The New Mafia

Josh Bernstein|The Daily

A brutal new crime wave from Mexico is hitting America’s suburbs. Drug cartels and their heavily armed henchmen are moving into the house next door, torturing and imprisoning victims for profit in middle-class neighborhoods. Law enforcement agencies from Texas to Northern California report being overwhelmed by the surge of violence.

“Mexican drug cartels are in well over 200 cities here in the United States,” Gil Kerlikowske, the White House drug czar, told The Daily. When his boss, President Obama, meets with President Felipe Calderón of Mexico today in Washington, violence from the drug war will be at the top of the agenda.

One of the most disturbing and least discussed aspects of this new crime wave is the “drop houses” — rented homes that function as makeshift prisons where criminal gangs and human smugglers hold large numbers of victims for ransom. The phenomenon is centered in the Southwest, often in foreclosure-devastated suburbs, but is spreading across America.

“What we’re talking about is nightmares, the stuff of nightmares,” said Los Angeles-based special agent Jorge Guzman of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. ”[It’s] playing out in suburban America — playing out all over America.”

Hundreds of police reports and thousands of crime scene photographs obtained by The Daily expose a startling pattern of torture, rape and murder.

The victims are mostly illegal immigrants who have paid smugglers, or “coyotes,” to bring them across the U.S. border. But instead of letting their clients begin a new life, the cartel-connected smugglers rob them, strip them naked and pack them — sometimes by the dozens — into small bedrooms where the windows are boarded shut and the doors are padlocked from the outside.

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