The Cartel (81 page)

“We thought we’d pick him up at the airport,” Miller says.

“You have enough to charge?”

“Money laundering, conspiracy to traffic narcotics, tax evasion,” Miller says. “Oh yeah.”

“Do me a favor?” Keller asks. “Hold off a little?”

“Can’t hold off for long,” Miller answers. “Rolando is planning a trip to Italy.”

“What?” Keller asks, feeling a jolt of excitement.

“He’s going to Europe,” Miller says. “Starting in Italy but going on some kind of Grand Tour, I guess—Switzerland, Germany, France, Spain. We’ve had a tap on his e-mail.”

“Family vacation?” Keller asks, trying to keep the excitement out of his voice.

“Nope, just him.”

Yeah, just him. No married man takes a “vacation” to Europe without his wife. It just doesn’t happen. Rolando is going for work, and Keller hopes he knows what the work is.

He’s praying that Rolando is going to Italy as the Zetas’ ambassador to ’Ndrangheta.

The wealthiest criminal organization in the world.

’Ndrangheta is based in Calabria, in southern Italy at the toe of the boot, and it makes the older, more famous Sicilian Mafia look like a poor country cousin. Eighty percent of the cocaine that flows into Europe comes through ’Ndrangheta at its port of Gioia Tauro. The organization’s income from drug trafficking is estimated at $50 billion annually, a whopping 3.5 percent of Italy’s gross domestic product.

They’re untouchable.

The Gulf cartel used to have an exclusive relationship with ’Ndrangheta—now Barrera is competing with the Zetas for the European market. The apparent motive behind the sadistic murder of Magda Beltrán was that she had been making successful inroads with ’Ndrangheta.

Is Rolando Morales going on a diplomatic mission to secure an alliance with ’Ndrangheta for the Zetas? Keller wonders.

Wars are fought with money, and the European market would give either cartel an insurmountable financial advantage with which to buy weapons, equipment, protection, and, most of all, gunmen.

If the Zetas can become ’Ndrangheta’s suppliers, while at the same time cutting Barrera’s Guatemalan route, they’ll have the money and resources to beat him in Mexico.

So Rolando’s diplomatic mission—if that’s what it is—represents an enormous opportunity for the Zetas.

It’s an enormous opportunity for Keller, too.

“Let him go,” he says to Miller.

“Back to Oklahoma?”

“To Europe,” Keller says.


They pick him up in Milan’s San Siro stadium, where the red-and-black-clad AC Milan players are going up against the black-and-white-striped Juventus rivals.

Keller watches the video feed from a situation room at Quantico, supervised by the FBI, which is understandably reluctant to jeopardize an operation that has taken them years, cost them millions of dollars, and would result in convictions and headlines. DEA is equally reluctant to allow a Zeta ambassador freedom to leave the country and possibly escape arrest.

That’s just the domestic side.

Keller’s plan demands a complex multinational effort involving not only Italy’s Direzione Antidroga, but INTERPOL, as well as Switzerland’s Einsatzgruppe, Germany’s BND, the French Sûreté, Belgium’s Algemene Directie Bestuurlijke Politie, and Spain’s CNP—the Cuerpo Nacional de Policía.

The protocols are complicated, language barriers difficult, and negotiations intricate, requiring Keller to adopt a diplomatic persona that he hasn’t used for years. If it weren’t for the common umbrella of INTERPOL, the operation wouldn’t happen, but in the end everyone agrees to track Rolando’s movements and not make arrests, with each country free to do what it likes regarding its own territory after the operation is concluded.

The logistics are at least as complicated, with detachments of elite police swapping surveillance while keeping each other in touch, exchanging video, audio, and photos, keeping a loose net around Morales while not getting in close enough to spook him.

They’re going to use him as a dye test, let him run all the way through the bloodstream of the European drug-trafficking body.

The first place he goes is Milan, where Direzione Antidroga picks him up, and now their agents have him under surveillance, sending live video feed back to Quantico as Rolando talks into the ear of a translator who in turn talks to Ernesto Giorgi, the
quintino,
the underboss, of the ’Ndrangheta’s Milan
’ndrine
—the equivalent of a Mexican plaza.

