Drug Cartels Flex Muscle In Southwest

phoenix criminal drug trafficing hot spot CBS

It's a phone call few Americans will ever hear: "He's going to lose his finger, don't let him lose his life."

That's the terrifying sound of a kidnapper demanding money in exchange for the life of a loved one. It's hard to believe but calls like these come in virtually every single day in Phoenix, Ariz., which last year set up a special task force to battle back, CBS News chief investigative correspondent Armen Keteyian reports.

"The status of the problem is one that is going to explode across our country," said Lt. Lauri Burgett of the Phoenix Police Department's Violent Crimes Bureau.

Just last weekend a mother and her 3-year-old daughter were kidnapped by Mexican meth dealers seeking money owed by the dad. She was eventually released unharmed.

So was another man, but only after being tortured for three days by smugglers. His wife had to listen to his screams over the phone - as well as field $100,000 for ransom.

"They tried to take out the eyes and the ears and the finger, also," she said.

In fact, law enforcement sources tell CBS News that Phoenix has become ground zero for the explosion in the reported number of kidnappings and home invasions involving drug traffickers and criminals with connections to the Mexican drug cartels.

A CBS News investigation has discovered that as of last weekend, there have been 266 reported kidnappings and 300 home invasions this year alone. Sources say the real figures could run as much as three times higher because so many go unreported.

"It wasn't uncommon to have a new kidnapping case coming into our offices on a daily basis," Burgett said.

Law-enforcement sources say the kidnappings signal the brutal expansion of the raging Mexican drug wars spilling across the border. And one map reveals just how widely Mexican drug organizations have spread across the country - 195 cities in all.

Check out National Drug Intelligence Center maps and data about Mexican drug operations in the United States. (16 pgs.)
In June, three Mexican nationals were arrested by Phoenix police after a violent home invasion and murder at a drug "safe house." They were dressed head-to-toe just like the local S.W.A.T. team - and just as heavily armed.

Now CBS News has learned enforcer gangs just south of the Mexican border have added military-grade hand grenades to their arsenal - something special agent Jose Wall expects to see in Phoenix any day.

"There's nothing to make me believe that it won't happen," said Wall, an agent at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

It's not just hand grenades, kidnappings and home invasions that have law enforcement on edge. They say it's only a matter of time before innocent civilians are caught in the crossfire.
  • Armen Keteyian

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