Tag Archives: Los Angeles

L.A. fashion district firms raided in cartel money laundering probe

Federal agents

Sinaloa cartel bosses had a problem. They were holding a hostage and needed to get the $140,000 ransom his family agreed to pay from the United States to Mexico in the form of pesos.

Continue reading L.A. fashion district firms raided in cartel money laundering probe

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What’s next for Mexico’s drug cartels after El Chapo

As Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman awaitsextradition to the United States, he leaves behind what appears to be a new landscape for Mexico’s drug cartels.

Last week, his son, Jesus Alfredo Guzman, was kidnapped by men authorities believe were members of a rival cartel. Sources tell CNN he was released Saturday, but his abduction signals that the game of thrones for Mexico’s next top drug cartel has already begun.

Continue reading What’s next for Mexico’s drug cartels after El Chapo

Ocean can clean air at night, study suggests

LOS ANGELES — The ocean doesn’t just moderate temperatures and influence weather in some of the world’s biggest cities; it also has the power to cleanse the air, new research suggests.

At night, the sea surface can absorb and remove up to 15 percent of smog-forming nitrogen oxides that build up in polluted air in coastal cities like Los Angeles, according to a study published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Researchers at UC San Diego, came to that conclusion after deploying scientific instruments at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography pier last year to measure the exchange of trace gases between the air and the sea.

The conditions were just right one night in February when onshore winds blew a polluted air mass from the Los Angeles Basin along the coast and toward the sea, allowing the researchers to track what happened to the nitrogen oxide gases as they swept across the surface of the sea.

Tim Bertram, an atmospheric chemist at UCSD who conducted the research with graduate student Michelle Kim, said the measurements taken that night provided one of the first real-world answers to a long-standing question: To what extent does the ocean surface remove the ingredients of smog?

All day long our vehicle tailpipes, factories, trains and ships emit nitrogen oxides, gases that react in sunlight to form ozone, or smog, Bertram explained. After dark, the nitrogen oxide emissions continue, but the chemical reactions they go through get a bit more mysterious.

Bertram said he was expecting the pollutants to react at the ocean surface to form other compounds. To his surprise, the analysis showed that ocean water is a “terminal sink” for nitrogen oxides, meaning it permanently removes them from the air.

“As soon as it’s lost to the ocean surface it’s gone,” Bertram said.

The interaction of the ocean, atmosphere and the pollution we generate is so complex that it is too soon to say whether the study’s findings mean that seawater has an overall benefit for air quality in coastal cities, Bertram said.

“It certainly is important, but it’s yet to be quantified exactly how important that process is to smog formation,” he said.

But it’s a question worth further research, the article says, because nearly half of the world’s population lives within about 125 miles of the coast, releasing much of the world’s nitrogen oxide pollution close to saltwater.

Hunter S. Thompson Tried to Get Paid in Cocaine at My Tequila Bar

BY TOMAS ESTES (Munchies)

As one of only two official tequila ambassadors for the Mexican government, 69-year-old Tomas Estes is credited with introducing Europe to agave spirits. Shaped by an adolescence spent motorcycling shirtless and drinking with Beatniks in 60s California, he opened his first bar in Amsterdam and today has a tequila brand, award-winning book on the spirit, and bars in Paris and London to his name. If you cut this guy open, he’d probably bleed tequila.

It all began when I was a teenager growing up in Los Angeles. My friends and I used to hop on over to Tijuana in Mexico and hit the bars. I digged the vibe there. I could do things that I couldn’t do back in the States.

That’s where my love for tequila started. We drank a lot of it. I remember this one bar in Ensenada, it was called Hussong’s and it’d been there since the 1800s. It was full of characters—sailors, rogues, adventurers. This was just after the Beat Generation in the 1960s and just before the hippy movement took off. They were exciting times, and it was a really great place to drink—people used to rock up on donkeys.

Down in Mexico and around California, I explored. This was the 60s, sexual freedom and liberation was beginning. Tijuana was like Sin City. And yeah, we got high, we drank tequila, we went to strip clubs. I carried a switch blade. I learned a lot about life in these years.

