Drug Smuggling Twist: Innocent Mexicans Allegedly Duped By Mennonite Suspect…Fronteras Desk

It is seldom that we see reports from the rural parts of the border and this one gives a small taste of what things are like and how a lot of drugs get into the US–through the ports of entry. I was also struck by this statement from the young Mexican man who was tricked into driving the drugs across:
“They treated me well in the U.S.,” he said in Spanish. “No one pressured me, no one attacked me. I have nothing against the U.S. prosecutors or police.”
The subtext: Had he been arrested IN Mexico, the police or army would have beaten and tortured a confession from him.  Also, the men caught in this scheme and deported back to Mexico are very fearful to be identified because they would be targeted by the smugglers and their suppliers for failing to deliver their product in the US.  -Molly
Lorne Matalon | Fronteras

CHIHUAHUA, Mexico —Federal prosecutors in Texas and New Mexico are dealing with a series of unusual cases.

Ten drug smuggling crimes have been traced to a man from a Mennonite community in Mexico who is alleged to have duped the victims.

The seduction starts with a classified ad in the paper, one that 23-year-old named Juan was drawn to. He asks that his last name not be revealed; he’s frightened there may be retribution if the man who placed the ad — identified by U.S. attorneys and the victims as David Giesprecht Fehr — finds him.

The ad reads, “Si tienes visa laser recienmente americano, contratación inmediata.” Translated, “If you have a recent U.S. visa known as a laser visa, there’s immediate work available.”

The man who placed the ad is from the Ciudad Cuauhtémoc area, a 40,000-strong Mennonite community of ranchers and farmers in the northern Mexican state of Chihuahua.

They’re members of a conservative Christian church with European roots. Mennonites were invited by Mexico’s post-revolutionary government to settle here in the 1920s in part to populate Mexico’s border twith the United States.

The Mennonites in Chihuahua today trace their ancestry to Canada, and prior to that Germany and the Netherlands.

Juan answered the ad. And a man called back.

“The man said ‘I’ll pay you $500 a week to drive my truck to the U.S. and back,’” Juan was making $70 a week as a security guard.

The would-be employer, David Giesbrecht Fehr, goes by different aliases and imports American farm equipment. It’s now alleged he ran narcotics.

Mennonites enjoy a deserved reputation as prolific farmers and ranchers. This image was taken near Casas Grandes, Chihuahua where Mennonites have made the desert bloom.

He pitches non-Mennonite Mexicans who respond to his ad by saying that he imports farm equipment from the United States.

What he allegedly did not add is that the trucks he gave people to enter the U.S. with were loaded with large quantities of marijuana.

Juan thought the job offer was too good to be true. The caller was offering to quadruple his salary and give Juan steady work with health benefits.

So he told the caller he needed time to consider the offer.

The same offer was made to Juan’s father. They discussed it together. The father declined while Juan accepted, to his enduring dismay.

Liz Rogers was the federal defender in West Texas whose office represented Juan and five other Mexicans. The other three were arrested crossing into New Mexico.

“Whenever the person that is a Mennonite that the government has identified, whenever he showed up he could talk to them very professionally over exporting and importing farm equipment,” Rogers said. “And so it would be no wonder that they’d believe it was a legitimate job.”

It was anything but. When Juan hit the Texas border at Presidio, a customs agent told him to get out of the truck.

“They didn’t tell me what was happening,” he said in Spanish. Then another customs officer approached.

The officer said a DEA agent would explain everything. When that agent arrived, the conversation continued.

A Mennonite father and son at work in a field near Casas Grandes, Chihuahua.

“Are you carrying drugs?” the agent asked Juan. ‘Absolutely not,’ he replied. He couldn’t digest what he heard next.

“The DEA agent told me I had 57 kilograms (125 pounds) of marijuana in the gas tank,” Juan related. “I couldn’t move, I couldn’t breathe.”

Rogers says one of the cases showed how sophisticated the operation was.

“The marijuana was hidden very professionally in an I-beam,” she recounted. “It was welded into the I-beam of this big flatbed. And the government found it is because there’s x-ray equipment that can find very well hidden marijuana.”

At least seven of the people allegedly duped by Giesprecht, including Juan, live near a cluster of Mennonite villages near Ciudad Cuauhtémoc located about 60 miles southwest of the state capital, Ciudad de Chihuahua.

One non-Mennonite I spoke with outside Ciudad Cuauhtémoc — a man who says he greatly who respects the Mennonite culture — says his neighbors are hard-working farmers. But he says there are exceptions.

“They plant corn. Sometimes plant some marijuana too,” he said in English.

For Juan, arrested with 125 pounds of drugs, and the others in New Mexico and Texas, the prospect of serious jail time was real. But as evidence tied to David Giesbrecht Fehr mounted, the state of New Mexico dismissed all the cases.

In Texas, three defendants were allowed to plead guilty to time served and immediately deported. The defendants’ visas were revoked, and that revocation lasts for three years.

A man drives a cotton harvester on a Mennonite farm near Lopez Mateos, Chihuahua.

As a practical matter, however, none of the now-former defendants will find it easy to return to the United States, even for a visit with family. Juan, for example has aunts and cousins in Denver and Los Angleles.

If Juan to present himself at a border crossing, a computer check of his documents would show that he faced serious drug charges and accepted a plea deal which included immediate deportation.

But Juan’s just happy to be home.

“They treated me well in the U.S.,” he said in Spanish. “No one pressured me, no one attacked me. I have nothing against the U.S. prosecutors or police.”

