Mexico makes arrests in massacre of American women, children – minister

Mexico makes arrests in massacre of American women, children: minister
MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Mexico has made an unspecified number of arrests over last week’s massacre of three women and six children of dual U.S-Mexican nationality in the north of the country, Security Minister Alfonso Durazo said on Monday.

“There have been arrests, but it’s not up to us to give information,” Durazo told reporters in Mexico City.

The women and children from families of U.S. Mormon origin who settled in Mexico decades ago were killed last Monday on a remote dirt road in the state of Sonora by suspected drug cartel gunmen, sparking outrage and condemnation in the United States.

Durazo said that prosecutors in Sonora, as well as at the federal level, were in charge of the investigation.

However, a spokeswoman for the state government of Sonora said: “We don’t have that information.”

Mexico’s government has said it believes the victims were caught in the midst of a territorial dispute between an arm of the powerful Sinaloa Cartel and the rival Juarez Cartel.

On Sunday, Mexico’s government said it had asked the FBI to participate in the investigation into the killings.

(Reporting by Lizbeth Diaz; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

Killed American family may have been ‘bait’ in Mexican cartel fight: relatives

Killed American family may have been ‘bait’ in Mexican cartel fight: relatives
By Lizbeth Diaz

BAVISPE, Mexico (Reuters) – The nine American women and children killed in northern Mexico were victims of a territorial dispute between an arm of the Sinaloa Cartel and a rival gang, officials said on Wednesday, and may have been used to lure one side into a firefight.

Members of breakaway Mormon communities that settled in Mexico decades ago, the three families were ambushed as they drove along a dirt track in Sonora state, leading to U.S. President Donald Trump urging Mexico and the United States to “wage war’ together on the drug cartels.

Accounts emerging of Monday morning’s slayings detailed the heroism of a surviving boy who walked for miles to get help for his siblings, and heavy gun battles in the remote hill area that lasted for hours into the night after the attack.

“We were deliberately targeted, used as bait to lure one cartel against another,” said Lafe Langford, a cousin of some of the victims, who grew up in the same Mormon village.

Hitmen opened fire on the three mothers and 14 children traveling from a village in Sonora to meet with relatives in neighboring Chihuahua state and Phoenix, Arizona.

When the killers struck, the families were spread out along a 12-mile (20 km) stretch of road near the border of the two states, according to Mexican authorities and the families.

As bullets began to pummel the first car, a white Chevrolet Suburban, Christina Marie Langford Johnson stepped out waving her arms to show that they were not gang members, according to a family statement based on reports from the surviving children.

Christina was shot dead. Her baby, Faith, survived the attack in a child seat that her mother appeared to have placed on the floor before she got out.

Gunfire also ripped into a second white Suburban, carrying Dawna Langford and nine children, some two kilometers back, authorities said. Dawna and two sons were killed.

Reuters video of the vehicle showed more than a dozen bullet holes in the roof and sides of the vehicle. Inside, blood was smeared across seats and children’s toys.

A third car, 18 km behind, was shot up and burst into flames, killing Rhonita Miller and her four children.


Some hours earlier, the La Linea arm of the Chihuahua-based Juarez Cartel sent gunmen to defend the state border area, after attacks in a nearby town by the Los Salazar faction of the rival Sinaloa Cartel, a top Mexican general told reporters.

The Juarez Cartel wanted the Sinaloa Cartel off its turf, General Homero Mendoza said. While no official explanation has been given for the killings, Mendoza and other officials say the gang may have mistaken the families’ SUVs for those of its rival.

The Sinaloa and Juarez Cartels have for years been at odds over lucrative routes in the border region used to move cocaine, heroin and other narcotics into the United States. Mexico has long requested that Washington do more to control demand for drugs. Mexico has unleashed its military against cartels since 2006 but despite the arrests or killings of leading traffickers, the campaign has failed to reduce violence. In fact, it has led to more killings as criminal groups fight among themselves.