I used to just ride my bike in a pair of Levi jeans—no shirt—in the sun. All this helped me forge a career in the bar trade—uncovering the food, really understanding tequila and what it means to Mexico. And just life.

But also, I guess it’s fair to say that I went off the rails a bit and got into trouble back home. I ended up in jail five times—car theft, usually, but a bunch of other things too. I didn’t even keep the cars, I just drove them around a bit and left them.

Tijuana was like Sin City. And yeah, we got high, we drank tequila, we went to strip clubs. I carried a switch blade. All this helped me forge a career in the bar trade.

I got myself together by teaching—I won a scholarship to a university in southern California. I was a wrestler. Afterwards, I taught for a few years and, I think, for awhile, I was good. It was fulfilling. Imparting knowledge, discussing the world, studying life—all these things are so important.

But after a while I got a bit edgy and missed the scene. I needed something more—what is it that Yates said? “Education is not filling a bucket but lighting a fire.” To begin with, I knew I was lighting a fire. A few years in I felt that fire was gone, so I took a sabbatical and went to Europe.

When I found Amsterdam, I knew that’s where I wanted to live. It was so free, the culture was alive, and I saved up the money and opened my first bar there, Cafe Pacifico, in 1976. There wasn’t a Mexican restaurant in the city, there wasn’t tequila. I took it there and started a new fire.

It was a huge success. It was full of artists, musicians. There were drug dealers and characters. This was Amsterdam.

Cafe Pacifico was a very cool place. I remember Debbie Harry coming in. Everyone knew about it. One time, Queen picked up a platinum record award there. I met the Jacksons, Tina Turner and the Nike bosses used to sit at a table and drink tequila and eat (they probably did a few other things). Basically, it was inspiring to be there—creativity appeared at every turn.

After that, I came to London and opened another Pacifico. Back then, Covent Garden was just a void. You either drank in West London or in Soho—depending on how much money you had—but it took off. A day before I opened, a magazine asked to interview Hunter S. Thompson [there]. We had a full bar but hadn’t served a single drink.

When I found Amsterdam, I knew that’s where I wanted to live. I saved up the money and opened my first bar there in 1976. There wasn’t a Mexican restaurant in the city, there wasn’t tequila.

I remember him, he was everything you thought he’d be—petulant, temperamental. He seemed a bit violent but it was remarkable to meet the man, he had such presence. He also kept storming out of the room—apparently he was trying to negotiate his fee for the article in cocaine.

In the years since, tequila’s just grown and grown. It’s come up with London—the culture has transformed, Covent Garden is nothing like it used to be. Just as we’re finding new bars, people, experiences, we’re finding new agaves all the time.

The most exciting thing in the drinks industry coming out of Mexico right now is finding these little communities making their own liquor. OK, sometimes they get ripped off, but usually people are true to the spirit and true to the people. And that’s amazing.

These isolated villages are producing incredible tequila and mezcal, and every one of them is unique and extraordinary. And it’s great for the locals and strong for the economy.

Since opening Cafe Pacifico, I’ve had around 17 restaurants in total. And I’ve brought these odd and new drinks to each one.

Today, I’ve just got one in Paris, and a few bars here [London]. London is incredibly diverse and there’s a thirst for agave spirits right now—at El Nivel, we’ve got variations like raicilla, which is more acidic, almost vinegar-like.

And there’s sotal, which isn’t actually from the agave plant, but it’s medicinal in flavour and works well in cocktails. Each one has its own aroma and makeup.

This love for the drink isn’t just in the States and not just in Europe—it’s global. We’re all drinking it. And we’ve all got so much more to learn.

There’ll always be slammers, limes, shooters, but sipping proper, authentic, lovingly made tequila is something special.

Most people are only beginning to drink it properly. There’ll always be slammers, limes, shooters, but sipping proper, authentic, lovingly made tequila is something special. There’s no taste like it—something to savour.

I love the fascination for agave right now, it’s the drink of 2015 and I think we haven’t peaked yet. There’ll hopefully be another three or four years left of interest, this hype, before the world moves onto something else.

