NPR Story
2:02 pm
Fri September 27, 2013

Police Chief On Drug Cartel Payroll

New details have emerged about local police involvement in Mexican drug cartel activity on the U.S. side of the border.

A Columbus, N.M., town official testified this week that former Police Chief Angelo Vega was paid $2,000 per month to protect cartel gun and drug smuggling activities.

The Albuquerque Journal reported the cartel also allegedly paid Vega $1,500 a month to use police department and town vehicles. It may not seem like a lot of money, but the paper said this is standard practice for Mexican drug cartels.

George W. Grayson, a College of William & Mary government professor, who has written extensively about Mexican drug cartels, said it's not unusual for cartels to bribe U.S. public officials with small amounts of money. Some officials don't make high salaries and those working in border towns may have relatives in Mexico and feel threatened by cartels, Grayson said.

Meanwhile, other officials may be bribed with higher amounts. "It's just the cost of doing business and the cartels know this," Grayson said.

The information was revealed during the testimony of a U.S. Attorney's husband who is on trial for allegedly leaking information about a Department of Justice investigation into cartel activity along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Smuggling has long been considered a way of life in Columbus. Pancho Villa, the Mexican revolutionary, famously raided the town in 1916.

The tiny village of 2,000 residents gained national notoriety in 2011 when the federal government arrested 10 people, including the town's mayor at the time, Eddie Espinoza, for smuggling.

Espinosa, along with all the other individuals accused, pleaded guilty to various crimes including arms trafficking and drug charges and few details have gone public to describe their smuggling behavior.

This and related cases have exposed the involvement of U.S. citizens in the gun and drug smuggling activities of Mexican cartels and demonstrated that the Mexican drug war is not contained by the border.

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