Mendoza said the Miller car appeared to have exploded because of the gunfire. More than 200 spent shell casings were left behind.

Relatives of the victims rejected the mistaken identity theory, arguing that shell casings and personal belongings found near the torched car suggest the attackers came close and made sure everybody was dead before igniting the vehicle.

“They shot us up, burned our vehicles to send a smoke signal into the sky,” Langford said, arguing that the gang’s goal was to draw the Sinaloa gunmen into battle.

The families’ account of the attacks and subsequent efforts to recover the surviving children include reports of shooting from the hillsides that continued well after dusk.

A man was arrested in a nearby town in a truck carrying a .50 caliber Barrett rifle and other military-grade weaponry, but the government later said he was not linked to the murders.

The Mexican government countered Trump’s call by urging Washington to help stop the flow of American weapons south of the border, and Security Minister Alfonso Durazo said Remington shell casings of U.S. origin were found at the crime scene.

“That’s one of the most relevant details we can give you,” he told reporters at a news conference on Wednesday.


When the gunmen shot dead his mother and two brothers, the uninjured 13-year-old Devin Langford hid six surviving siblings nearby and walked for 14 miles (23 km) to find a rescue party.

“After witnessing his mother and brothers being shot dead, Dawna (Langford)’s son Devin hid his six other siblings in the bushes and covered them with branches to keep them safe while he went for help,” the families said in their statement.

For 11 hours, relatives had no idea about what had happened to their loved ones.

The youngest of Devin’s siblings, 9-month old Oliver, was shot in the chest; 8-year-old Cody had bullet wounds to the jaw and the leg, while Xander, 4, had been hit in the back. Brothers Trevor, 11, and Rogan, 2, lay dead.

When Devin failed to return, his 9-year-old sister Mckenzie, who was grazed in the arm, went after him and walked 10 miles before getting lost in the dark. Search parties later found her, the families said. Another sister, Kylie, was shot in the foot, while sibling Ryder was uninjured.

Nearby were the bodies of the Miller family, including 8-month-old twins Titus and Tiana.

“All shot and burned in their vehicle,” the statement said. “Only ashes and a few bones remain.”

(Reporting by Andrew Hay in Canon, New Mexico and Lizbeth Diaz in Bavispe, Mexico; Additional reporting by Frank Jack Daniel, Sharay Angulo, Noe Torres and Dave Graham in Mexico City; Editing by Grant McCool)

Under armed escort, mourner convoys reach Mexican village for U.S. family funerals

Under armed escort, mourner convoys reach Mexican village for U.S. family funerals
By Jose Luis Gonzalez

BAVISPE, Mexico (Reuters) – Convoys of vehicles carrying relatives of a group of American women and children slain by unknown gunmen snaked through the dark from as far away as the United States into a remote Mexican region ahead of funerals for the victims to be held on Thursday and Friday.

Members of breakaway Mormon communities that settled in Mexico decades ago, the three dual-nationality women and six children were ambushed in Sonora state on Monday, leading to U.S. President Donald Trump urging Mexico and the United States to “wage war’ together on the drug cartels.

Late on Monday, dozens of SUV-style vehicles and pickup trucks escorted by Mexican National Guard outliers rolled into the municipality of Bavispe, where funerals will be held for two of the women and their families on Thursday.

“We came prepared to sleep on the floor, in tents. Whatever is needed to support the families who died in this terrorist act,” said Alex LeBaron, a former Congressman and cousin of one of the women, Rhonita Miller.

The remains of Miller and her children, whose bodies were reduced to ash and bones when the car they were in was shot at and went up in flames, are due to be buried in another village called Colonia LeBaron on Friday.

Alex LeBaron, who was with the convoy, told Mexican radio that mourners had come from the United States and across Mexico, bringing food and mattresses for the journey.

The LeBaron family, which came to Mexico in the early 20th century, now claims to be made up of more than 5,000 members.

