A look at the Mexican drug cartel pipeline from southern California to Kentucky
Mexican cartels are controlling the streets of Louisville and other Kentucky cities with a pipeline of drugs running through southern California, DEA officials say.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Mexican cartels are controlling the streets of Louisville and other Kentucky cities with a pipeline of drugs running through southern California, according to DEA officials.
More than 2,000 miles from Louisville, under picturesque skies, you'll find a place called the Inland Empire. There are mountains, palm trees and one of the largest hubs of illegal drugs in the United States.
There, in Riverside California, you'll find evidence of the one of the most dangerous drug cartels in the world, but you'll also find links to Kentucky.
"They are there to peddle the poison, and if they're confronted, they'll get violent," Riverside DEA Asst. Special Agent in Charge Frank Pepper said.
Pepper is in charge of the Riverside DEA office and worked with us to track how cartels get drugs get from Mexico to the streets of Kentucky.
"They're capable of some very heinous acts, things that would absolutely rival any terrorist organization," Tim Massino, with the Los Angeles DEA, said.
Officials say the Sinaloa Cartel uses thousands of semi-trucks to transport drugs all over the country. From the freeways of Los Angeles, the drug pipeline runs north and east to Kentucky, the East Coast and everywhere in between. It's like an invisible network of large amounts of drugs -- mostly driven, but sometimes flown -- making their way to local communities.
Massino took us on a ride-along to show us the drug hot spots. We traveled along Interstate 10 just a couple hours north of the southwest border. As we drive, Massino explains how meth, cocaine, heroin and marijuana come across the border and into southern California first.
The rural areas are a hot bed for drug transportation because it's off the interstates and there are so many distribution centers. Massino says rural remote areas make it hard for drug surveillance, so criminals set up in the area and dump the drugs at stash houses temporarily, before being divided up and sent to different cities.
The narcotics from Mexico are more pure and go for higher prices. They are cheapest in the LA area and the prices go up the farther they are transported, which also means a higher risk.
Investigators say a kilogram of cocaine in LA sells for about $25,000, but by the time it gets to the Louisville area, it sells for about $34,000.
Meth ranges from $12,000-$16,000 per pound in Kentucky, but sells for just $3,500 per pound in LA.
"This area is rife with seizures," Massino said. "Guesstimating -- we're seeing daily seizures of significant quantities; 25 pounds of meth, 50 kilos of cocaine."
Investigators say the Sinaloa Cartel runs like a business and truck drivers have a creative way of transporting the drugs.
"Some of these organizations will actually hollow out portions of the vehicle -- for instance, a rear axle -- and manage to fit several pounds of black tar heroin in it," Massino explained.
But what about when police catch a trucker who has a large amount of drugs and cash? What does that do to the cartel?
"It sets them back, if we can cut into their profits, it does hurt them financially, that is a goal," Massino said.
Officials showed us a Range Rover with a removable panel in the cargo area. A remote could be used to unlock the hidden latch to hide the drugs. There was also a panel in the back seat.
"What you have with couriers coming from California into Kentucky, what is affiliated with that, is violence," Pepper said. "These folks are moving a lot of dope. There is a lot of money behind that, there is a lot of threat of death, if the couriers are crossed by rival competition."
The DEA uses wiretaps to find and track the key drug traffickers. The organization has a map that shows where Mexican Drug Cartels have the most influence in the United States. There are several cartels, but the Sinaloa Cartel is the strongest.
The map shows two cartels have a presence in Louisville.
"If you have two competing cartel organizations, the violence can spill into the streets," Pepper said.
The DEA map shows the Sinaloa and the Knights Templar Cartels in Louisville. The Knights Templar is considered to be just as dangerous as the Sinaloa Cartel.
Louisville Metro Police say its Narcotics Unit has not arrested anyone from those cartels and is declining to discuss any specifics, saying it could have an adverse effect on any current investigations.
The DEA map also shows the Sinaloa Cartel in Lexington and London, Kentucky.
"The Cartel doesn't care about the size of the city," Pepper explained. "They care about peddling their poison, whether it's Manhattan or you're sitting in Louisville, it's a customer to the cartels and they don't care how they peddle their poison, they don't care who they peddle their poison to."
The drugs take different paths into Kentucky. Investigators say many of them make their way to our streets through the National Turnpike area on semi-trucks. The DEA says the cartels work with the Mexican Mafia and gangs, then it goes to retail and street level distributors.
The Sinaloa Cartel's leader "El Chapo" has made headlines for his escapes from prison and his recapture, which has had some effect on the operation of the Cartel, according to officials.
"It's made the Cartel re-evaluate who their leader is," Pepper said.
Even still, the DEA says it's too early to tell what his arrest will mean for drug distribution. The U.S. government wants to have him extradited to this country to face charges.
The Sinaloa Cartel's extensive networking in Mexico and the U.S. has helped it solidify its power and spread into places like Kentucky, officials said.
"They have established that networking with shear violence affiliated with their organizations; murders, kidnappings, some instances torture of people who have gone the wrong way against Sinaloa Cartel," Massino said.
The DEA says the goal is to dismantle the cartels and if people stop using the drugs, the cartels would be out of business.
"It's getting harder and harder to get away with anything. We are out there. We are watching," Massino said. "We are going to enforce the law and we're going to protect those who aid us in doing so. I think ultimately, we're going to win this."
Copyright 2016 WDRB Media. All rights reserved.