City of Coke

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"You could ring these guys at the store and order up anything from a few grams to a kilo," says Molesa. The ring handled most of its transactions in a city park located between an elementary school and a Catholic high school.

Four months before the Tucson bust, 11 members of a Jamaican gang that controls the distribution of marijuana in Queens, New York, were arrested in Phoenix and accused of transporting 30- to 60-pound loads of marijuana three times a week using overnight courier services. The Jamaicans had set up a fake shipping business, according to the DEA, and got their marijuana from Mexican smugglers on a contract basis.

"There's any number of scenarios involving gangs in Arizona and drugs from Mexico," says Molesa. "It goes anywhere from one member of one gang getting paid 400 bucks a week to pick up a car in the parking lot of the Kmart in Nogales on the U.S. side of the border, drive it to the Waffle House at I-10 and Baseline and leave it there with the keys on the seat, to multiple members of the gang buying drugs from Mexicans and selling it to other gangs, sometimes in other states. We have some gangs buying pot from Mexican juveniles who backpack it across the border. Think up any scenario, and it's probably happening out there right now."

Lobo's wife and daughter live in a new tract home purchased in another man's name. He also rents an apartment in a gated complex five minutes from his old neighborhood. He stores money and drugs here, and uses it to process cocaine. Inside this apartment, Lobo unwraps his latest purchase, four rocks of cocaine weighing nearly half a pound each. Using a utility razor, he painstakingly carves each rock into pieces, which he crushes and chops into a fine powder. This powder, sold to him as pure cocaine, he repeatedly sifts through a length of double-wrapped cheese cloth. Then he creates pre-ordered batches for his customers, cutting some of the cocaine with ephedrine powder, some with crystal methamphetamine, the rest with B-12 vitamin crystals.

As he works, Lobo laughs about the Mexican Mafia's kickback system for drug dealers, which he calls "gangbanger's social security."

He says he doesn't resent giving up half his profits to men who do nothing. He knows if he gets busted and goes to prison, his family will have food, and he will have plenty of money in his prison account to buy sodas and chips from the commissary. Money earned by whomever takes his place.

Prison isn't part of Lobo's long-term plan, though. He hopes never to recoup the benefits he now pays into a system that assumes that sooner or later, everyone gets busted. Lobo just wants to earn enough money for the Mexican Mafia that when he decides to take himself out of the game, the local branch of Eme will let him retire in peace. Retire from drug dealing, that is. There is no retiring from his gang.

"It's a life thing," he says.

But the gang has served Lobo well. He has a band of warriors at his beck and call. He has a new house, and, soon, enough cash to go into business for himself. Legitimate business. Something with cars. Window tinting, maybe, or a detailing shop specializing in custom paint jobs. Whatever it is, he says, it's sure to be harder work than dealing drugs to other gang members.

"This shit is the easiest job I'll ever have," Lobo says of selling coke. Ask any Mexican dishwasher who makes 10 times his hourly wage dealing grams to customers out of the kitchen.

"You don't need to be a salesman to get rid of drugs, bro. Drugs sell themselves."

And no one in the world buys and does more drugs than Americans. We have a long-established, never-ending jones for getting high.

Mexican smugglers have been this country's supplier of heroin and marijuana for more than 50 years. Their role began to expand in the early 1980s, when Colombian drug lords hired the leaders of Mexico's fledgling cartels to use their pre-established smuggling routes and methods to get cocaine into the country. The Colombians re-claimed the shipments on the U.S. side of the border, and paid the Mexicans $1,500 to $2,000 per kilogram for this service.

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David Holthouse
Contact: David Holthouse