Mexican cartels looking to exploit gang connections in U.S. military

by Angela Kocherga (khou.com)
December 11, 2009

militarygang

EL PASO, Texas – The ties between drug cartels and street gangs in Mexico are well-established.

But now, there are signs the cartels are looking to exploit gang connections in the U.S. military.

Michael Jackson Apodaca joined the Army last year, encouraged by his grandfather, who was a retired Border Patrol agent.

But Apodaca’s past caught up with him this summer. He’s now facing capital murder charges for the contract killing of a drug cartel informant in El Paso.

“They picked him because of his background. Before he went in the military, he was, he was a member of a gang – the east side whatever,” Apodaca’s grandfather, David Jackson, said.

The Department of Defense doesn’t deny there are gang members in the military ranks, but stresses they’re a small percentage of the troops.

The Army’s Criminal Investigation Division said there have been a few dozen felony-level criminal cases worldwide in the past few years.

It’s a small number, but a big concern when it comes to gangs.

“The troubling trend from my perspective is that if you do have a former or active duty or reserve military that’s engaged in this kind of activity, it brings a level of discipline as well as military training and military bearing,” Fred Burton of Stratfor Global Alliance said.

The Department of Justice highlighted that very issue in its national gang threat assessment report this year.

Gang experts and law enforcement authorities have echoed the concern.

“What’s potentially even more dangerous in this situation is you have people who have been trained and actually seasoned by combat itself. With that potential in place we have to definitely pay attention to it and stay on top of it,” El Paso Police Chief Greg Allen said.

Another gang-related shooting recently erupted near a popular El Paso night spot. The suspected gunman and two victims were all soldiers at Fort Bliss.

“This is just the latest one where the altercations have emanated from just gang animosity from one gang member towards another. So that’s a concern obviously, because that increases the gang activity here in our community by highly trained individuals,” former County Attorney Jose Rodriguez said.

The cases may grow along with Fort Bliss. The Army will add 13,000 soldiers to the El Paso post in the next few years.

The expansion comes as drug cartels are fighting a bloody turf war just across the border in Juarez.

The military has banned all personnel from traveling to Mexican border towns, but that didn’t stop a Holloman Air Force Base staff sergeant from visiting a Mexican strip club. David Booher was among six people gunned down at the club in November.

Investigators in Mexico took the unusual step of providing a diagram of the crime scene. The hitmen killed five people in the main bar area and shot Booher in a VIP room upstairs.

Authorities who arrested the suspects said they’re part of a hit squad.

Back on the other side of the border, Jackson questions the evidence used to indict his 18-year-old grandson.

Now the young soldier who seemed to have made a fresh start is awaiting his day in court behind bars.

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