Valerie Hamilton's last hours of life were spent in a dark house at the end of 15th Street. (Google Image of the house is here) But the road leading to the dark house starts nearly 1750 miles away on the outskirts of Juarez Mexico.
It's around 4 in the afternoon as Marvis Junina makes his way quietly past a dozen men and women waiting to climb into the back of a faded blue Ford stake side pickup truck.
He hands a small envelope to the man wearing Ray Bans and a cowboy hat, the man says nothing and without a smile opens the passenger door and motions Junina to get in the front seat as the others pile into the truck bed.
Junina is one of 13 Mexican nationals who will come to the United States illegally via human traffickers on this night. His fee, paid in American dollars for this, his 5th trip across the border since July.
Most of the men and women in the back of the truck are nervous and fearful, but Marvis is calm and relaxed. In another hour he'll be in the desert moving quietly north on this moonless night. While other men and women carry small bags of clothing Junina carries a small back pack that is considerably more valuable. Within the bag hidden inside the lining is a sizable amount of Black Tar Heroin from the Nayarit region of Mexico.
Screen Shot from the film Mojados: Through the Night.
Once in the United States Junina and the other illegals will climb into an 18 wheeler for a 2 hour drive that is made over an ever changing series of dirt roads, cris-crossing the emptiness of southwest Texas, by day break he'll be comfortably seated in a non discript car heading east on the interstate to Memphis and eventually Charlotte.
In Charlotte the drug runner Junina will disappear into the exploding Latino population. A Mexican population that numbered less than 2,000 in 1990 and had swelled to more than 40,000 at the end of 2008. The expanding Mexican population has made it easy for drug traffickers and drug cells to blend in among the hard working Latinos in Charlotte.
A week from now he'll be back in Juarez Mexico, ready to make another trip as a courier carrying Black Tar Heroin across the border.
Charlotte's ties to the killing grounds of Juarez Mexico and other towns along the Texas, New Mexico and Arizona border are strong and the common denominator is drugs, mainly cocaine and marijuana, but emerging as a powerful force is Black Tar Heroin.
A month before Jonthan Fitzgerald plunged a knife into Oscar Alvarado Chavez, Javier Torres Gutierrez was sentenced to 121 months in Federal Prison for his role in a Black Tar Heroin cell, much like the one that employs fictional character Mavis Junina and deceased distributor Chavez.
WBTV News coverage of the arrest of Gutierrez and others is here.
On July 29, 2010 Javier Torres Gutierrez a former Mexican national stood before a judge inside Charlotte's Federal Court House. His sentence gathered little attention from the press. In fact the Western District didn't produce a press release until October 1, 2010, The press release is here.
Javier Torres Gutierrez
But the story told from court affidavits is sobering.
Just after midday on June 16, 2009, Javier Torres-Gutiérrez received a phone call at his two-story home in a residential neighborhood outside uptown Charlotte.
Located five minutes away from the gleaming campus of the University of North Carolina-Charlotte, Torres-Gutiérrez’ home was modern and quiet, at the end of a suburban cul-de-sac.
On the other end of the line was a man only known at the time to law enforcement as “Juancho” and who was based somewhere in Mexico. “Juancho” was asking Torres-Gutiérrez whether another man known as “Costeño” had arrived in Charlotte
Torres-Gutiérrez told “Juancho” that “Costeño” had arrived safely in Charlotte that morning after being smuggled into the US from Mexico.
Police investigations later confirmed that “Costeño” was the newest runner of a five-man Mexican black tar heroin distribution cell in the Charlotte area, whose leader was Javier Torres-Gutiérrez, a U.S. citizen.
Despite being somewhere in Mexico, “Juancho” seemed to have a tight grip on the Charlotte cell’s daily operations.
One week after carefully monitoring “Costeño’s” arrival in the US, “Juancho” questioned Torres-Gutiérrez about the whereabouts of another member of the cell, an undocumented immigrant from Mexico known only as “Gallo”.
According to Torres-Gutiérrez, Gallo was making some inroads distributing black tar heroin in Winston-Salem, just 90 minutes north of Charlotte.
During the same conversation “Juancho” also asked Torres-Gutiérrez whether there was anyone else from the group helping him with the business that day. Torres-Gutiérrez replied that another undocumented Mexican immigrant known only as “Pelirrojo” was helping him package black tar heroin inside a suburban apartment complex in Rock Hill, a city just across the state border in South Carolina, where they were cutting the product into personal doses.
Considering the level of oversight that he had of the Charlotte cell, law enforcement had reason to believe that “Juancho” was providing the basic knowledge necessary to run a black tar heroin business in the U.S.
Most importantly, however, “Juancho” was not only providing Torres-Gutiérrez with business management knowledge, but was also the main source of his product.
During their conversations in the summer of 2009, both men discussed the whereabouts of other black tar heroin producers in Mexico.
Phone conversations intercepted by law enforcement in June 2009 revealed that Torres-Gutiérrez committed himself to buying two ounces of heroin delivered by “Juancho” at a price of $1,050 per ounce. “Juancho” arranged for an intermediary to bring the product into Charlotte driving all the way from the well-established heroin market of Columbus, Ohio.
During their conversations, “Juancho” assured Torres-Gutiérrez of the high quality of his heroin and offered in consignment three more ounces. It is important to note that from time to time Torres-Gutiérrez and other independent cells in Charlotte bought ounces of heroin from each other.
Judging from the evidence in this case, and other cases like it, Torres-Gutiérrez’ activity can be best described as a Dominos Pizza franchise-kind of business. Through this arrangement, a trusted brand (“Juancho”) provided Torres-Gutiérrez with seed-money to start his business, operational know-how, and immigrant labor in exchange for a percentage of the drug proceeds.
The profit margin for the operation was very good, proceeds were often sent to Mexico via WalMart and while the amounts of the transactions were small they were frequent.
The Charlotte Observer's Franco Ordoñez explored this same underbelly of Charlotte is a story that ran on April 5, 2009 with the headline: “Charlotte Emerges as Hub for Potent Heroin" a copy of that story is here.
As recently as the late 1990's Black Tar Heroin was found only in Mexico and Southern California. But as legal and illegal Mexican immigrants have migrated to the Carolina's most populous city so has the Heroin drug trade.
CMPD estimates that there are at least 10 Black Tar Heroin cells operating within Charlotte City Limits.
The deaths of Valerie Hamilton and Oscar Alvarado Chavez are only two of 77 deaths state wide connected to Black Tar Heroin in the last year.
For many the road to Black Tar Heroin began with the abuse of prescription drugs Oxycontin or Vicodin. In February 2008 the DEA stated that black tar heroin’s availability in North Carolina was underrepresented in their estimates. By February 2009, the agency fully acknowledged the pervasiveness of the black tar heroin problem in North Carolina saying that heroin seizures had increased 77 percent between 2007 and 2008.
The target demographic of the Black Tar marketing plan are typically suburban white males between 16 and 28 years. A stastic that brackets both Fitzgearld and Harvey.
Much of the above was derived from conversations with informed sources, Franco Odonez story published by The Charlotte Observer, and from a "White Paper" report by José Díaz-Briseño titled "Crossing the Mississippi: How Mexican Black Tar Heroin moved into the Eastern United States".
Additionally the 1999 film: "Black Tar Heroin: The Dark End of the Street" gives an unfiltered look at the lives of black tar heroin addicts as well as the title for this post. The film by HBO productions can be found here.