Somerton, Arizona January 12, 2012 - Religious items depicting Patron Saints whom drug traffickers and smugglers hold dear represent a danger to law enforcement and the public.
U.S. Marshal Robert Almonte teaches "The Patron Saints of the Mexican Drug Underworld,"a full-day seminar geared toward law enforcement professionals nationwide. The U.S. Marshals Service and Cocopah-Somerton Police hosted the course at Cocopah Resort & Casino. The class gives authorities an inside perspective into the drug traffickers' spiritual world.
"The spiritual world is a very big part of and big belief of the criminal world, the underworld. They incorporate prayer into their criminal activity. And basically what they're doing is they're praying to these different icons for protection from law enforcement so they won't get arrested, so that their drugs won't be confiscated, drug money, weapons...so that they will be able to succeed in their criminal activity."
Marshal Almonte says many worship Jesus Malverde, the Patron Saint of Drug Traffickers.
"They're praying to him because a lot of these drug traffickers believe that...they see themselves as a Jesus Malverde," says Marshal Almonte. "Yeah, we're doing something illegal, but we're doing it for the right reasons."
Other popular patron saints for criminals are Santa Muerte (Holy Death) and Juan Soldado (Patron Saint of Illegal Immigrants.) Authorities found this prayer on an illegal immigrant smuggler.
"Give your voluntary help to my people in the name of God. Defend me from justice and the jails of the powerful one."
While none of these saints are recognized by the Catholic Church, many pray to a traditional one: St. Jude, the Patron Saint of Lost Causes.
"A drug trafficker traveling the highways and byways of Arizona with a vehicle loaded with drugs perceive that to be a death threat or a difficult situation," says Marshal Almonte. "So they call upon St. Jude to help them out. So St. Jude, as far as a Catholic thing, St. Jude is the most popular ones being used by criminals."
Almonte says gangs are worshipping these patron saints of the underworld too. Parents should look for warning signs.
"He's got all kinds of statues and icons in his room," says Marshal Almonte. "You know, it maybe a good idea to take a look at these things."
U.S. Marshal David Gonzales says Marshal Almonte's course has led authorities to make several drug and money seizures.
"We've heard from officers from around the country that have been to this class," says Marshal Gonzales. "[When] they've done a search warrant, they stop the car and they saw one...a symbol that they saw here first in this class, that lead them to say, 'Wait a minute, I need to look into this further and determine that this person was involved in some major drug traffic or human smuggling or smuggling guns."
Marshal Almonte teaches authorities to spot other religious icons that can alert them to danger."There are some that pray to the devil for protection from law enforcement," says Marshal Almonte. "Criminal activity is evil. It's evil."
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