crime

Visiting Detective Emilia Cruz: “Hunt for the Missing”

The Law Enforcement landscape changes as societal needs evolve. Years ago, local police departments generally focused on car thefts, bank robberies, burglaries, the occasional drunk, domestic disputes, etc. These days, car and home break-ins are a very low priority, with drugs, human trafficking, and cyber crimes on the rise.

 

The increase in new crimes and more sophisticated criminals requires a level of training few departments have available, so conferences sometimes fill the gap. If the budget allows, ranking officers and detectives attend in order to discover what other people in the country (or our border countries) are doing to solve the issues causing the most harm.

 

That’s how I met Detective Emilia Cruz, a guest speaker at a recent conference in Virginia, not far from D.C. Her topic hit pretty close to home, since our north Jersey county, with its proximity to seaports and major highways, was also experiencing an uptick in missing women and girls. Combined with the Mexican and Central American citizens fleeing the drug cartel violence, coming with stories of horrors their families had faced, made for complex problems. I invite you to read Detective Emilia Cruz’ account:

 

Hunt for the Missing with Detective Emilia Cruz

“I never expected to be lecturing a bunch of norteamericano detectives about hunting for missing persons in Mexico, but there I was in Alexandria, Virginia, sweating bullets and trying to remember how to speak English. My plan was to stumble through my presentation, fly back to Acapulco and slay my boss, Lieutenant Franco Silvio, for sending me to this conference on law enforcement.

Fortifying myself with a dose of caffeine before my presentation seemed like a good idea, although I was already buzzing with nerves. All the attendees were circling around, paper cups in hand and meeting each other. Ten men to every woman. Just like in Mexico.

A fellow joined me at the coffee urn and introduced himself. “Charlie Kerrian,” he said and stuck out his hand. “You must be our guest speaker.”

“Hello, I’m Detective Emilia Cruz Encinos, from Acapulco.” We shook hands. I liked him right away. He didn’t try any stupid moves, like squeezing too hard or tickling my palm like Mexican colleagues often did. “Mucho gusto, Mr. Kerrian.”

“Call me Charlie.” He sipped his coffee. “I’m really looking forward to your presentation.”

A bell rang and we filed into the conference room.

My audience was well aware of Mexico’s organized crime situation and the violence washing through the country due to the drug trade. The United States is the biggest consumer of illicit drugs that move through Mexico and cartels are forever fighting over territory and lucrative shipping routes. Violence has spiraled in Acapulco because it’s a port of entry for the Chinese chemicals used to make synthetic opioids, especially fentanyl.

My particular area of expertise is in hunting for those who have gone missing amid the drug war violence. It’s hard to get a perfect count, because many go unreported, but over 100,000 people have gone missing in Mexico over the past ten years. As many as 39 go missing every day. More mass graves are found every day, too.

Beyond a numbers tracking database, the federal government hasn’t allocated many resources to finding the missing. We have nothing like the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Is it because too many of our civil and military authorities are involved with the cartels? Are they taking drug money to look the other way?

The bottom line is that in Mexico, finding the missing is left to families, private detectives and cops who hunt for the lost on their own time, like me.

I keep a binder of women who have gone missing in Acapulco. I call them Las Perdidas. The Lost Ones. I start with missing persons reports and morgue files of unidentified women. Next, I collect every scrap of helpful information that I can, starting with newspaper advertisements.

Families pay for newspaper advertisements with the headline DESPARACIDA, meaning “disappeared,” and a picture of the missing person along with a call for information. Similar notices are printed on burger wrappers or posters plastered on walls alongside ads for Jumex juice and Tía Rosa snacks.

If I’m lucky, an advertisement points to a body or a report. Usually I’m not.

Many of the women in the Las Perdidas binder are probably dead. They’ve been missing for too long. Perhaps they’re in one of Mexico’s mass graves. But without better DNA recordkeeping, we’ll never know.

Yet I have high hopes of finding one particular girl named Lila. She has swum in and out of my grasp as I investigated other crimes, but I’m going to find her again.

When I do, I will bring her home.

My presentation got a big round of applause. Charlie Kerrian asked me to write it up for an online notebook he keeps of investigative techniques. So here it is.

Thank you, Charlie, for caring about Las Perdidas. If you ever make it to Acapulco, look me up, por favor.

I could really use your help.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Carmen Amato turns lessons from a 30-year career with the Central Intelligence Agency into crime fiction loaded with intrigue and deception.

Her Detective Emilia Cruz mystery series pits the first female police detective in Acapulco against Mexico’s drug cartels, government corruption, and social inequality. Described as “A thrilling series” by National Public Radio, the series was awarded the Poison Cup for Outstanding Series from CrimeMasters of America in both 2019 and 2020 and was optioned for television.

