Mexican cartels use 'witches' in US to detect snitches and ward off police (2024)

SEATTLE — As a Mexican cartel associate crept in the shadows inside a California home waiting for the chance to kidnap a man over a drug debt, police rushed in.

The would-be kidnapper darted out the back door without anyone spotting him during the 2020 incident and called his boss, Cesar Valdez-Sanudo, head of a large-scale West Coast drug ring supplied by the infamous Sinaloa Cartel.

He struggled to catch his breath while describing how police foiled his plan to snatch debtor Fausto Paz, in a scheme concocted after a "bruja"— Spanish for "female witch" — mistakenly accused Paz of stealing drugs.

Cartels sometimes consult with brujas, pronounced brew-hah, in Mexico and the U.S. to predict betrayals and cast spells to ward off police and drug rivals.

In recent drug cases prosecuted in federal court in Seattle, drug traffickers for the two super cartels — Sinaloa and its rival, the Cártel Jalisco Nueva Generación, or CJNG — sought guidance from brujas. In one incident, the bruja nearly exposed an undercover police officer.

Mexican cartels use 'witches' in US to detect snitches and ward off police (1)

A brujo or bruja, long a part of Latin culture, historically has conducted readings, provided advices and performed hexes on enemies for customers ranging from criminals to jealous spouses.

A curandero (pronounced "coor-un-deh-row") is a healer more widely used by law-abiding citizens seeking mental, physical and spirit wellbeing. In current times, brujas and curanderos sometimes crossover and provide dual duties, performing spells, readings and cleansings, said Robert Almonte, a retired El Paso Police deputy chief.

"Cartels use brujas to put hexes on their enemies and sometimes that enemy is a police officer, prosecutor or judge," Almonte said.

There is no universally followed training or guidebook, so each bruja and curandero may use different methods, to include tarot card readings, candles, branches — and even rum and eggs.

Almonte, a Mexican-American and former U.S. Marshal for the Western District of Texas, consulted with a brujo, or male witch, last year in Mexico for research he applies to his current job — training U.S. officers on cartel culture.

Almonte said the brujo in Catemato, in the southern state of Veracruz, rubbed an egg on his body and detected evil spirits, instructing Almonte to keep an amulet in his pocket for protection. The amulet, or lucky charm, featured a hexagram, or six-pointed star.

Mexican cartels use 'witches' in US to detect snitches and ward off police (2)

Almonte also has consulted with brujos in Texas, Arizona, Utah, Nebraska and New York. Some rubbed lotions on his body, tapped him with branches and spit rum on him to chase away negative energy, evil spirits and demons. One broke an egg open and said a dark speck in the yoke indicated an evil presence that necessitated a cleansing.

Almonte, who is Catholic, said many Christians and professionals consult with curanderos, but not brujas. Curanderos are often altruistic, discounting or bartering with those who can't afford to pay in order to provide help, which may include casting a love spell or blessing on the recipient's health, crops or business.

Cartels use both. Sometimes the bruja or curandero lays hands on the drug trafficker and the vehicle used to smuggle the drugs in an attempt to cast a protective spell to ward off police and thieves.

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In Paz's case, he truthfully told cartel associates that police had pulled over his white Dodge Ram on Nov. 10, 2020, after he crossed from Oregon into Washington on Interstate 5, a popular drug corridor. Police searched the Ram and a black GMC Sierra it was hauling on a trailer, seizing 34 packages of meth totaling more than 47 pounds, according to court records.

When Paz told drug ring leaders the drugs — worth about $150,000 — were seized as evidence, one of the leaders consulted with his "godmother," referring to a bruja, according to court records. The bruja erroneously deduced that Paz stole the drugs with plans to sell them in secret and pocket the money.

Following the bruja's prediction, Sanudo ordered one of his underlings to snatch Paz from Paz's home in Ontario, California, 37 miles east of Los Angeles.

Sanudo instructed the kidnapper to "get the [expletive] wires, cables" to hook up Paz's genitals to a car battery, shocking him until he revealed the location of the missing drugs, prosecutors allege in a memo lobbying for a hefty prison sentence.

A retired supervisor for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration who worked in Mexico said this is a common cartel torture tactic.