But agave spirits will always be here.

 

Alleged Kingpin of Israeli Organized Crime Ring Gets 32 Years

Prosecutors say Moshe Mastri led the U.S. outpost of the crime ring, trafficking large amounts of drugs and laundering money around the world and using violence and threats to get what he wanted.

LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com/AP) — A Los Angeles man who prosecutors say was a leader of an Israeli organized crime ring that moved drugs and money across the globe was sentenced Friday to 32 years in prison.

Moshe Matsri, 49, was sentenced in federal court in Los Angeles on a slew of money laundering, drug and extortion charges. Prosecutors recommended he be sentenced to 34 years in prison, while his own attorney argued for a 12-year term.

Screenshot from surveillance footage of alleged Israeli leader of organized crime ring in Los Angeles, Moshe Matsri. (Screenshot)
Screenshot from surveillance footage of alleged Israeli leader of organized crime ring in Los Angeles, Moshe Matsri. (Screenshot)

Prosecutors describe Matsri, also known as “Moshe the Religious,” as a well-known crime figure in the San Fernando Valley with significant ties to the Israel-based Abergil crime family.

They say he laundered large amounts of money around the world that helped fuel the international drug trade, and in one instance, negotiated a deal involving “enough cocaine to get the entire city of Dallas high.”

“Matsri is linked to one of the most notorious organized crime rings in Israel and on his own operated a vast international conspiracy,” Ari Dekofsky, an FBI spokesperson, told KCAL9’s Randy Paige.

Matsri’s attorney, Dean Steward, said after Friday’s sentencing that he’ll appeal the lengthy prison term. With two years served after his arrest, Matsri would be nearly 80 by the time he gets out of prison, tantamount to a life sentence, Steward told U.S. District Judge S. James Otero.

Steward argued that his client is a loving husband and father, and a deeply religious and caring man, cooking for his entire synagogue every Friday.

“The person that I know and the person that is so deeply involved in his temple is a salvageable person,” Steward said. “This is somebody who, given a chance to have a life, can change the things that he has done.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Robyn Bacon said Matsri very well may be a good family man, but he was also a major player in the drug-trafficking world.

“The sentence should reflect just how serious the crimes these guys were committing were, and how willing Moshe Matsri was to use violence to get what he wanted,” Bacon said.

Matsri was arrested in July 2013, along with several other members of the organization, including a man in Belgium and another in the Netherlands, in a coordinated international investigation by the Drug Enforcement Administration, the FBI and the Los Angeles Police Department. Matsri’s brother was arrested by Israeli authorities, as well, Bacon said.

Prosecutors say Matsri and “a network of trusted individuals” conducted complex, layered transactions to wire money through shell accounts in locations around the world, including Cyprus and Gibraltar.

Bacon said an undercover investigator posing as a drug trafficker was introduced to Matsri as the man “who could 100 percent take care” of all a drug trafficker’s needs in Los Angeles.

Later, prosecutors say Matsri agreed to help two undercover agents posing as a drug trafficker and a Los Angeles associate transport cocaine from Los Angeles to Utah.

He also planned to ship 20 kilograms of cocaine from Panama to Israel, and proposed a deal to buy 100 kilograms of cocaine for sale in New York, prosecutors said.

Among the other men arrested with Matsri, two pleaded guilty and were sentenced to prison terms of up to 3 1/2 years. Three more are set for trial in the next year. A sixth, Shay Paniry, of Studio City, was sentenced Thursday to more than 17 years in prison on drug and money laundering charges.

Matsri was born in Tel Aviv, Israel to parents who had fled Iraq because of religious persecution, according to court documents. Matsri, who served in the Israei military, and his wife moved to the U.S. in 1996. They have five children between 6 and 18 years old.

In October, a federal jury found Matsri guilty of conspiracy to commit money laundering, to distribute cocaine, and conspiracy to commit extortion.

FBI agents assigned to the case told CBS Los Angeles that Matsri was living a “double life.” On the one hand, he regularly attended an Orthodox synagogue in the Valley, wouldn’t conduct business on the Sabbath and was a devoted family man with five children.