Authorities and relatives say the killings appeared to be the work of the Juarez and the Sinaloa Cartels, who fight for control of lucrative drug routes that run through the sparsely populated mountainous areas into the United States.

Mexico has unleashed its military against cartels since 2006 but despite the arrests or killings of leading traffickers, the campaign has failed to reduce violence. Instead, it has led to more killings as criminal groups fight among themselves.

The victims came from prominent local families, including the LeBarons, Millers and Langfords.

Nestled in the fertile valleys of the Sierra Madre mountains just a few hours drive south from the U.S. border, the oldest communities stem from the late 1800s, when upheaval over polygamy in the Utah-based church led to their founding.

The settlements have marriage ties to others in the United States.

(The story is refiled to add Thursday as one date of funerals in first paragraph)

(Reporting by Jose Luis Gonzalez; Additional reporting by Noe Torres; Writing by Frank Jack Daniel; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

Nine Americans killed in Mexican ambush, Trump urges joint war on drug cartels

Nine Americans killed in Mexican ambush, Trump urges joint war on drug cartels
By Lizbeth Diaz

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Gunmen killed nine women and children in the bloodiest attack on Americans in Mexico for years, prompting U.S. President Donald Trump to offer to help the neighboring country wipe out drug cartels believed to be behind the ambush.

The nine people killed in Monday’s daytime attack at the border of Chihuahua and Sonora states belonged to the Mexican-American LeBaron, Langford, Miller and Johnson families, members of breakaway Mormon communities that settled in northern Mexico’s hills and plains decades ago.

A video posted on social media showed the charred and smoking remains of a vehicle riddled with bullet holes that was apparently carrying some of the victims on a dirt road when the attack occurred.

Christina Marie Langford Johnson and her daughter Faith Marie, part of a breakaway Mormon community who were attacked in Mexico, pose in an undated photo released by a family member November 5, 2019. Courtesy of Aaron Staddon via REUTERS

“This is for the record,” says a male voice speaking English in an American accent, off camera, choking with emotion.

“Nita and four of my grandchildren are burnt and shot up,” the man says, apparently referring to Rhonita LeBaron, one of the three women who died in the attack.

Reuters could not independently verify the video.

A relative, Julian LeBaron, called the incident a massacre and said some family members were burned alive.

In a text message to Reuters he wrote that four boys, two girls and three women were killed. Several children who fled the attack were lost for hours in the countryside before being found, he said.

He said it was unclear who carried out the attack.

“We don’t know why, though they had received indirect threats. We don’t know who did it,” he told Reuters.

Five wounded children were airlifted to a hospital in Tucson, Arizona, and a boy in critical condition was transferred to a Phoenix hospital, Lafe Langford, whose aunt and cousin were killed in the attack, said by phone from Louisiana.

Mexican Security Minister Alfonso Durazo said the nine, traveling in several SUVs, could have been victims of mistaken identity, given the high number of violent confrontations among warring drug gangs in the area.

But the LeBaron extended family has often been in conflict with drug traffickers in Chihuahua and other relatives of the victims said the killers surely knew who they were targeting.

“We’ve been here for more than 50 years. There’s no one who doesn’t know them. Whoever did this was aware. That’s the most terrifying,” Alex LeBaron, a relative, said in one of the villages inhabited by the extended family.

All of the dead were U.S. citizens, he told Reuters, and most also held dual citizenship with Mexico. They were attacked while driving on backroads in a convoy of cars containing the women along with 14 children, he said. Some were headed for Tucson airport to collect relatives.

State prosecutors in Sonora, where the dead were found in three separate locations, said ambushed family members had been planning to travel to the United States via Chihuahua.

The charred bodies of a woman and four children were found in a burnt Chevrolet Tahoe near the village of San Miguelito, while the corpses of a woman and two children were recovered in a white Suburban about 18 kilometers away, the statement said.

The body of the third woman was found about 15 meters (50 feet) from a Suburban near the Sonora-Chihuahua border.

