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.
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.
In the first installment of this reporting project published on June 27, 2010 in The Commercial Appeal, Daniel Connolly explores the city of Memphis' connection to the international drug trade. On July 4, 2010, The Commercial Appeal will publish the second installment, which will focus on Mexico's role in the drug war.
Explore the full multimedia presentation at The Commercial Appeal.