The two men were returning to the small, one-story house in Northeast Austin from Alabama. Hidden in the back of their SUV was $110,000 in carefully wrapped bundles, money authorities said came from cocaine sales.
But responding to an informant’s tip, federal drug agents found the men in the parking lot of a bar in Baton Rouge, La., where they searched the truck. As the officers pulled out the cash, the men grew terrified.
“I wish you would put me in jail,” one of them said, according to a criminal complaint. “They are going to kill me over this missing money.”
According to court documents, the money was destined for an Austin resident the couriers had reason to fear: Jose Procoro Lorenzo-Rodriguez, who authorities say is a local leader for Mexico’s brutal La Familia cartel.
The raids that followed revealed that La Familia, a quasi-religious, hyper-violent group born five years ago in the mountains of Michoacán, used Austin as a base of operation to funnel large quantities of cocaine, marijuana and especially methamphetamine to places such as Atlanta and Kansas.
But in addition to providing a glimpse of the cartel’s operations in Austin — at least four autonomous cells stretching from Round Rock to South Austin — the investigation revealed a crucial clue:
The men at the top of the Austin organization hailed from the same small Mexican town.
For more than three decades, the remote, desperately poor city of Luvianos, along with other neighboring towns in the mountains of central Mexico, has sent the majority of its northbound migrants to Austin, where they have worked as landscapers, opened restaurants and built a thriving community. One corner of Northeast Austin has been dubbed “Little Luvianos” by residents.
But Luvianos is also a prize coveted by Mexican cartels. Traffickers from the northern border — first the Gulf Cartel and later the Zetas — controlled the town until 2009, when La Familia won the region in a violent war.
Officials emphasize that the vast majority of Luvianos immigrants are law-abiding residents without cartel ties. But increasingly, authorities add, the cartel members who prey on Mexicans in Luvianos have begun to find their way to Central Texas.
“It’s not surprising that (cartel members) are migrating to Austin as well,” said Francisco Cruz Jimenez, a Mexican journalist who chronicled the recent history of Luvianos in his 2010 book “Narco-Land.” “It’s very natural that they look for communities where they have paisanos because they can go unnoticed.”
Yet it’s a development that local officials have been slow to acknowledge. Only last year Travis County joined the long-standing High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area program, which coordinates and funds joint law enforcement efforts against organized crime groups. Other large Texas cities have been members for years.
As law enforcement agencies work to catch up, the Luvianos connection could hold important answers for officials trying to understand how and why La Familia set up shop in Austin. A thousand miles away, the sometimes bloody, often tragic history of Luvianos has become intertwined with Austin’s future.
- Mexico Captures Former Leader of La Familia Cartel (foxnews.com)