Authorities are investigating whether a man arrested in Agua Prieta, Sonora with guns and ammunition could have been involved in the killings, prosecutors added.

The victims were members of the small community of La Mora, Sonora, set up decades ago by “pioneers” who broke away from the Mormon church, Langford said.

“They were targeted and they were killed on purpose,” said Langford, who grew up in La Mora and has a homestead there.


Trump has praised Lopez Obrador for combating cartel violence but said more needed to be done.

“This is the time for Mexico, with the help of the United States, to wage WAR on the drug cartels and wipe them off the face of the earth,” Trump said in a tweet reacting to the massacre.

Later, he and Lopez Obrador spoke by phone, with the U.S. president offering help to ensure the perpetrators face justice.

Prior to the call, Lopez Obrador rejected what he called any foreign government intervention.

Mexico has used its military in a war on drug cartels since 2006. Despite the arrest or killing of leading traffickers, the campaign has not succeeded in reducing drug violence and has led to more killings as criminal groups fight among themselves.

Falko Ernst, senior analyst for the International Crisis Group in Mexico, said Trump’s tweet suggests he may be gearing up to pressure Mexico over security, especially with his campaign under way for re-election in November 2020.

“If he throws in his whole leverage, as we’ve seen with migration, then there is very little the Mexican government can do to hold its ground,” Ernst said.

Northwestern Mexico has been home to small Mormon and Mormon-linked communities of U.S. origin since the late 19th century. The early Mormon settlers in Mexico fled the threat of arrest in the United States for practicing polygamy. The practice is observed by a shrinking number of Mormons in Mexico.

(Reporting by Lizbeth Diaz, Daina Beth Solomon and Andrew Hay; Additional reporting by Dave Graham, David Alire Garcia, Sharay Angulo, Adriana Barrera and Eric Beech; Writing by Alistair Bell; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne, Howard Goller and Gerry Doyle)

Mexican president defends security plan after police massacre

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador defended his security strategy on Tuesday and blamed past administrations for chronic violence, a day after at least 13 police were killed in an ambush by suspected cartel gunmen.

Lopez Obrador told a news conference the ambush in the western state of Michoacan was “very regrettable” but reiterated that his commitment to increased spending on security and tackling the root causes of violence would eventually pay dividends.

“I’m optimistic we’ll secure peace … we’re completely dedicated to this issue, but (past governments) allowed it to grow. There’s a new security model now,” Lopez Obrador said, describing the site of the ambush as a “violent area.”

The leftist leader has sharply criticized past efforts that pursued an army-led approach to battling crime.

But after a record number of homicides in Mexico in 2018, they are on track to go even higher this year, putting Lopez Obrador under increasing pressure to stop massacres like Monday’s ambush in the violent western state of Michoacan.

He hopes his welfare schemes, including youth scholarships and apprenticeships, will help draw people away from crime.

Photos of the crime scene published on social media showed bullet-riddled police vehicles set on fire, as well as the bodies of slain officers on the ground.

They also included placards left on vehicles brazenly signed by Jalisco New Generation Cartel, one of Mexico’s most powerful gangs, warning police not to support rival outfits.

Federal authorities said 14 police were killed, while Michoacan officials reported that 13 officers died.

Around 80 soldiers and an army helicopter have been dispatched to investigate and find the perpetrators, Gen. Luis Sandoval, the defense minister, told the news conference.

Alongside him, Mexican Security Minister Alfonso Durazo said the use of force is a legitimate government tool to deal with lawlessness, but should only be considered as a last resort.

“We will pacify the country without using violence, without repression,” Durazo said.

After taking office in December, Lopez Obrador created a militarized National Guard police force to contain the violence.

But many of the National Guard have instead been deployed to police Mexico’s borders to placate U.S. President Donald Trump, who has threatened to impose tariffs if Lopez Obrador does not reduce the flow of U.S.-bound migrants from Central America.

