Two shootouts in the desert south of Phoenix may indicate the Sinaloa Drug Cartel is ordering its smugglers to ramp up violence in an effort to protect drug shipments, according to multiple law enforcement sources who spoke to CBS 5 Investigates. The sources spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to talk to the media about the incidents.
The first shootout occurred on April 7 in the desert near Arizona City, according to a statement given to CBS 5 Investigates in response to questions about the incident. The statement says Border Patrol agents reported being fired upon as they attempted to intercept a group of suspected smugglers. The agents returned fire, arrested five suspects and seized nearly 500 pounds of marijuana.
Law enforcement sources tell CBS 5 Investigates the agents involved in the firefight were members of the elite BORTAC unit, which is used in drug interdiction operations. Nobody was injured in that shootout.
One week later, Casa Grande Police pulled over a vehicle on Interstate 8 near the Vekol Valley. Inside the vehicle was a man who stated that he had been shot and stabbed in the desert.
Law enforcement sources tell CBS 5 Investigates they believe the injured man was part of a so-called "rip crew." These are bandits who attempt to steal drug shipments from smugglers. In this instance, the sources say the smugglers opened fire on the rip crew, and a fight ensued. The wounded man was transported to a Phoenix-area hospital for treatment. There may have been another man injured in that incident.
The law enforcement sources who spoke to CBS 5 Investigates say it is unusual for smugglers to open fire on law enforcement officers in the desert. The DEA's 2015 National Drug Threat Assessment Summary states, "While operating in the United States, Mexican TCOs (Transnational Criminal Organizations) actively seek to maintain low profiles and avoid violent confrontations between rival TCOs or U.S. law enforcement."
But this year, confidential informants have told law enforcement that smugglers are under new orders to protect their shipments, rather than drop the drugs and run, according to multiple law enforcement sources.
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