Authorities unwilling to confirm if ‘Big Momma’ cocaine kingpin faces charges in Mexico

“MX” for Borderland Beat

Idalia Ramos Rangel (circa 2013)
High-ranking Gulf Cartel member Idalia Ramos-Rangel, also known by her alias Big Momma, is wanted by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) for her alleged involvement in cocaine trafficking since the mid-1980s. The FBI is offering a US$25,000 bounty to anyone who provides information that leads to her arrest and conviction. But authorities in Mexico are unwilling to confirm if Ramos-Rangel also faces charges in her home country. It is not uncommon for Mexican nationals to have outstanding drug charges in the U.S. and not be suspected of wrongdoing in Mexico.
Borderland Beat reporter “MX” filed an information request via Mexico’s National Institute for Transparency (INAI) earlier this year inquiring about Ramos-Rangel’s criminal status. The request asked if Ramos-Rangel had any outstanding charges in Mexico (noting that the FBI publicly suspected her of drug trafficking), if she had ever been arrested, convicted, absolved and/or released in Mexico. We also asked if there was a formal extradition request from the U.S. government. The Mexican government refused to provide Borderland Beat with such information and cited Ramos-Rangel’s “privacy” as their rationale.

Though Mexico boasts about having one of the world’s best right-to-information laws, it does very little in practice. Journalists and activists say that Mexico has a terrible record for transparency and often withholds information to the public, especially for requests pertaining to the ongoing drug war. The INAI is ran by the government and is thereby not politically independent. In this report, Borderland Beat will provide an overview of Ramos-Rangel and her alleged criminal network with the only publicly available information about her.

Early life and background
Idalia Ramos Rangel was born in Matamoros, Tamaulipas, Mexico, on 20 May 1955. According to the FBI, Ramos-Rangel has been responsible for coordinating international drug trafficking activities from Mexico to the United States since the mid-1980s. She is reportedly a high-ranking member of the Gulf Cartel, a criminal group based in Tamaulipas. She is a particularly unusual figure in organized crime circles, given her involvement over several decades in the male-dominated Mexican drug trafficking industry.
Ramos-Rangel has altered her physical appearance multiple times, by dying her hair blonde and through plastic surgery. The FBI suspects that her file pictures may be outdated, and that her appearance may have changed again.

Idalia Ramos Rangel (date unknown)
Among other personal details in her FBI profile, she is described as having been a business owner running multiple businesses in Mexico, including a sports bar in Matamoros. Investigators have stated that Ramos-Rangel is a regular Facebook user, and that she travels to Monterrey, Nuevo León, for pleasure. She is a breast cancer survivor.
In the late 1990s, U.S. authorities searched a home in Brownsville, Texas during an anti-marijuana operation. The agents were investigating a Mexican drug trafficking ring smuggling marijuana through Mexico, South Texas, Houston, and other parts of the United States. Ramos Rangel was discovered living at the house. US$15,000 in cash was found in a trash can, with a list of apparent drug transactions.

When questioned, Ramos Rangel refused to cooperate. She was arrested, not on drug charges but because she was in the country illegally. She had already served a prison sentence in the United States for a previous drug offense, and had been deported and ordered never to return to the country. Ramos Rangel was a low-level criminal during that time. In subsequent years, she rose through the leadership ranks of the Gulf Cartel.

U.S. indictments
On 2 May 2013, Ramos-Rangel was indicted by a federal grand jury in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas for several drug trafficking offenses, including possession of narcotics with intent to distribute them; cocaine trafficking; and using a telephone to coordinate drug trafficking activities.

The indictment stated that, on or around June 2008, Ramos-Rangel and 17 of her associates knowingly possessed, with intent to distribute, at least 5 kg (11 lb) of cocaine. Ramos Rangel was identified as the lead conspirator and was accused of employing her children and other relatives to facilitate the drug scheme.

Idalia Ramos Rangel (date: 1998)

Ramos-Rangel reportedly coordinated with her son, Mohammed Kazam Martinez (“Mo”), who was imprisoned at the Federal Correctional Institution in Forrest City, Arkansas, to recruit inmates to assist in distributing cocaine for her network upon their release from prison.

When Ramos-Rangel’s network used this hiring method it was a relatively new tactic for Mexican drug cartels. Inmates close to finishing their sentences are employed in order to work for the cartel on their release. These inmates are not directly part of the cartel’s hierarchy, and are generally regarded as “work-for-hire” members.

Among those inmates were Emmanuel Ilo (“Chi”) and Mervin Johnson (“Slim”), who distributed cocaine for her in central Arkansas after they were released. Ramos-Rangel’s son used the prison’s telephone system and emails to communicate with other members of her network.

In one recorded telephone conversation with Johnson, quoted in Ramos-Rangel’s indictment, Martinez mentions his mother’s role in the conspiracy while discussing a drug debt, saying: “You owe Big Momma some money. If you keep f***ing up, they gonna cut everybody off. You are gonna f**k [Ilo] and me up because of you.”

Ramos-Rangel’s current whereabouts are unknown, but investigators believe she may be hiding in Matamoros, her center of operations.

Note: This article includes excerpts from the Wikipedia page of Idalia Ramos Rangel, which was published by Borderland Beat reporter “MX” in September 2019. It includes over 25 sources.