A security force operation in Honduras is cracking down on a little-known drug trafficking organization known as Los Pinto, a clan that may be benefiting from debilitating blows to other criminal groups.
Last week, Honduran authorities seized 42 assets worth a total of 70 million Honduran lempiras ($3 million) allegedly belonging to the drug trafficking organization. As part of "Operation Sultan" -- which took place across the country -- officials seized 600 heads of cattle, 7 okra processing plants, 14 houses, 3 gas stations, 1 hotel, 50 cars and numerous other properties. In all, over the last two years, the Attorney General's Office has seized over a hundred assets allegedly belonging to Los Pinto in a series of operations.
According to official investigations cited by El Heraldo, Los Pinto have their roots in Copán department and are associates of the Valle Valle -- a family-run drug trafficking organization whose principal leaders were extradited to the United States in 2014.
SEE ALSO: Valle Valle Profile
Sources close to the investigation told El Heraldo that while the Valle Valle brothers and what is known as the AA Cartel (allegedly a reference to the cartel head, Alexander Ardón) controlled the western region of the country, Los Pinto operated in the south, on the border with Nicaragua.
In the past, Los Pinto allegedly had to report their illicit proceeds to the Valle Valle brothers. But since Valle Valle brothers' extradition, Los Pinto have become the "owners" of the trafficking route, according to El Heraldo. The group's center of operations continues to be the southern region of Honduras.
Los Pinto apparently own properties on both sides of the Honduran-Nicaraguan border in order to facilitate smuggling activities between the two countries -- a similar strategy to that used by the Valle Valle on the Guatemalan border.
Los Pinto launder their drug money through the cultivation and processing of okra, the Public Ministry has found, and the group has reportedly been involved in trafficking narcotics since at least 2003.
InSight Crime Analysis
While not much is known about Los Pinto compared to other groups that have long run smuggling activities across Honduras, this organization seems to have become more powerful as other transport groups have lost power. Luis Alonso and Miguel Arnulfo Valle Valle, for instance, are currently facing drug trafficking charges in the United States.
However, the Valle Valle are far from finished. The third brother wanted for extradition -- José Reynerio -- is on the run, and Luis Alonso's son has allegedly become the organization's second in command.
SEE ALSO: Honduras News and Profiles
In the meantime, operations against Los Pinto have targeted properties belonging to numerous family members, including Hugo Pinto Aguilar -- a congressman for the ruling National Party in the Copán department. His relatives José Daniel Pinto Aguilar and Orlando Pinto Espino have been accused of being "frontmen" for the Valle Valle brothers. Reportedly a businessman and cattle rancher, Daniel Pinto Aguilar was arrested briefly in May 2015, only to be released hours later because there was no valid arrest warrant against him.