The alleged drug trafficker, David Giesprecht Fehr, remains at-large. (Lorne Matalon / FRONTERAS)

El Pasoans Take Risks to Keep International Bonds

An article found on the KFox14 website brings to light the necessity for El Pasoans to cross the Juarez border:

EL PASO, Texas — The U.S. Department of State is keeping Ciudad Juarez listed as a specific concern for those who need to cross the border, but many El Pasoans need to keep going.

They go for family and businesses, so they make adjustments and take their chances. For some, the price is high.

The familiar border aroma of onion, cilantro and jalapeno rise in Rosemary’s kitchen in El Paso – the same way they once did in her home in Juarez.

“I still imagine myself cooking, cleaning,” she said.

For 17 years, the El Paso-born American rose at 4 a.m. to make the trek back and forth across the international bridge, and she did it all for a man.

“It just gives me a great sadness because I sacrificed so many things. I sacrificed a lot of things being in Juarez,” Rosemary said. I sacrificed family; I sacrificed friends because I wanted to be with the man that I loved.”

Together, the couple built a house from one room and a thriving little enterprise.

“He built his business starting with nothing but a shovel and a little truck,” she said.

While Rosemary commuted to El Paso for her job, her husband worked seven days a week building their future.

Then, in 2009, cartel violence consumed the city.

“A lot of my husband’s friends who had the same types of businesses had all been killed already,” she said.

Rosemary’s extortion nightmare began and everything about the couple’s future was threatened.

“That put our life, his life, the life of our family in danger,” Rosemary said.

The couple starting handing over $200 a week from his business.

“I begged him and I pleaded with him to move here to El Paso and he refused. He said he was not going to give in to anybody and that he came to this life with nothing, and he was going to leave with nothing,” Rosemary said.

The nightmare went on for a year, and then, the extortionists wanted more.

“The day that he was shot, I was at my job here in El Paso and they told me that they had shot someone inside the business of my husband. It was all over the news,” she said.

In an instant, Rosemary’s husband’s life was over. Her life was over and she knew it. In a matter of hours, with the help of family in El Paso, Rosemary packed up everything she could and moved back home.

American business owners by the dozens would follow suit.

“It was us, it was our neighbors, our neighbor got shut down for a year, and then, our neighbor next to him – they assaulted him twice,” said Luis Gallegos, who owns a staffing company.

In 2009, an extortion threat arrived at the door step of Arias and Associates, Gallegos’ company.

“I got a call in the afternoon, we were right here and they called us that all our employees are locked in,” Gallegos said. “They wouldn’t let them out because the federal police had just gotten executed a just 10 feet from our door.”

Soon after, the Gallegos family would be trapped in a gun battle while stuck in Juarez traffic. Their teenage son witnessed a man shot to death by automatic gun fire.

“We were panicked,” Gallegos said. “We were shocked, but our employees were like, ‘Well, it happened to me when I worked over there at the liquor store.’”

But they were not so cavalier about cartel crime. Their thriving staffing business provided a workforce to some of the 150 “maquiladoras” (factories) in Juarez, and it immediately went into stealth mode.

“The business, everything, is all being handled over the phone,” said Hossana Gallegos, Luis’ wife and business partner.

Luis said that they would not conduct business at night and would avoid staying late in the afternoon.

“If we go, we don’t even call our employees,” Hossana Gallegos said. “We don’t tell them that we are going to be there.”

Hossana and Luis, who are Americans, operate their business in Juarez as though they are phantoms. They are doing as many Americans commuting to Juarez now must do. They drive modest cars and constantly change their routines.

Although security measures are not openly discussed, these business owners say it’s an adjustment being made by all, including maquiladoras.

“You see a lot of increase to the security,” Luis Gallegos said. “They’re shutting streets down. The access to the plants is more difficult.

The Mexican chamber of commerce reports more than 10,000 businesses have shut down since 2009.

It’s unclear how many of those businesses were American-owned, but Mexican business owners by the hundreds have sought refuge relocating to the U.S. side of the border. Most of them move their businesses revenue to the states.

They represent a growing social and professional network that meets at a restaurant on a regular basis.

Statistics from the state department show that there may be no going back to a prosperous pre-cartel Juarez anytime soon.

The state department warnings remain in place in Juarez calling it a specific concern.

The number of non-immigrant visas to the United States has increased steadily since 2009 and continues to rise. State department numbers show Juarez has one of the highest murder rates in Mexico.

Immigration and human rights attorneys representing those seeking asylum in the United States agree that safety remains a rapidly deteriorating concept in Mexico despite what its politicians push to the public.

Meanwhile, Americans trying to run their business with one foot in each country wistfully wish for days past before commuting got crazy.

“I would still commute every day, but it was not the same as before. I would always have to look behind my back. My husband would always be waiting for me as soon as I left for home and would lock the gates as soon as possible,” Rosemary said.

There seems to be no predictability factor as to whether Juarez can ever return to the days before blood began running in the streets.

“I was happy living in Juarez; I had everything I needed around me,” Rosemary said. “I had a Sams, Walmart, and all the stores.”

Those in El Paso creating a booming bi-national community on the border say they are adjusting.

“As soon as you crossed the border, you would see the soldier and then there was one after the other, patrols, the trucks,” Luis Gallegos said. “They would pull you over, and you don’t see that so much anymore. And oddly, you feel safer now.”

As far as the economic impact in El Paso is concerned, given the businesses and business people and families who have moved here from Juarez, every indicator from numbers gathered by the El Paso Regional Economic Development Corporation show that all the stability and growth of the city’s economy is coming from our military base, and not from beyond the border.