Originally from upstate New York, Carmen was educated there as well as in Virginia and Paris, France, while experiences in Mexico and Central America ignited her writing career. She has been a judge for the BookLife Prize and Killer Nashville’s Claymore Award and is a recipient of both the National Intelligence Award and the Career Intelligence Medal.

Every other Sunday, Carmen is your guide to the mystery ahead with exclusive announcements, excerpts and reviews of books she loves and think you will, too. Subscribe here: https://carmenamato.net/mystery-ahead

Please click on the titles in the riveting Detective Emilia Cruz Series to find out more.

 

 

Begin your thrill ride with CLIFF DIVER: Detective Emilia Cruz Book 1

 

 

 

 

HAT DANCE: Detective Emilia Cruz Book 2

DIABLO NIGHTS: Detective Emilia Cruz Book 3

KING PESO: Detective Emilia Cruz Book 4

PACIFIC REAPER: Detective Emilia Cruz Book 5

 

 

43 MISSING: Detective Emilia Cruz Book 6. Read my review here.

 

 

 

 

RUSSIAN MOJITO: Detective Emilia Cruz Book 7

NARCO NOIR: Detective Emilia Cruz Book 8

MADE IN ACAPULCO: The Emilia Cruz Stories

THE ARTIST/EL ARTISTA: A Bilingual Short Story for Language Learning

FELIZ NAVIDAD FROM ACAPULCO: A Detective Emilia Cruz Novella

THE LISTMAKER OF ACAPULCO: A Detective Emilia Cruz Novella

Many thanks to Carmen Amato for taking the time to visit with the Kerrians! As in her books, her article is based in fact.

 

 

 

 

KN, p. 288 “Crime via the Post Office”

Read “Postal Inspectors: Law Enforcement Agents” here.


The United States Post Office has been around since the days of Benjamin Franklin, quietly doing a great job of delivering more mail to millions of U.S. residents than any other company, six days a week and sometimes Sundays. No other delivery company handles the volume of mail on a daily basis as the United States Postal Service. Sadly, we only hear about the USPS when something awful happens, and when nasty people take advantage of the efficient system already in place to carry out their nefarious plans.

 

Interestingly enough, the USPS can help work on postal treaties with other countries, so the rising cost of postage we have to put on packages to Canada or Europe etc., has been negotiated as part of certain economic trade packages.

 

But there is a branch of the USPS that works as a law enforcement arm: the United States Postal Inspection Service. They have special agents who are licensed to carry firearms, make arrests, and investigate suspected crime, as well as auditors who uncover fraud that targets Post Office services.

 

Benjamin Franklin was concerned about the rise in theft by the mail riders themselves, or others entrusted with safekeeping of the mail and its delivery, and in 1792, stealing the mail was considered so serious that the death penalty was imposed by Congress.

 

By the 1850s, more people headed west as the country rapidly expanded, and trains and stagecoaches were commonly used as a means to improve mail delivery throughout even the most remote territories. That move away from the one-rider-one-horse model to the speed that the train and the stagecoach provided, also created an explosion of train and stagecoach robberies. The Wild West had become a profitable place for bands of outlaws led by men like Billy the Kid, Butch Cassidy, and the Sundance Kid. In response, the USPIS (the United States Postal Inspection Service) grew in size and experience in order to investigate, arrest, and convict the culprits responsible for the theft of thousands of dollars in mail bags and gold.

 

As the railroad companies improved security and postal inspectors were issued Thompson submachine guns in the 1920s, train robberies dropped, but criminals like the “Black Hand” and Charles Ponzi found other ways to take advantage of and sabotage the mails.

 

The “Black Hand” threatened people with bodily harm via letters if they didn’t come up with cash. Charles Ponzi, the creator of the pyramid scheme, swindled would-be postal coupon investors by promising to double their money in three months time. Even some Boston investigators sent to check out the wild interest in Ponzi’s company fell for his savvy pitch and invested their hard-earned money. In reality, all he did was collect big bucks from people, then get new ‘investors’ to hand over their cash, which Ponzi gave to the old investors as return on their investments – which meant that he was always upside down financially. By the time he was convicted, he had $110 million on hand, but owed $200 million to the investors. The people that cashed out early were fortunate. The people last in line lost everything.

The USPIS has broken up art fraud rings, helped capture Ted Kaczynski (the Unabomber), and partnered with the FBI to investigate the mailing of the four deadly Anthrax letters sent in 2001.

