SALT LAKE CITY—Supply and demand bring drug cartels to Utah.
The tragic death of nine Americans in Mexico is bringing to light the brutal nature of cartels.
Drug cartels are a multibillion-dollar industry that spans globally, Brian Besser, Utah DEA District Agent in Charge, said.
“For us to think that they don’t have individuals here in Salt Lake City, the crossroads of the west a major trans thoroughfare, would be foolish," Besser said.
Besser said he knows cartels are here in Utah because the DEA targets them. In Feb., dozens of people were arrested during a drug bust who were part of the Norteno gang. That gang has ties to a cartel, Besser said.
“The Norteno street gang members are local and then they work hand and hand with Sinaloa Cartel members on the other side of the border," he said.
Cartels aren’t just in Utah, they are leaving their mark across the U.S. It comes down to supply and demand, Matthew D Harris, U.S. Marshal District of Utah, said.
“The cartels wouldn’t be operating here, their drug dealers wouldn’t be operating here, if there wasn’t a demand,” he said.
Last federal fiscal year, 72 people were arrested by US Marshals in Utah that were here illegally and committed additional crimes, Harris said.
“Half of those people were arrested for dealing drugs here in Utah. Not possession, distribution,” he said.
Utah is the crossroads of the west and the geography here makes it ideal for drug trafficking, Besser said.
“You come out west and you have very rural areas, grossly unpoliced areas, especially in southern Utah. And that’s not a slight on local law enforcement but you can’t logistically police every area in Utah, especially in the rural areas,” he said.
One of the many issues with cartels is the control and number of people involved, Harris said.
“If we go and we arrest ten or 12 people tomorrow for dealing drugs here in Utah and they are locked up for years, right behind them the cartels have people waiting to take their seat,” he said.
It comes down to money. The drugs cross the border into the U.S. and then the money goes back down south to Mexico.
“If you are here and you’re here illegally and you’re dealing drugs and you’re working for a cartel you are going to make more money sometimes in a day, generally in a week than you may make in a full year if you are living and working in Mexico,” Harris said.
The tragic and devastating massacre of Americans in Mexico is bringing to light an important topic of the cartels in Mexico and their role here locally, Besser said.
“This is the type of savages and barbarians that we are dealing with,” he said. Besser said he hopes cartels will soon be classified as terrorist groups because that is what he believes they are. He used the horrific death of the nine American women and children as an example.
Americans have a major appetite for drugs and that desire for illicit drugs feeds the cartels.
Luckily, local, state and federal law enforcement agents are fighting against the cartels every day.
“I have good men and women here who put their lives on the line every single day quietly, and you don’t know who they are, and we want it that way. They quietly operate amongst us as heroes. That’s what they are, they are heroes,” Besser said.