Todd Bensman

  • U.S. denying sanctuary to Mexicans fleeing drug war

    MortuaryInvestigative reporter Todd Bensman has been writing about Mexican immigrants who are fleeing the drug war but are denied political asylum in the United States. For his first story, he interviewed a Mexican lawyer who said he was brutally tortured by a drug cartel. Today’s article tells the story of a family from Jaurez:

    In the heat of an August day last year, 10 masked cartel gunmen roared aboard SUVs onto a street in a working-class neighborhood of Juarez, Mexico. Four people soon lay dead amid spent AK-47 shell casings.

    Two were brothers who lived with their families a few houses apart and earned extra cash as neighborhood marijuana pushers, court testimony would later show. A third victim that day was the 16-year-old son of one of the brothers; another was a bystander.

    The gunmen issued a chilling departing vow: They’d soon return to finish off the four sons of the other brother.

    Their sons’ mother, newly widowed, had heard about a quick legal way out: political asylum in America.

    Once over the Paso del Norte pedestrian bridge in El Paso, mother and sons, ages 9 through 22, joined a growing number of Mexicans petitioning for U.S. asylum as permanent haven from the narcotics traffickers besieging Mexico.

    But federal immigration judges have denied them all sanctuary and are, one of their attorneys says, “sending them back to their deaths.” Two deported sons are hiding out in drug-war savaged Juarez, where murders are surging despite the military’s presence there.

  • Gunrunners’ land of plenty

    Express-News Reporter Todd Bensman wrote an outstanding article in Sunday’s paper about Mexican drug cartels buying assault weapons in Texas to battle rivals and Mexican police.

    Bensman’s story showed how cartels hire people with clean criminal histories to buy firearms at Texas gun shows and gun shops.

    Bensman traced the path of several guns found at the scene of a police killing in Mexico. The guns were bought in Laredo, Texas, and Bensman found the purchaser, Raúl Alvarez Jr.

    Alvarez denied having anything to do with the cartels but he bought a new house shortly after he sold the guns. He also hired a cartel lawyer when federal investigators began looking into the purchase.

    Bensman’s story included interesting details about Alvarez:

    The Nuevo Laredo brothel owned by the mother of Raúl Alvarez Jr. seems out of place amid the rows of broken-down bordellos that crowd the city’s pink-walled “Zone of Tolerance,” or Boys’ Town. Prostitutes amble up and down the uneven gravel streets strewn with garbage picked over by skeletal dogs.

    The Danash Mens Club is newly built in the garish likeness of a medieval castle. It’s all bright lights outside and shiny gold dance poles inside on a main floor covered over by plush, red cushioned seats.

    In a recent interview, Alvarez explained that drug syndicate operatives prefer the Danash to the other zone brothels for what are to him obvious reasons.

    “We have the best girls,” said Alvarez, whose rail-thin body and boyish features make him look far younger than 29.

    But even though the narcos often take the girls away for days at a time without paying, they otherwise let him and his mother operate the family business without too much meddling.

    Knowing what Alvarez did with the guns would help the ATF move one step closer to the smugglers. It would be illegal but tough to prove if Alvarez had fronted for a cartel contact from the club. Alvarez must have sensed trouble for himself when an ATF agent called, especially when the agent told him during an initial phone call “there was a mess down in Mexico” involving some guns Alvarez bought.

    He hired a Laredo lawyer known to defend drug-trafficking suspects and then refused to talk further to the ATF.

    Check out the whole story here.