By Adam Housley, Fox News
LOS ANGELES - Mexican drug cartels are said to be moving up California to move their product, and investigators say the groups are profiting and avoiding detection with the help of gang members.
From extortion schemes, to vicious violent crimes, to working with southern California street gangs -- are Mexican cartels strengthening their grip in California?
"I would say yes. And what concerns me is the political shift in Mexico, cause it, the shift, might make it even stronger in California," says Ventura County Assistant Sheriff Gary Pentis.
With a change in political leadership south of the border, there is a fear that the Mexican government might not crack down and fight the cartels like they have in recent years.
This concerns Ventura County Assistant Sheriff Gary Pentis, who already sees the cartels becoming more brazen.
"The cartel is here. It's in Los Angeles. They're recruiting from gangs in Compton, southwest, to do their work. It's about the money. I've never seen the street gangs ever have a position of authority. They're like labor. Ruthless labor," says Pentis.
Cartels have been working in California for years, but in an effort to make more money, avoid prosecution and strengthen, they have eliminated the middle man and now work directly with California street and prison gangs.
They are also going out of their way, literally, to extend authority over California drug trafficking by shipping drugs on boats several hundred miles north of the border.
"Where we're at a challenge is, they have an unconstrained budget. So they're moving to more sophisticated means of smuggling, particularly low-profile vessels that we call semi-submersible self-propelled vessels. And even with the potential of them developing fully-submersible, submarines if you will, to move their commodity, which again is worth billions of dollars," says Vice Admiral Paul Zukunft, United States Coast Guard.
A recent FBI report on U.S. gang activity asserts that nearly 4 in 10 U.S. gang members now have ties to Mexican drug cartels -- far more than any other outside group. And the number of gang members operating in the U.S. shot up 40% in just the past year to 1.4 million.