Cartel presence in Utah 'exploding' with violence likely to increase, police warn

Published: Wednesday, July 30 2014 2:10 p.m. MDT

For that reason, detectives said they expect an increase in drug-related violence in the future — particularly when one of the cartels decides to take control of the entire market.

“There is going to be competition, and with competition there can be violence in this world,” Bell said.

His prediction was echoed by the undercover detective.

“I think it’s just a matter of time before one of the cartels decides to take over the entire market, wiping out the rest of the other two cartels or whoever else is here,” he said.

Neither detective, however, believes that Utah will someday see the same quantity of kidnappings and other crimes that Phoenix sees, or that cities across the Mexican border experience.

“It wouldn’t benefit for any of them — the cartels — for that to happen here,” Bell said. “I think it behooves them not to have that violence follow them to a lucrative market like Utah.”

Cartel structure

Bell said the cartels have been filling their organizations with people not from Utah, and are less likely in general to employ locals. That, in turn, makes the job of the Metro Gang Unit much more difficult.

“We have no records on them, we have no history with them, we don’t know who they are,” Bell said. “We frankly don’t know how to target them.”

The undercover detective said cartel bosses in Utah aren’t easily identifiable because they look like reputable members of the community.

“They look like you, driving Range Rovers, $80,000 to $90,000 cars, no tattoos, clean-cut,” he described. “They own restaurants, they own dance clubs, they own bars. They are your regular, standard businessmen.”

“Those people tend to be ghosts — it makes it difficult because they rotate them around,” Bell added. “We constantly are able to work a case back to one of the supply-level personnel, but not necessarily the cartel guy.”

The undercover detective said it’s important for the public to know about the cartel presence because everyday people end up making a difference in these cases.

“Be able to recognize it, and to be honest, they just have to remember we can only be as successful as the public is involved,” he said. “As they call the police and report it — that’s how we catch the bad guy.”

Email: aadams@deseretnews.com

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