Business is booming in the Rockford area, but not in a way anyone wants to see. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) says traffickers are taking advantage of the Forest City's prime location to other major cities.
"Gangs and the cartels are the new face of organized crime in the country," said DEA Chicago Unit Special Agent in Charge Jack Riley.
The DEA has one goal, stop drugs from being sold, manufactured, or possessed in America.
"That is truly what we are up against, organized criminals. Organized criminals hell-bent on making money, who are not afraid to shoot people, ruin neighborhood, ruin communities," said Riley.
The DEA is on the frontline in Rockford, which right now means fighting against the Mexican drug cartels.
"In regards to drugs it is a perfect transshipment point for drug associates and drug cartels because of where it is at geographically. We are very close geographically to Chicago to Milwaukee and to the western terminus of the state over by the Iowa border," said DEA Rockford Resident Agent in Charge Brian Besser.
Rockford Police say they deal with different levels of drug dealers: street level who sell small amounts, mid-level who often distribute to those dealers, and large scale operators. The goal for law enforcement is to take the larger players down.
"Often times we start off with a lower level drug dealer and work it up to a larger investigation. And often times you don't hear about the investigation once the arrests are made because we continue working the investigation past that point in time," said Rockford Police Lieutenant Marc Welsh.
Hidden investigations are very common inside the DEA, which often times is working to infiltrate cartels and gangs. It's possible you have been by their offices and you didn't even know it. The agents say the can get anyone in and out of their buildings without ever being seen.
"Clearly by the very nature of the work we do we are operating in the shadows with a certain amount of secrecy that surrounds us. Much of our work is undercover or extensive surveillance in which clearly we would not want the criminals to know we are out there. So we do stay in the shadows," says Riley.
According to Riley, the level of sophisticated technology the cartel uses makes it a dangerous game of cat and mouse for investigators.
"Our job is to work the biggest, the baddest. It is not uncommon here in Chicago to work a Mexican organization. To follow that Mexican organization into Mexico to attack the command and control members of the organization that are hiding in Mexico," says Riley.
"It is estimated that between 10 to 25 billion dollars in drug related proceeds flow back from the United States down into Mexico each year, so that is a catastrophic amount of money. So just by taking a look at the amount of funds alone gives you some type of idea on the type of people and resources and networks and the complexity of them that we are dealing with," says Besser.
The DEA warns people who think the little weed they smoke or the drugs they may occasionally use have a much bigger affect than they realize.
"Make no mistake, the American drug user is the single greatest funder of terrorism in the Western Hemisphere. As we can see globally terrorism is being funded by drugs, illegal drugs. Illegal drug traffickers would not be able to prosper without a demand. And the demand is ultimately on the street," says Besser.
Once drug offenders are caught, local and federal prosecutors say they come together to go after the maximum sentence.
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