, the local drug task force and federal agents are efforting a multi-pronged attack to get control of this drug epidemic before drug related crimes escalate further. Local authorities say their job is to cut off the source of the supply by working with the DEA, which then extends the local investigations all the way down to Mexico.

Already, there has been some success. The undercover officer referenced one meth bust that led to the arrest of 15 people, "although the head of the snake in Mexico is still around, this particular organization no longer exists, its gone."

DEA agent Moorin says many organizations are involved in the fight and without all of the entities involved being in concert, none of it could happen.

The final question is what you can do to help. It's as simple as being vigilant and reporting suspicious activity which helps police track what is occurring and alerts them as to where resources need to be allocated.

You can also email anonymous tips directly to the DEA.

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