Mexican cartels use 'witches' in US to detect snitches and ward off police (4)

Agents based in Tacoma, Washington, were conducting wire taps on Sanudo and members of his drug ring when they heard of the kidnapping plot and urged Ontario officers to rush to Paz's house to give him an official receipt to prove that police had taken the drugs, said Luke Brandeberry, a Kent Police detective who worked on the case headed by a DEA task force.

It was a very close call, with officers later learning the kidnapper had been hiding in the house. Investigators believe Paz would have been tortured and likely killed, all because of the misinformation of the bruja.

Brandeberry himself could have been harmed or worse based on another bruja's 2020 prediction.

In this incident, when a Hispanic drug ring associate consulted a bruja, she pointed to a meth customer, saying "the white boy is betraying you" as a cop or snitch.

Brandeberry had gone undercover for a DEA task force to buy meth three times from a courier, a Pierce County woman who made local deliveries for the drug ring with the protection of a muscular male driver.

But before the courier could alert drug ring leaders, the bruja changed her opinion, advising: "... I read the candles wrong, it's your people," referring to a betrayal by someone within the drug ring.

"If you get burned as an undercover, you're not gonna know until it's too late," said Brandeberry, who no longer works undercover.

"It was a close call, a really close call."

In another case, a bruja offered guidance for Alan Gomez-Marentes, a supervisor with CJNG, a dangerous Jalisco-based cartel blamed, along with the Sinaloa Cartel, for the bulk of deadly fentanyl smuggled into the U.S.

CJNG sent Marentes, a cartel supervisor in Mexico, to the U.S. to take over the West Coast drug ring and get it in line after too many customers dodged their drug debts. His network also starting losing loads of drugs during police traffics stops and raids.

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"He consulted a bruja to rid him of the evil spirits that were ruining his drug business," Brandeberry said.

Marentes followed the bruja's instructions to wear an amulet pendant around his neck, to remove his clothes and cleanse himself in a local river. Investigators believe he likely performed this cleansing near his home in the Green River.

Marentes pleaded guilty last year to drug trafficking charges in federal court and is awaiting sentencing in Seattle.

Paz, who was nearly kidnapped, is serving a four-year sentence for trafficking Sinaloa Cartel drugs.

Sanudo, the drug ring leader, pleaded guilty last year to drug trafficking, gun and money laundering crimes, which prosecutors allege included laundering more than $1 million. The DEA led the investigation against him, unearthing stashes of drugs — including two kilos of fentanyl pills ― mostly hidden underground throughout Sanudo's 10-acre property in Arlington, 46 miles north of Seattle.

When police arrested Sanudo after he spent two hours gambling at the Snoqualmie Casino, investigators found a gold-plated pistol with a bullet in the chamber that had been within Sanudo's reach inside his red Infiniti sedan, along with two more loaded firearms and a homemade silencer.

He had told drug ring associates he planned on confronting one of his underlings over a drug debt.

Sanudo is now serving a 15-year sentence in a federal prison in Central California.

Almonte believes cartel members and associates, even from within prison walls, will use phone calls, letters and emails to continue seeking readings and hexes from brujas.

Mexican cartels use 'witches' in US to detect snitches and ward off police (2024)


Mexican cartels use 'witches' in US to detect snitches and ward off police? ›

Cartels sometimes consult with brujas, pronounced brew-hah, in Mexico and the U.S. to predict betrayals and cast spells to ward off police and drug rivals.

Who do the Mexican cartels target? ›

The country's powerful drug cartels have long staged targeted assassinations of mayoral and other local candidates who threaten their control. Gangs in Mexico depend on controlling local police chiefs, and taking a share of municipal budgets; national politics appear to interest them less.

Do drug cartels target tourists? ›

While tourists are rarely the target of cartel attention, travelers to Mexico should be aware of areas where the CJNG and other cartels operate and the risks they pose to general safety.

Why are Mexican cartels so violent? ›

The balance of power between the various Mexican cartels continually shifts as new organizations emerge and older ones weaken and collapse. A disruption in the system, such as the arrests or deaths of cartel leaders, generates bloodshed as rivals move in to exploit the power vacuum.

