Mexico City: Top Hitman For Knights Templar Drug Gang Arrested By Fedral Police

14 Jul

MEXICO CITY (AP) — The Mexican navy on Wednesday suspended its search for seven U.S. men missing since a charter fishing boat capsized and sank in Mexico’s Sea of Cortez on July 3.

Mexican Officials Extend Search For Missing Passengers Of Capsized BoatPlay Video

Mexican Officials Extend Search

The announcement came a day after the U.S. Coast Guard ended aerial searches, in which a C-130 Hercules aircrew had covered an 803-square-mile (2,080 square-kilometer) area off the Baja California coast.

Mexican navy Lt. Sindy Espinoza said the naval search was “in a suspended phase,” but could resume if new information on the sunken boat’s whereabouts came to light. He said the navy would be alert for any reports from passing boats that might spot debris or other signs of the wreck.

“It’s just a very sad day for all of us,” Joelle Bautista, wife of missing Russell Bautista of Penngrove, California, said of the decision to suspend the search. “I just wish it was a bad dream.”

Capt. Alonso Montalvo at the Baja California naval base in San Felipe said the navy “is maintaining its presence” in the area where the 105-foot (32-meter) fishing boat Erik went down about 60 miles (100 kilometers) south of San Felipe.

The search has been complicated by uncertainty about the spot where the boat came to rest. Espinoza said Mexican divers had looked for the wreck but were unable to find anything.

The United States has offered to send deep-water divers to help with the search, but Mexico has so far used its own divers.

The navy and other fishing boats pulled 19 fishermen and all 16 crew members from the water late Sunday. The survivors had clung to coolers, rescue rings and life vests for more than 16 hours after a sudden storm capsized the boat.

Most of the 27 U.S. tourists on board the ship were Northern California men who traveled to Mexico for an annual Independence Day fishing trip.

Craig Wong of Walnut Creek, California, who survived the sinking, likened the end of the search to shutting off a life-support machine for his brother Brian, who is missing. Brothers Gary and Glen Wong also survived the ordeal.

“My hope is that he is somewhere and the seven missing are somewhere on an island just surviving by the hour and by the day,” Wong told San Francisco’s KGO-TV.

NEWS UPDATE

MEXICO CITY (AP) — Mexico’s federal police have caught the top hitman for the Knights Templar drug gang in the western state of Michoacan, authorities said Wednesday.

Federal police allege that suspect Javier Beltran Arco oversaw murders for the meth-trafficking gang. Beltran Arco is known by the nickname “El Chivo,” or The Goat.

A federal police statement said that two suspected cartel lookouts had been detained with Beltran Arco, along with three assault rifles and about two pounds (0.8 kilograms) of methamphetamines.

Police also found books, clothing and banners referring to the Knights Templar, the statement said.

The gang split off recently from La Familia, a Michoacan-based drug cartel that also uses quasi-religious rhetoric and instructional material.

Also in Michoacan, authorities announced the seizure of 44 metric tons of chemicals used to produce methamphetamine. The material was found at the Lazaro Cardenas seaport in two containers that had been shipped from Shanghai in China.

In the northern Mexico border city of Ciudad Juarez, prosecutors raised Tuesday’s total of homicides to 21 from a previously reported 18. That made it the bloodiest day of 2011 so far, surpassing the 20 killings reported Feb. 18.

Ciudad Juarez, which sits across the border from El Paso, Texas, is a sprawling industrial city that has been plagued by violence as rival drug cartels fight over turf and smuggling routes.

NEWS UPDATE:

Former Columbus Police Chief Angelo Vega (AP)

The scandal-plagued, tiny New Mexico border town of Columbus is dissolving its police department and asking the county sheriff to protect its citizens. An employee at Columbus City Hall confirmed to The Lookout that the police force has been dissolved. The Luna County Sheriff’s Office will now take over patrolling the town.

The town has been upended since federal authorities arrested Police Chief Angelo Vega, Mayor Eddie Espinoza, Village Trustee Blas Gutierrez and nine other residents for conspiring to smuggle hundreds of guns to drug cartels over the border in March. All of the accused have pleaded not guilty, and their trial is expected in October, according to the Las Cruces Sun News. (You can read the indictment here.)

The Associated Press presciently reported in May of 2009 that a law enforcement “vacuum” had made the town attractive to drug smugglers who moved over the border to settle down in Columbus. The “four-man police force in Columbus has turned over seven times in three years because of scandal or apathy,” the AP reported, adding that more residents of the formerly modest town were driving flashy cars and buying fancy homes. Vega, who had then just nabbed the police chief job, told the AP that no illegal activity would be tolerated. “This is a new day for Columbus,” he said.

In another strange twist, the Las Cruces paper reported that the New Mexico U.S. Attorney’s Office has been relieved of its duties in prosecuting the trial late last month. Now, federal attorneys in El Paso, Texas will take over the case. Neither office would tell the paper what was behind the switch, and The Lookout has not yet received a reply to its a request for comment from us to the New Mexico U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Gutierrez, the village trustee, only resigned his post on July 8, months after his arrest; he maintains that the arrest was politically motivated. Gutierrez’s wife, Gabriela, has also been charged in the smuggling case, and a federal agent said when law enforcement officers made the arrest at their home she was “attempting to hide bulk cash on her person and within her children’s shoes.”

A new mayor, formerly the town clerk, was just elected in late June. The three remaining town trustees voted to dissolve the police department on July 7.

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