US Customs seizes YouTube records in drug and death threat investigation

The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency executed a search warrant against YouTube and Hotmail as part of an investigation against a drug trafficker who was threatening the life of his brother, Google Watch has learned.

The drug trafficker, who was arrested in May, 2005 at the Mexico/California border after agents found 25.3 kilograms of cocaine (about 56 pounds) in the spare tire of his 2003 Chevy Silverado, is suspected of sending death threats to his brother via YouTube's video e-mail service.

According to the search warrant, the death threats were sent after the brother assisted Customs' officers by informing them that the drug trafficker -- who was living with his mother post-arrest -- had falsified information relating to his sentencing, and that the trafficker was bragging about "pulling one over on the government."

But instead of sending the threats directly to his brother, the trafficker -- apparently a YouTube member -- sent them to his brother's son, who has a Hotmail account.

The search warrant, executed March 16, requests "all images, text messages and other from any and all YouTube accounts associated with" the drug trafficker's name. The search warrant also requests records from Hotmail pertaining to the death threat recipient.

"YouTube complies with valid U.S. legal process," a YouTube spokesperson said via e-mail. "As a matter of policy we generally do not publicly discuss legal matters."

The first threat arrived January 24, 2007. The e-mail read (identifying names and e-mail addresses have been removed):

FROM: YouTube Service
Subject: XXXXXX sent you a video!
Date: Wed, 24 Jan 2007 00:32:49-0800 (PST)

The email included a hyperlink to a video (since removed) and a description of that video which, translated into English from Spanish, read: "here is presented a video pertaining to Valentin Elizalde's cause of death, and this song and video was made at the behest of El Chapo Guzman and is dedicated to his enemies..."

The video included images of people who were apparently assassinated by gunfire. The personal message read: "Your dad needs to see this video before he makes phone calls. Thanks, XXXXXX."

The personal message was signed by a screen name that mimicked the name of the known drug trafficker.

The following day the son received another video e-mail depicting an assassination, followed by another personal message in Spanish. The translated message read: "Young man: Give this message to your dad: Listen Mr. XXXX, if you f*ck us, we will f*ck you with all our might. Think about it well man. The Gulf." The message was signed by the same screen name.

According to the search warrant the drug trafficker's mother, upon learning of the brother's involvement with Customs, threatened to disinherit the brother if he continued to work with the government against the family.

Although it is unclear whether the drug trafficker is associated with Mexican drug cartels, those cartels have been taunting each other with YouTube videos in recent months.