What is the most powerful cartel in Mexico? ›

The Sinaloa Cartel, often considered the largest and most powerful drug trafficking organization in the Western Hemisphere, is a network of some of Mexico's most important drug lords. Members work together to protect themselves.

Are there any cartels in the United States? ›

(NewsNation) — Two powerful Mexican drug cartels are not only operating fentanyl and other illicit drug markets in all 50 U.S. states but have also successfully eliminated their drug-dealing competition using violence and other means, according to a report issued by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

Are cartels illegal in the US? ›

In the United States, cartel behavior (including price-fixing; volume, customer, and market allocation; and bid-rigging) can be a criminal violation of antitrust laws that may result in high fines for conspiring corporations and key corporate executives, and incarceration for individual defendants.

Which city in Mexico has the most cartels? ›

City of Culiacán, Sinaloa, a historical stronghold for the cartel.

Is it safe to go to Cancún? ›

Cancun is part of the Mexican state of Quintana Roo, which is labeled as Exercise Increased Caution. So, it's not the safest place, but it's not bad enough to reconsider traveling there at all.

What is the most dominant drug cartel in the world? ›

The 5 Most Powerful Drug Cartels in the World
  • Sinaloa Cartel.
  • Medellin Cartel.
  • Gulf Cartel.
  • Los Zetas.
  • Juarez Cartel.
Jan 24, 2024

What is the most brutal cartel group? ›

Los Zetas ushered in a new era of cartel behavior marked by extreme brutality, which became the group's calling card. There are many examples of this, most prominently including: Los Zetas were notorious for mass killings such as the 2010 San Fernando Massacre where 72 migrants were found dead in Tamaulipas, Mexico.

How many tourists are killed in Mexico each year? ›

The US State Department reports that 120 Americans of the 5.7 million who visited Mexico last year were murdered, which is a rate of 2.1 of 100,000 visitors. Regardless of whether they were or weren't connected to drug trafficking, which is often not clear, it's less than half the US national rate.

Who are the most feared Mexican cartels? ›

Los Zetas (pronounced [los ˈsetas], Spanish for "The Zs") was a Mexican criminal syndicate, known as one of the most dangerous of Mexico's drug cartels. They are known for engaging in brutally violent "shock and awe" tactics such as beheadings, torture, and indiscriminate murder.

Who is the most powerful drug lord in history? ›

Pablo Escobar (born December 1, 1949, Rionegro, Colombia—died December 2, 1993, Medellín. Colombia) was a Colombian drug lord who rose to infamy as the leader of the Medellín cartel, overseeing a period marked by extreme violence, corruption, and wealth.

Who runs the Mexican cartel now? ›

Ismael "El Mayo" Zambada
El Mayo
U.S. Department of State reward poster of Ismael Zambada, issued September 2021
BornIsmael Mario Zambada García 1 January 1948 El Alamo, Culiacán, Sinaloa, Mexico
Other namesMayo, M-Z, Padrino, el Señor
Occupation(s)Co-founder and leader of the Sinaloa Cartel
7 more rows

Are the Zetas still a cartel? ›

Los Zetas, Mexican crime syndicate formed in 1997 as the enforcement arm of the drug-trafficking Gulf Cartel; it broke away as an independent organized criminal enterprise in 2010. The group was known for its violent tactics and tight organizational structure.

What are Mexican cartels fighting for? ›

Territorial control of drug plazas is essential for the two primary goals of cartels: perpetuation and profit. As a greater number of cartels and criminal organizations compete for territory, violent inter- and intra-cartel conflict and conflict with the Mexican state continue to intensify.

What are cartels responsible for? ›

Recent News. drug cartel, an illicit consortium of independent organizations formed to limit competition and control the production and distribution of illegal drugs. Drug cartels are extremely well-organized, well-financed, efficient, and ruthless. Since the 1980s, they have dominated the international narcotics trade ...

Who are the Mexican drug cartel guys? ›

Sinaloa Cartel
Cártel de Sinaloa
Sinaloa Cartel in Mexico
Territoryshow List of areas
Leader(s)Ismael Zambada García, Iván Archivaldo Guzmán Salazar, Jesús Alfredo Guzmán Salazar, Joaquín Guzmán López
AlliesSee section below
5 more rows


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