Jesús Malverde has been revered for almost a century in northwestern Mexico. According to folklore, he was a Mexican Robin Hood who took from the rich and gave to the poor until he was killed by the police in 1909.
Now, immigrants have brought his legend to the United States. His image, which is thought to offer protection from the law, can be found on items that include T-shirts and household cleaners.
Malverde is widely considered the patron saint of drug dealers, say law enforcement officials and experts on Mexican culture. A shrine has been erected atop his grave in the remote city of Culiacán in the Mexican state of Sinaloa, which has long been associated with opium and marijuana trafficking.
"The drug guys go to the shrine and ask for assistance and come back in big cars and with stacks of money to give thanks," said James Creechan, a Canadian sociologist and adjunct professor at the Autonomous University of Sinaloa in Culiacán.
But Creechan, who presented a paper on Malverde to the American Society of Criminology in 2005, added that the poor also pray to Malverde for money and safe passage across the border into the United States.
....Five years ago, Indio Products, a manufacturer in the Los Angeles area that distributes mystical products, did not carry any Malverde merchandise. Today, it has a full line of Malverde items including candles, rosaries, trading cards, stamps, hair oils and bathroom cleaners. The company's president, Martin Mayer, said Malverde's popularity was spreading.
....drug enforcement authorities in Mexico and the United States said Malverde statues, tattoos and amulets can be tip-offs to illegal activity.
"We send squads out to local hotel and motel parking lots looking for cars with Malverde symbols on the windshield or hanging from the rearview mirror," said Sergeant Rico Garcia with the narcotics division of the Houston Police Department. "It gives us a clue that something is probably going on."
....Last month, Cervecería Minerva, a Mexican microbrewery in the central-western state of Jalisco, introduced a beer called Malverde. Company officials said they chose Malverde's name and image for its label because he was the most recognizable and admired figure in focus groups.
"Drug smugglers drink it like holy water," Garcia said.