Utah’s Romney introduces bill to impose sanctions on drug cartels, require report on killings of U.S. citizens in Mexico

(Trent Nelson | Salt Lake Tribune file photo) Two boys are coated in dust as dirt is shoveled after the funeral for Dawna Langford and two of her children, Trevor and Rogan, in La Mora, Sonora, on Thursday, Nov. 7, 2019.

In response to the killings in Mexico of three mothers and six children with Utah ties, Sen. Mitt Romney and some of his Republican colleagues unveiled a bill Thursday that would impose sanctions on foreign crime organizations, including drug cartels.

The measure also would require the Trump administration to issue a report to Congress about last month’s killings near La Mora in northern Mexico. The report would include a conclusion as to whether the organization responsible should be designated a “Significant Transnational Criminal Organization” and face sanctions.

“This legislation will better equip us to meet the threats our nation faces from violent cartels and other foreign criminal networks,” Romney said in a news release.

The bill would echo laws already used against terror organizations. Crime syndicates could have their assets on U.S. soil or in U.S. banks seized, criminal charges could be filed and members of the organizations could be barred from entering the United States.

(Trent Nelson | Tribune file photo) U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, in Salt Lake City, Oct. 10, 2019.

Leah Staddon, who lives in Queen Creek, Ariz., but grew up in La Mora and is related to the victims of last month’s killings, said in a text message Thursday that she supports anything that will hurt the cartels.

“They can’t be much more cutthroat than they already are,” Staddon wrote.

Romney is the second Utah senator to pursue consequences against the drug cartels.

On Nov. 25, Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, along with Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., asked Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and FBI Director Christopher Wray to consider whether existing laws could be used to punish the drug cartels responsible for the killings.

Sasse is a co-sponsor of the bill with Romney. Other Republican co-sponsors are Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina; Josh Hawley of Missouri, David Perdue of Georgia and John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, both of Texas.

On Nov. 4, gunmen opened fire on three cars on two stretches of dirt road east of La Mora. The first attack killed Rhonita Miller, 30, and four of her children: 12-year-old Howard, 10-year-old Krystal, and 8-month-old twins Titus and Tiana.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) A Mexican military vehicle passes the site where two vehicles were attacked by gunman, killing Dawna Ray Langford and Christina Marie Langford, along with two of Dawna's children (Trevor, 11, and Rogan, 3) near La Mora, Sonora on Friday Nov. 8, 2019.

About 10 miles up the road, men atop a ridge fired upon two SUVs carrying Dawna Langford, 43, and Christina Marie Langford Johnson, 31, and their children. The mothers died, as did two of Dawna Langford’s sons 11-year-old Trevor and 2-year-old Rogan.

La Mora’s residents — most of whom reportedly have now fled the town — can trace their roots to the late 19th and early 20th century, when members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints went to Mexico to continue the practice of polygamy. The Utah-based faith abandoned polygamy more than a century ago and now excommunicates members found practicing it.

The families in La Mora have maintained U.S. citizenship, and many households have relatives who married into so-called fundamentalist Mormon groups in Utah.

Johnson’s brother, Adam Langford, is the former presidente (the equivalent of the mayor) in La Mora, Sonora. On Thursday, he declined to offer an opinion on the proposed legislation in the U.S. Senate. He was focused on another, more-recent problem for La Mora and northern Mexico.

Late last month, floods swept through La Mora and the surrounding communities. Langford said he lost some pecan trees and an irrigation pivot when the Rio Bavispe overflowed its banks, but he is better off than many Mexican households along the river.

“A lot of families lost their entire [herds] of cows," he said in a telephone interview.

Langford on Thursday was driving north to the twin communities of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., to pick up relief supplies, including food, clothes and blankets. The relief effort is being organized by a registered charity in the twin border towns called Cherish Families.