The noise in the stadium—the chanting, singing, banging of drums—is terrific. So there’s not a chance of grabbing audio in the noisy stadium—doubtless why Rolando and Giorgi chose to meet there. Keller can’t read lips, but the DEA techie at his side can—Giorgi had been friends with Osiel Contreras, and Rolando is explaining why the Zetas went against their old bosses, and why ’Ndrangheta should side with them.

Keller knows that Giorgi will forgive the treachery—business is business. What he won’t tolerate is losing, and the ’Ndrangheta mob boss would have been briefed on the recent Zeta defeats in Veracruz.

The crowd erupts in a cheer.

Giorgi jumps up and pumps his fist in the air as a Milan player runs around the stadium celebrating the goal he just scored. When Giorgi sits back down, he leans over to Rolando and says something.

Keller looks to the translator.

“ ‘We were thinking of doing business with the woman,’ ” the translator says. “ ‘Magda Beltrán.’ ”

Keller doesn’t need the translator to catch Rolando’s response in Spanish. The words are clear on his lips.
“Está muerta.”

She’s dead.


Rolando and Giorgi dine in a private room at Cracco.

Two Michelin stars.

Rolando spent the afternoon in Milan shopping, and now he wears a gray Armani suit with brown Bruno Magli shoes, a red silk shirt, and no tie. Giorgi is more conservative in a brown Luciano Natazzi cashmere jacket.

A camera hidden in an overhead pin light provides an image, and this time, the audio is crystal clear as Rolando repeatedly asserts that the Zetas have control of the Petén and will dominate the cocaine trade. Giorgi isn’t convinced, and he brings up another issue.

GIORGI:
Barrera has the government.
MORALES:
That’s overstated.
GIORGI:
He has the military and the federal police. Don’t blow smoke up my ass.
MORALES:
But there’s an election coming up. PAN will lose. The winner is not going to prosecute the so-called war on drugs for the benefit of Adán Barrera. It will be up for bids.
GIORGI:
You have the money?
MORALES:
If we have your business, we’ll have the money.

Rolando is right, Keller thinks.

The PRI candidate, Peña Nieto, is making the end of the drug war a platform of his campaign. The other front-runner, PRD’s López Obrador, would go even further, refuse the Mérida funds, and boot the DEA and CIA out of Mexico altogether. It’s the wild card in all of this. No wonder Adán is in a hurry to grab all he can before the July elections, and before Peña Nieto would take office in December.

The irony is that we are, too.

We have to take the Zetas out before we get shut down.

“Who are they?” Keller asks as two men come in and sit down at the table.

No one in the room—not the FBI guys or the DEA people—knows. Keller gets on the phone to Alfredo Zumatto, his counterpart in DAD, who is also watching the video feed from Rome. He runs still frames through his database. Thirty minutes later an ID comes back—the two men are the
vangelista
and
quintino
—the second and third in command for Berlin.

“ ’Ndrangheta has 230
’ndrines
in Germany,” Zumatto says on the phone. “Your boy is making some impressive connections.”

He’s also trying to assure Giorgi that the Zetas won’t do business in Germany except through ’Ndrangheta, Keller thinks.

He watches as the men socialize. The rest of the talk is mostly about
fútbol,
horses, and women.


From Milan, Rolando takes the train to Zurich, meeting with bankers and potential dealers; from there he trains to Munich, meeting the local ’Ndrangheta members and some German nationals.

From Munich, Rolando goes to Berlin, where he hooks back up with the two men from the restaurant, who pick him up at his hotel near the Brandenburg Gate. The German counterpart in BND tails them to the Kreuzberg neighborhood, down the Oranienstrasse, where they go into a nightclub and meet three men that the BND guy identifies as Turkish immigrants.

From Berlin, Rolando trains to the ancient Baltic port city of Rostock, where ’Ndrangheta has a strong presence. He goes to a yacht moored at the marina, stays for two hours, and then goes to his hotel on Kröpeliner Strasse. BND personnel track the yacht owners to a drug ring known for trafficking throughout the former East Germany.

