WATERTOWN, Wis. - In this Midwestern town 1,500 miles from Mexico, in a place that proudly proclaims itself the birthplace of kindergarten, Coco the cocaine kingpin flourished.
Coco came to the United States illegally, and used layers of family members and henchmen to build an operation that saturated southeastern Wisconsin with cocaine until authorities moved in. Then the players started falling — two dead in Mexico, nearly two dozen locked up in American prisons.
It's a story that echoes elsewhere. The U.S. Justice Department says more than 200 U.S. cities have seen cartel-related drug smuggling. Much has been made of Houston's gun trafficking, Phoenix's kidnappings and Atlanta's status as a drug-distribution hub.
But Coco's tale illustrates just how far from the border Mexican drug dealers set up shop, and how easily they infiltrate a town, hide in plain sight and build a lucrative operation.
"You feel that Watertown is a safe town and that you're isolated from a lot of that," said Karen Timm, 62, who lives two doors down from an apartment one of Coco's dealers used. "Now you know that you're vulnerable."