But, on the other hand, they say, he was at the top of an organized crime syndicate that authorities say used violence and intimidation to enforce its activities.

“He is considered a major crime figure. He dealt internationally and throughout the United States. He had a complex network of associates and he used those associates to potentially traffic drugs across the state line,” Dekofsky said.

Futuristic Views of London Shot From a Helicopter at Night by Vincent Laforet

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Earlier this month, photographer Vincent Laforet spent two hours in a helicopter at 6,000 feet above London to capture these surprisingly futuristic aerial views of the sprawling metropolis.

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The photographer’s approach to image processing and perspective creates electrified cityscapes that look like something right out of a scene from Tron or Blade Runner.

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But perhaps the most significant aspect of the shots is the attention to color and light. Laforet discusses this a bit on Storehouse:

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Big Ben is a wonderful example of the different types of lights and their color temperatures due to the older yellow (sodium vapor) and the green (fluorescent) mixed in with magenta (fluorescent) and white daylight balanced LED lights.

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I find this to be one of the most fascinating aspects of this AIR project: had we shot it just a few years ago, you’d have see much more monochromatic (mostly yellow) lighting throughout the cities … It would simply not be the same and not nearly as visually appealing.

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This new series of London photos is part of an ongoing project and soon-to-be book by called Air, featuring similar aerial photos of Las Vegas, Los Angeles, New York, and San Francisco.

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Laforet will continue to travel around Europe over the next few weeks with stops in Paris and Berlin.

You can see many more photos and read a detailed account of the London photoshoot on Storehouse.

 

The entire Air Series in Europe is sponsored by G-Technology.

(via Sploid)

Mexican Drug Cartels Expand Reach In Peru

LIMA, Peru — When police here unearthed nearly 8 tons of cocaine — a national record — hidden inside lumps of coal late last month, it was little surprise that two Mexican citizens were also arrested.

The brutal Mexican cartels that control the drug routes from remote Andean villages where raw coca plants grow to the world’s largest consumer market, the United States, are known to have been present in Peru since the 1990s.

Nevertheless, the haul found in a small seafront warehouse in Huanchaco, a fishing village known for its surfing on Peru’s northern coast, stood out for another reason: It was bound not for the US but, in two separate shipments, for Spain and Belgium.

“What is surprising is that this implies a change in the criminal map,” said Peru’s former anti-drug czar Ricardo Soberon. “For Mexicans to be running drugs from Peru to Europe, without it ever going anywhere near Mexico — wow!”

There may be little mystery about the Mexicans’ motivations, which appear rooted in basic economics.

“The European market is more profitable than the American market,” notes Flavio Mirella, the head of the Peru branch of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. “Demand pushes supply.”

That is largely a reflection of street prices. One gram of cocaine in Europe cost on average $191 in 2010, according to Mirella’s agency, compared to $169 in the US.

Little has been revealed about the two Mexicans arrested, beyond their names, Ruben Larios Cabadas and Jhoseth Gutierrez Leon. Police say they are suspected members of Mexico’s Sinaloa cartel, in Peru to oversee the European shipments by two companies, Carboniferas Alfa & Omega and Betas Andinas del Peru.

Mexicans suspected of trying to smuggle 7.6 tonnes of cocaine to Europe are escorted by police officers after their arrival to the police airport in Lima, September 4, 2014. Peruvian police seized a record 7.6 tons of cocaine in a quiet coastal town on August 26th, arresting seven Peruvians and two Mexicans, according to Peru’s Interior Ministry.

Image: Mexicans suspected of trying to smuggle 7.6 tonnes of cocaine to Europe are escorted by police officers after their arrival to the police airport in Lima

The pair, along with six Peruvians who were also arrested, is now being questioned in Lima. Peruvian police have also asked their Mexican counterparts for information about the alleged boss of the operation, Lee Rodriguez, known as “El Duro,” or “the tough one.”

