Imagine a violent Mexican drug cartel that's paying massive bribes to everybody, including the country's top anti-drug official. Now imagine that the cartel relies heavily on a man from a tough neighborhood in Memphis to stay rich enough to pay those bribes.

That's the story of Craig Petties, who authorities say lived in Mexico for years and played a crucial role as wholesaler for the Beltran Leyva cartel, shipping tons of cocaine and marijuana to Tennessee and other states. Petties even used cell phones to arrange assassinations of rivals in Memphis, according to an indictment.

It's a tale of what happens when the misery of America's inner cities collides with the poverty and weak institutions of the developing world. His story shows that when Americans buy illegal drugs — even a small amount of seemingly harmless marijuana — they're likely contributing to the corrosive river of drug money flowing south.

Legalization is a long-debated but unlikely prospect throughout most of the United States, and in the meantime, the fight for drug money harms society on both sides of the border.

Daniel Connolly's picture
Daniel Connolly is a staff reporter for The Commercial Appeal, the leading daily newspaper in Memphis. A Memphis native, Connolly was a Fulbright fellow in Germany in 2001-2002 and completed...

Blood Trade: Memphis and the Mexican Drug War