 

Be reassured that after the spate of bomb deliveries to unsuspecting customers, dogs have been employed, along with other explosive detection devices, to sniff out the deadly packages before they ever leave the postal delivery hubs.

 

The USPIS website mentioned examples of fraud they have uncovered, including a trucking contractor defrauding the Postal Service of $1.5 million in fuel rebates; a highway route contractor defrauding the Postal Service of $120,468 for services not rendered; and a construction contractor charging the Postal Service $175,630 for work never done. Shaking my head at the stupidity of people thinking they could get way with not paying the taxes and fees.

 

The USPIS investigates and prosecutes cases of:

  • Consumer fraud (including sports memorabilia – game jerseys not worn by the star)
  • Counterfeit money orders and stamps
  • Misrepresentation of items sold through the mail
  • Money laundering
  • Cybercrimes (committed online, generally using computers or handheld devices, almost always involving the postal system. The criminal commits identity theft, gathers financial and other information, then uses that information to contact unsuspecting targets through emails to pitch large $$ scams.)


Drugs thru the mail
:
Pharmacies have delivered prescriptions to law-abiding citizens for decades, but they are not the only ones using the system. Drug cartels have discovered how well the USPS operates, so the USPIS works with US Customs and Border Protection, and other federal agencies to stop the almost epidemic cases of opioid mail delivery.

The Postal Inspectors have employed time honored methods to catch the bad guys:

  • Collect the evidence
  • Identify the suspects
  • Work with the National Forensic Lab to develop a fact pattern that they can take to a U.S. Attorney

  

There are hundreds of cases that have been investigated and solved with the involvement of the United States Postal Inspection Service. Please check out www.uspis.gov for some great information about how the Post Office helps you every day. If you’re interested in the training the Postal Inspectors undergo, or how to become one, check them out.

 

*Photos and logo courtesy of the USPIS.

 

 

 

KN, p. 287 “Postal Inspectors: Law Enforcement Agents”

 

 

Most of us think of the Post Office as the local place where we mail packages, pick up our mail from those handy P.O. Boxes, and buy stamps from the helpful window clerks. In fact there are many different types of employees within the country’s postal system, including Postal Inspectors and Postal Police Officers. The 1200 Postal Inspectors are federal law enforcement officers entitled to carry firearms and make arrests in order to protect the system from people that would commit fraud through its use.

 

The first Postmaster General of the United States, Benjamin Franklin, set up a system back in the 1770s whereby mail theft could be investigated by the newly formed U.S. Postal Inspection Service. 240+ years later, there are 200 laws that deal with specific crimes against the USPS. These days, much more than letters and money is stolen from the mail and the postal service is used by nefarious types for transporting all kinds of illegal items, including pornography.


The USPIS reports that it made 5,759 arrests in 2019, with an 80% conviction rate, largely for mail theft and mail fraud.

While mail and package thefts are thoroughly investigated, those thefts pale in comparison monetarily to the millions of dollars of illegal drugs that criminals attempt to pass through the system each year. The USPIS employs state-of-the-art methods at their National Forensic Laboratory in Virginia to detect and identify opioids and other drugs after seizure, process fingerprints and DNA to tie the drugs to the bad guys, and ferret out cyber criminals of all types that seek to misuse the mails.

Due to the growing global problems with opioid and fentanyl trafficking, the USPIS agents work cases together with the DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency), Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection to enforce the laws of our country. One interesting method of detecting illicit drugs in the mail allows inspectors to check for 300+ substances without ever opening the packages.

The USPS takes the mission of guarding the mail quite seriously and has a few tips for private citizens to help avoid theft of packages and letters. Check them out:

  • Pick up your mail daily. If you’ll be away, contact the local post office and have them hold your mail until you return.
  • Don’t send cash in the mail.
  • If you need to send something important in the mail, take it to the physical post office or drop it in one of the big blue mail boxes right before pickup time.

If you expect to receive a particular piece of mail and don’t, call the local post office and/or call the sender as soon as you realize it hasn’t arrived on time.

 

If you suspect mail fraud, you can report it by writing to this address:

Criminal Investigations Service Center
Attn: Mail Fraud
433 W.Harrison Street, Room 3255
Chicago, Il 60699-3255

 

Just in case you think that the USPIS focuses on the bad guys alone, they also send out emergency response teams after natural disasters (like fires and hurricanes) in order to restart mail service.

 

The USPIS press kit (https://www.uspis.gov/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/uspis-press-kit-fact-sheet-2021.pdf) points out some of the agency’s duties and history.


Stay tuned for the next article about the USPIS, where I share information about high profile cases in which they have been involved.

 

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