Jim Kouri
Mexico's version of La Cosa Nostra spreads like wildfire
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By Jim Kouri
March 30, 2009

The Castorena Family Organization is a large-scale criminal organization with more than 100 key members who oversee cells of 10 to 20 individuals in cities across the United States, according to public court documents filed by the US government in Colorado and in other judicial districts around the country.

Several of the senior leaders of the organization are believed to be based in Mexico, although they enter the US occasionally to oversee the operations of lieutenants of the crime family.

The organization is alleged to be involved in the manufacture and distribution of high-quality counterfeit identity documents, including social security cards, birth certificates, marriage certificates, US and Mexican driver licenses, Matricula Consular ID cards, resident alien cards, work authorization documents, proof of vehicle insurance cards, temporary vehicle registration documents, and utility bills (many states require driver license applicants to show utility bills as proof of residence).

Court documents also indicate that the CFO started out in Los Angeles in the late 1980s, primarily manufacturing and selling counterfeit alien registration and social security cards. The organization soon expanded its counterfeit document operations to other cities across the United States, including New York City, Chicago, Las Vegas, Denver, Atlanta, Albuquerque, and other cities.

Over the past decade, the CFO has been managed by six Castorena-Ibarra siblings: Pedro, Alfonso, Jose, Maria, Francisco Javier, and Raquel. During the last several years, three of these siblings, Pedro, Maria and Francisco Javier, have maintained direct involvement in the counterfeiting operations of the CFO in Denver and elsewhere. In recent years, several of these siblings have been arrested and prosecuted in the United States. Others have fled to Mexico to avoid US prosecution.

The CFO has been the target of federal investigations in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Atlanta, Miami, Dallas, San Antonio, Las Vegas, Albuquerque, Denver, Lincoln, NE, and Des Moines, IA.

For example, Immigration and Customs Enforcement investigations of the CFO in Los Angeles in the late 1990's resulted in the seizure of millions of counterfeit documents with an estimated street value of $20 million.

The documents were linked to more than 400 investigations and seizures in more than 50 cities in 33 states. The American Express Corporation attributed more than $2 million in losses to counterfeit identification documents that were traced to the CFO just in Los Angeles.

In Denver, ICE investigations into the CFO have resulted in the criminal prosecution of more than 50 individuals. Dozens of additional members of the CFO in Denver have been arrested and deported to Mexico, Colombia, and El Salvador. ICE agents in Denver have also been responsible for the seizure of at least 20 computerized laboratories affiliated with the CFO and used to manufacture high-quality counterfeit identity documents. Agents have also seized 21 computers, 21 silk screen printing templates used to produce counterfeit documents, and nine handguns.

Court documents indicate that CFO cells in various US cities are exceptionally well organized. CFO cell leaders typically keep schedules with the names of each counterfeit document vendor and the times they are to report to a designated area to sell fake documents. The local cell leaders also record the number and type of false documents sold by vendors during their shifts, as well the funds collected for each transaction.

The vendors are allowed to keep a portion of the proceeds, with the remainder passed to the local cell leader. Cell leaders, in turn, pass on a portion of the proceeds to the senior leaders of the CFO. Senior CFO leaders charge a rental or franchise fee of as much as $15,000 per month for cell leaders to operate in a particular US city. These funds and other proceeds of counterfeit document sales are funneled to Mexico and other locations for those overseeing the CFO.

The organization moves its funds through three primary methods. Often, funds are wire transferred via money transmitter businesses. In other cases, bulk cash and checks are moved through express parcel services. In addition, the organization often employs couriers who physically transport US currency across US borders and between US cities.

Sources: US Department of Justice, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Department of Homeland Security, Denver, CO Police Department, National Association of Chiefs of Police

© Jim Kouri

 

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Jim Kouri

Jim Kouri, CPP is currently fifth vice-president of the National Association of Chiefs of Police... (more)

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