Drugs: From Bootleg to Cybercrime


Recently, twin brothers who helped put Mexican drug kingpin Joaquin Guzman in prison were sentenced to a reduced sentence because of their help in bagging Guzman. Unknown to the twins or the court, Guzman’s henchmen in Mexico were at that time building an elaborate tunnel from a newly constructed house in a distant field to Guzman’s shower stall in his prison cell. Roomy, elaborate and equipped with a motorcycle on rails, Mr. Guzman simply slipped out of his shower, onto the motorcycle, into the house, and out of sight. There will be retaliations, of course, and then the drug industry will spill over into the U.S. with renewed vigor. As the tunnel’s elaborate construction testifies, Mr. Guzman’s organization is strategically and technically sophisticated.

It’s all about the money. Drugs bring in so much that all risks are worthwhile. As the bromide says, if there were no market, there would be no illegal drug industry but the fact is, that people want drugs: lots of different drugs and in large quantities. As a result, the United States with its close ties to every country in the world through its diverse population, has a multitude of drug empires: some ethnic, such as Mr. Guzman’s, which deals drugs from various Latin and South American countries through Mexico and into the U.S., and others indigenous, such as the various South Side Chicago gangs, which deal drugs acquired from a variety of sources. By virtue of the value of the product being sold, and by virtue of its being illegal, all these enterprises are violent, using weapons suitable to battlefields. Why are these weapons so available in the United States? That’s a question for another day, but in essence, nobody needs an assault rifle for any legal activity.

“The Economist” (May 2, 2015) pointed out that Asia, Russia and the Middle East are escalating their anti-drug war. China’s president called for “forceful measures,” while Indonesia declared drugs a “national emergency”, executing six traffickers in January and another eight in April. Iran is executing “five times as many drug-smugglers as it did a few years ago”. As “The Economist” points out, drug smugglers simply move operations to a neighboring country if things get too tough in one of them, and then move back. They also have been successful in corrupting governments, security forces and the judiciary in various countries. As long as the demand exists and the money is good, ingenuity will baffle every effort to stamp out this industry.

“The Wall Street Journal” (May 30-31, 2015) headlined “Silk Road Founder Sentenced to Life.” This was Ross Ulbricht, who had ingeniously set up an underground online drug bazaar. Mr. Ulbricht cried at his sentencing, saying he didn’t create Silk Road out of greed and vanity, but because he wanted to “empower people to make choices” in their own lives with privacy and anonymity. Mr. Ulbricht was convicted of seven criminal charges, including conspiracies to sell drugs, launder money and hack computers. He ran his international criminal empire using the pseudonym Dread Pirate Roberts. Now that Mr. Ulbricht has shown the way and has been effectively removed from the scene, other operators will move into the international cybernet drug industry, using pseudonyms and bitcoins to facilitate their transactions. At least, this type of enterprise doesn’t require automatic weapons and daily turf wars, but it will be far more difficult to stop. Mr. Ulbricht was an Eagle Scout and college graduate who got a life sentence because he endangered countless anonymous lives around the world while making the $183 million forfeited as part of his sentence.





When I wrote my novel, “Skyscrapers,” one of the characters was a major drug importer/dealer named Diego Diaz. I had been studying gun control and was well aware Chicago had become a major hub for drug dealers supplying Midwestern America. The chief honcho in Mexico was named Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, who shipped drugs from Colombia to Mexico “using submarines, speedboats and amphibious vessels to avoid law enforcement,” according to “The Chicago Tribune,” January 8, 2015. Twin brothers in Chicago were the primary receivers and distributors of the drugs. They have been held in custody for six years and yesterday received fourteen-year sentences for their part in “smuggling at least 71 tons of cocaine and heroin and nearly $2 billion in cash from 2005 – 2008” according to the newspaper.

The twins were a single person in my novel, one very attractive to the young Eleanora Torquemada when they were both growing up poor in one of Powhaten’s Mexican neighborhoods. (I had Chicago’s Pilsen in mind.) During the novel Leonora, who now calls herself Ellie Smith, shortening her Mexican first name and using her married last name to Anglicize herself as part of her transformation into one of Powhaten’s most dynamic CEO’s. She re-meets Diego Diaz in the novel, still finds him attractive but stays away from him, well aware of who he is and what he does. She ends up helping to put him in jail.

But her dilemma is one a lot of people who grow up in poor neighborhoods face. In adulthood, some favorite people may have become people with whom one can no longer associate because of their illegal activities or unsavory associates. The twins who were sentenced to prison yesterday had done what Eleanora Torquemada Smith did: they turned against the cartel. They worked for the Federal government to such an extent that they entered into Guzman’s personal mountaintop compound in Mexico and secretly recorded him, a level of success Assistant U.S. Attorney General Michael Ferrara said “may never be duplicated.”

It’s interesting to me to see moves I put into a novel based on certain fact, actually play themselves out in real life the way I played them out in the novel.