Big Wheels

By Christopher Zoukis

So much cocaine was being moved by the Mexicans that they had difficulty storing the cash.  There were literally boxcars of money.  In other words, everything was just peachy.  But then Gallardo had an idea.  Rather than being paid in cash, he could demand payment in product, cocaine.  And that’s just what he did.  The Colombians didn’t balk.  They couldn’t.  They had no choice in the matter.  Florida was too risky.  The DEA was seizing shipments left and right. 

Overnight, Felix Gallardo and the Sinaloan gang became cocaine kings.  They weren’t just couriers anymore.  Now they were players, moving their own product as well as that of the Colombians.  The Sinaloans went from the minor leagues to the major leagues in a single leap.  In the drug trafficking world, Felix Gallardo transitioned from the role of supporting actor to movie star.  The DEA began keeping close tabs on Gallardo, elevating his position on their Christmas Wish List. 

Gallardo was a criminal, but no one had ever accused him of being stupid.  He knew the DEA lusted for him.  They wanted him dead or in prison.  Gallardo, attempting to lower his exposure, moved his family to Culiacan.  As soon as he arrived, he called for a high-level meeting.  All the Big Wheels of the various gangs in Guadalajara showed up.  Gallardo informed the gang leaders that he was stepping out of the limelight.  He was still the Boss of Bosses, and they still had to pay tithes.  Gallardo wasn’t giving up his rightfully due share of the profits.  Only now, instead of being both the Chief Executive Officer and Chief Operating Officer, he would simply be the CEO.  Day-to-day operations would be handled by territorial leaders.  In other words, Gallardo was delegating authority.

Tijuana, considered the crème de la crème, was given to Gallardo’s nephews.  Nepotism was nothing new among the gangs; it was considered standard operating procedure.  The nephews, the Arellano Felix brothers, would control and operate out of Tijuana, which came to be called the Tijuana Cartel.  What would become the Juarez Cartel was given to Amado Carrillo Fuentes.  Fuentes owned and operated twenty-seven Boeing 727s, in which he flew drugs into Mexico.  After flying the drugs in, the planes were loaded with cash, which was flown out for laundering.  Eduardo Arellano Felix / Image courtesy

Miguel Caro Quintero was given Sonora, which was just south of Arizona.  Thus was born the Sonora Cartel.  And the Gulf Cartel, the territory around Matamoros, was given to Juan Garcia Abrego.  The territory between Tijuana and Sonora, which was called the Sinaloa Cartel, was inherited by Joaquin “Shorty” Guzman Loera and Ismael Zambada Garcia. 

All of the assigned cartels would be subservient to the Guadalajara Cartel, which would function as Gallardo’s administrative organization.  The administrator was Hector “The Blond” Palma Salazar.  Felix Gallardo would be the intermediary between the Colombian Cartels and the Mexican Cartels. 

Unfortunately, the reorganization of his drug empire didn’t work out quite as well as Gallardo had envisioned.  For one thing, Gallardo didn’t know how to maintain a low profile.  He doled out vast amounts of cash to local charities and hung out with well-known politicians, with whom he was frequently photographed at glittering festivals and parties covered by national media outlets.  Gallardo became the subject of many popular songs – narcocorridas – that served to increase his notoriety. 

And, to make things worse, the cartels, especially the Sinaloans, thought they could do anything because they had law enforcement officials in their pockets.  Most of the police were taking bribes to look the other way.  Kidnappings, rapes and murders went through the ceiling.  The law-abiding citizens of Mexico screamed at the government to do something.

The heat was on.