Both companies were founded in 2011 with a total initial capital of around 60,000 soles (roughly $21,000) and are thought to have realized 30 shipments of coal to Europe since then.

At least some of those would have been without cocaine, as the traffickers sought to evade detection and make their venture appear legitimate.

But Soberon speculates that around 20 would have contained cocaine. Assuming they each involved similar amounts of drugs as the intercepted shipments, then, doing some back-of-the-envelope math, he calculates that the operation would have already sent cocaine with a street value of $2.8 billion to Europe.

“The scale of the seizure shows that they felt very safe storing their drugs there [in the warehouse],” he adds. “This just shows that in Peru the narcos are using every possible means to get their drugs to market, drug mules on commercial flights, down the Amazon river to Brazil, over the Bolivian border, light aircraft from the VRAE, and now this as well.”

Image: Anti-narcotics officers burn bags of the cocaine seized last week near Trujillo at a special operation police headquarters, in Lima

Anti-narcotics officers burn bags of the cocaine seized last week near Trujillo at a special operation police headquarters, in Lima September 3, 2014.

Peruvian police seized a record 7.6 tons of cocaine in a quiet coastal town on August 26th, arresting seven Peruvians and two Mexicans suspected of trying to smuggle the load to Europe as coal, according to Peru’s Interior Ministry.

Peru is now the world’s top cocaine producer. There are no official estimates of how much the country actually makes, but experts agree the figure would be in the low hundreds of tons each year.

Most of that, along with Bolivian cocaine, heads to Europe or Asia or is consumed in South America. The US market is supplied overwhelmingly by Colombia.

Mexico is making inroads in this region. Officials have detained dozens of Mexican cartel operatives over the last five years across South America, where they launder money, move drugs, or hide out from law enforcement back home.

This year alone, police have arrested alleged Mexican drug traffickers in Argentina, Ecuadorand Brazil, among other countries.

Mexican gangsters first stepped into the cocaine trade in the 1980s, when Colombian cartels hired them to move the white powder over the border into the United States to fuel its booming multibillion-dollar market.

The Colombians turned to the Mexicans after US drug agents backed by the military managed to squeeze the Caribbean route where cocaine was flown or shipped into Miami. The 1,954-mile US southern border proved much harder to police.

However, while the Mexicans began as paid couriers, they gradually ate more and more into the cocaine-trade pie, taking over distribution, sales and transport from the south.

By the early 2000s, the Mexicans were buying up vast quantities of cocaine from producers in Colombia — for some $2,000 per 1-kilogram brick — and owning the rest of the chain.

Now, US drug agents say, their expansion into Peru has been so extensive that the Mexicans even run their own cocaine laboratories here.

Yet Mexican narcos are still far from completely controlling Peru’s cocaine chain. The UN’s Mirella says most labs here are still operated by “local clans” in a decentralized system that limits the damage when law enforcement detects one.

This past week Peruvian newspaper La Republica reported that Brazilian gangsters were also running operations in the VRAE, the Spanish acronym for the Valley of the Apurimac and Ene Rivers, a lawless outpost on the lush slopes of the eastern Andes that now grows more coca than anywhere else on Earth.

Brazil is the world’s second largest cocaine market, after the US, with cheap crack and cocaine paste popular in the favelas (city slums), while more affluent Brazilians snort the refined powder in increasing quantities.

Citing a confidential police report, the paper named the leader of the gang as Osmar de Souza, a 27-year-old Brazilian with a long record of drug-running that includes escaping from jail in both Argentina and Paraguay. Officers were unavailable for comment to GlobalPost.

But despite Peruvian police setting a new national record for a cocaine seizure, some say law enforcement here still needs to up its game to confront the cartels.

Mirella praised the efforts to track and stop the large amounts of chemicals, such as kerosene and sulfuric acid, that are used to turn coca leaves into cocaine.

“Without them [the chemicals], you don’t have a finished product,” he said.

But he believes more could be done to stop money laundering.

“At the end of the day, it is the money laundering that is keeping this business alive.”

That, and the demand for cocaine in cities from Los Angeles to Paris and Tokyo.

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