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By Sylvia Longmire
Columnist, In Homeland Security
For over a decade, news of extreme violence has been filtering out of Mexico as a result of conflicts between drug cartels and government forces. While Mexican organized crime groups have long been known to have an extensive presence and network inside the U.S., the violent crimes they commit in the name of drug profits have largely been confined south of the border. However, a recent beheading of a child witness in Alabama has brought the Mexico drug war once again dangerously close to home.
In early June 2018, 49 year-old Oralia Mendoza and her 13 year-old granddaughter Mariah Lopez were killed in Madison County, Alabama. According to AL.com, their bodies weren’t discovered until later, and the cause of death was “sharp force injuries” with a knife. Mendoza lived with Lopez—a middle-schooler on the autism spectrum—in Huntsville, AL, along with Mendoza’s 26 year-old boyfriend, Yoni Aguilar. Both Aguilar and his friend Israel Palomino have been charged with their murders.
Sinaloa Drug Cartel
A Madison County Sheriff’s investigator testified on July 12 that Mendoza was associated with the notorious Sinaloa drug cartel in Mexico. Days before their murders, Mendoza and Aguilar, Palomino, and another woman went to pick up a batch of methamphetamine in Norcross, GA. The investigator indicated that something went wrong during the transaction, leading Palomino to suspect it might be a setup. Fearing she was in danger, Mendoza sent a text message to a friend asking to be picked up, according to the Washington Post. Both men saw her text and decided she needed to be silenced.
Two days later, Mendoza was told she and her granddaughter would be taken somewhere safe. Instead, Aguilar and Palomino drove Mendoza and Lopez to a cemetery where, according to Aguilar, Palomino stabbed Mendoza to death. Because Lopez witnessed the murder from the car, the two men drove her to a secluded area on a nearby street. Aguilar told police that Palomino forced him to kill Lopez by beheading her. Police started investigating on June 7 when a local farm boy found Lopez’s body. Both Aguilar and Palomino were arrested on June 14, and Mendoza’s body was found on June 15 after Aguilar’s confession. They were both charged with capital murder on June 21.
Cartel Beheadings Are Rare
Mexican cartel-related beheadings in the U.S. are exceedingly rare, but not unheard of. In October 2010, 38 year-old Martin Cota-Monroy was beheaded in a Chandler, AZ apartment by cartel members affiliated with the PEI Estatales and the Sinaloa cartel for stealing 400 pounds of marijuana. Making matters worse for himself, Cota-Monroy lied and told his would-be killers that Border Patrol agents had seized the load.
Affiliations between core cartel leadership in Mexico and their distributors in the U.S. can be very loose, largely to limit the amount of information dealers and couriers can provide to U.S. law enforcement regarding operational details. However, cartels deliberately keep a low profile north of the border so as not to attract unwanted attention from the police and the media. This tends to have a detrimental effect on drug trafficking operations, and there’s a good chance Aguilar and Palomino won’t even make it to the gas chamber if the Sinaloa cartel decides to teach them a lesson in prison for their poor decision-making.
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