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'Rip crews' patrolling the desert to steal from smugglers

'Rip crews' patrolling the desert to steal from smugglers

CREATED Jun 30, 2011

Reporter: Sergio Avila
Web Producer: Layla Tang

FLORENCE, Ariz. (KGUN9-TV) - Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano confirmed last week that U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry was killed pursuing a gang of border bandits.

These criminals, also known as "rip crews," steal from smugglers and illegal immigrants alike and are often described as the lowest of the low.  They are also operating all across the desert, near and far from the border.  In Pinal County, Sheriff Paul Babeu's deputies have had recent run-ins with these bandits.  Babeu says it's not uncommon to see human and drug smugglers guiding their loads while heavily armed.  He told 9 On Your Side the heavy weapons are aimed at the rip crews.

"It's not literally to fight law enforcement.  It's to protect against these bandits or rip crews or pirates that are trying to steal from them," Babeu said.  According to the Sheriff, these crews are always ready for a fight and are armed to the teeth.

"We know for a fact they carry long guns.  They carry semi-automatic weapons.  A lot of them have prior military training.  Some of the highest type level special forces type training and they're military down in Mexico," Babeu said.  These mercenaries are often lured by money.  Babeu told KGUN9 the drug cartels can usually offer then two or three times what they make in the Mexican military.  He added that the well-trained bandits often use military tactics to track drug smugglers.

Pinal county deputies recently recovered a vehicle that was made to look like a patrol car with steel push bumper, blue and red lights, and a siren.  Babeu said he believes a rip crew outfitted the car and tried to pull over smugglers to steal their stash.  When real deputies arrived, everyone fled.  What Babeu thinks makes rip crews even more dangerous is that often times they work alone and play by their own rules.

"They're not directly connected usually to other cartels.  There have been incidents in the past and people have said they are competing interests in cartel activity.  More often than not they are criminal elements that are working independently that are stealing from other criminals," Babeu explained.

So if these criminals are stealing from each other, why not leave them alone, asked 9OYS reporter Sergio Avila.  Babeu replied that the bandits are equipped to harm others and he doesn't want them to take liberties with the law while on U.S. soil.  He added that while rip crews are usually made up of illegal immigrants, U.S. citizens are known to join such gangs of bandits.