Lee Allen
Shadow Wolf John Bothof (Sioux) says "Just because you're Native American, you don't always have the inherent skills to be a tracker. They have to be learned and practiced regularly."

Shadow Wolves – A Smuggler’s Worst Nightmare

Lee Allen

Shadow Wolf John Bothof (Sioux) likes to tell the story about one of the original group of seven trackers, Stanley Liston, who epitomized the process of stealth. “He was so good he could sneak into a throw-down camp when the bad guys were sleeping, survey the scene, and come back out and tell waiting law enforcement officers that this guy is here and that guy is there and the dope is here. He got the nickname of Shadow Man because he could become a part of the scene without being detected and that title morphed into the Shadow Wolves.”

The wolf pack, once as large as 20-plus members, has been hit hard by the recession and subsequent budget cuts and is now down to about a dozen trackers who work in inter-governmental cooperation with the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol; the Bureau of Land Management; Homeland Security Investigations personnel; sheriff’s deputies in two adjacent counties, and the Tohono O’odham Police Department.

“There’s a huge federal footprint on tribal lands now that wasn’t there years ago,” says Angel Rascon, Assistant Special Agent in Charge of the Homeland Security operation in Sells. “Because of the sheer amount of traffic we see here on the Nation – different corridors run by different smuggling operations – several task forces come together to handle federal, state, and tribal issues.”

Smugglers of both people and dope, wear home-made rug slippers over their shoes to minimize the footprints available for tracking. (Lee Allen)

Politics notwithstanding, the two veteran supervisors of the Shadow Wolf unit, Kevin Cross (Tohono O’odham) and David Scout (Lakota Sioux) have their eyes trained on the desert and unexplained clouds of dust. “We don’t catch smugglers every day, but the ones that get away just make us want to catch them even more,” Scout said.

Although the desert is huge, certain smuggling corridors are used frequently.  “But it’s not just a single corridor, a specific route they rely on,” says Shadow Wolf Kevin Carlos, “it’s a spider web of routes they can utilize to their advantage. This is obviously a lucrative business and those spider webs are owned and operated by an individual belonging to a particular cartel organization. The spotter in the mountains is the key because he can warn the smugglers to change their route. And if we take those ‘eyes’ out of the picture, a replacement will quickly arrive. It’s a challenge for us on the scouting end. We could take them down, all day long, but it’s like ants – they just keep coming.


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