Rolando backtracks by train to Hamburg. He connects with the local ’Ndrangheta and a Hamburg local and together they go down to the Reeperbahn, an upscale version of Nuevo Laredo’s Boy’s Town, only with more neon in lurid pinks, reds, greens, and purples. Rolando and his escorts walk past clubs with names like the Dollhouse, Safari, and the Beach Club and finally go into Club Relax, a brothel featuring women clad in masks and lingerie.


Rolando isn’t just a dye test, Keller thinks, when he comes back out a few hours later. He’s a germ, bacteria spreading through the
corpus narcoticus
. He infects everything he touches, and the infection spreads like a plague. Spider diagrams go up on police walls all over Europe, connecting Rolando’s connections to their connections and
their
connections. The brothel metaphor works—Rolando Morales is venereal. That’s part of Keller’s plan, and he’s pleased that it’s working, but it’s only part.

Rolando flies from Hamburg to Paris but doesn’t leave the airport, connecting instead with a local flight to Lyon, where the Sûreté pick up the surveillance. Everywhere he goes it’s the same drill—meeting with the organization, with dealers and financiers, and spreading the gospel of Heriberto Ochoa—the Zetas will win in Guatemala, they will win in Mexico, Barrera is finished once the elections happen, so hook your fate to the Zetas’ rising star. The meetings take place in parks, soccer stadiums, restaurants, strip clubs, and brothels.

Rolando picks up the checks.

He trains from Lyon to Montpellier, and from Montpellier across the Spanish border to Gerona and then to Barcelona.

It’s good that Rolando has gone to Spain, Keller thinks.

What cocaine doesn’t come into Europe through Gioia Tauro comes in through Spain, mostly through the small fishing towns on the Galician coast, but also increasingly through Madrid airport.

Spain is also an important market in itself, with the highest rate of cocaine use in Europe. Most of the coke comes directly from Colombia, the deal being that the Galician mob, Os Caneos, keeps half the shipment and sells it domestically in exchange for allowing the other half to flow through their territory into the rest of Europe.

Through his Spanish CNP liaison, Rafael Imaz, Keller learns that Rolando is going to host a party at Top Damas, the city’s most exclusive brothel.

“That’s a piece of luck,” Imaz tells Keller over the phone.

“You have contacts at the brothel?”

“We own it,” Imaz says.

It’s wired for video and sound, and Keller and Imaz get a good look at the guests as they roll up to the brothel. Imaz quickly identifies them as two Barcelona port officials.

Keller has to sit and listen to sounds that he’d rather not hear as Rolando and his guests partake of the specialties of the house, but when they finish, they settle into a back room for a relaxed business discussion.

MORALES:
We bring it in shipping containers—small amounts at first—eight to ten kilos.
PORT OFFICIAL:
How much for our consideration?
MORALES:
Five thousand.
PORT OFFICIAL:
Euros or dollars?
MORALES:
Euros.
PORT OFFICIAL:
Have you talked to Os Caneos?
MORALES:
Why bring them into it? They’re a long way away.
PORT OFFICIAL
(laughs):
You don’t want to split the coke with them.
MORALES:
Let’s just say we’re looking at other distributors.
SECOND PORT OFFICIAL:
Have you cleared this with our Italian friends? I don’t want to get sideways with them.
MORALES:
They don’t care what we do here.

Keller listens to the discussions go on until they finally arrive at a figure—8,000 euros per shipment of coke that passes through the port.

A CNP tail picks up Rolando as he walks out of the brothel, tracks him downtown into the El Raval district, and radios Keller and Imaz as the Zeta walks down a narrow, twisting street in this ancient part of the city.

Barcelona has the largest Islamic population in Spain, mostly Pakistanis, but also Moroccans and Tunisians. Keller knows that the U.S. consulate here has a secret antiterrorist section, concerned that Barcelona will become the next Hamburg, a European base for jihadists
.

The bin Laden mission was less than a year ago, and everyone is waiting for the retaliatory strike.

“He’s in the Pakistani quarter,” Imaz says.

It’s working, Keller thinks. Please let him go where I hope he’s going, please let him walk into the trap. It’s been weeks in the making, weeks of private talks with Imaz, secret negotiations with CNI, exchanges of information and assets.

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