(Reporting by David Alire Garcia, Abraham Gonzalez and Diego Ore; Editing by Dave Graham and Alistair Bell)

Mexico, U.S. vow to bolster joint fight against drug cartels

U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly shake hands with Mexico's Interior Minister Miguel Angel Osorio Chong after deliver a joint message at the Secretary of Interior Building in Mexico City, Mexico, July 7, 2017. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Mexico and the United States are seeking to forge closer ties to fight arms trafficking and organized crime, Mexico’s interior minister said on Friday, as he and U.S. Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly vowed to redouble efforts to battle drug cartels.

“We’re looking at new forms of cooperation on issues like arms trafficking … and obviously combating international criminal organizations dedicated to drug trafficking,” Interior Minister Miguel Angel Osorio Chong told a news conference.

Osorio Chong did not provide details as he spoke alongside Kelly, who was coming to the end of a three-day visit to Mexico.

Kelly, who on Thursday traveled to one of Mexico’s most lawless regions to discuss the military’s efforts to battle drug traffickers and observe opium poppy eradication, said the two sides aimed to strengthen joint security cooperation.

“We are also working together to defeat the scourge of illegal drugs, with special emphasis on the heroin, cocaine and fentanyl that is flooding the hemisphere and resulting in deaths in both of our countries,” Kelly said.

U.S. deaths from opiates including fentanyl and heroin have risen sharply in the last few years, putting the issue at center stage in efforts to strengthen cooperation on security matters between Mexico and the United States.

Kelly said U.S. President Donald Trump aimed to create “stronger, durable bonds” between the two neighbors, which have been at starkly at odds on some areas of policy under Trump, particularly the Republican leader’s plan to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

(Reporting by Michael O’Boyle; Editing by Tom Brown)

Mexican journalists mourn, protest after deadly day

Journalists and photographers hold up pictures of journalist Javier Valdez during a demonstration against his killing and for other journalists who were killed in Mexico, at the Angel of Independence monument in Mexico City, Mexico May 16, 2017. REUTERS/Henry Romero

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Mexican journalists covered news conferences wearing black on Tuesday, and brought pictures of slain colleagues to rallies to put pressure on authorities to act against an escalation of murderous attacks on their trade.

The mourning and protests followed a particularly deadly day for the media in Mexico, where warring drug cartels have made it one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist.

On Monday, veteran organized crime writer Javier Valdez was shot dead by unidentified assailants in the northwestern state of Sinaloa while gunmen in Jalisco state killed a reporter at a small weekly magazine and critically wounded his mother, an executive at the family-run publication.

Authorities have yet to announce arrests in the two new cases, feeding fears of impunity that have become disturbingly familiar to the profession in Mexico.

“We’ve been living in a giant simulation; they say they’re investigating and that freedom of expression is protected, but clearly it’s not,” Juan Carlos Aguilar of the collective Right to Inform said at a protest in Mexico City.

Last year a record 11 journalists were killed, according to advocacy group Articulo 19.

Journalists wrote “they are killing us” in large letters at the foot of the Angel of Independence monument in central Mexico City and flashed pictures of dead reporters to passing cars. Rallies were also held in other cities, including crime-ravaged Culiacan, where Valdez was killed.

Valdez spent years documenting the violence in Mexico, and his death triggered an outpouring of grief across the country.

The killings come ahead of a key state election next month and the 2018 presidential vote – fuelling worries that it could result in a less-informed public.

“This isn’t just us being killed as people, this is a silencing of those who talk,” freelance journalist Paula Monaco said at the protest.

Mexico is struggling to contain a resurgence in violence among rival drug cartels that has pushed homicides to levels not seen since 2011.

Groups monitoring journalistic freedom say corrupt local authorities and police target journalists as well, and that the vast majority of attacks on the press go unpunished, despite a special prosecutor’s office assigned to investigating them.

A new special prosecutor was recently named amid criticism that the previous one failed to secure convictions in dozens of unsolved cases.

“This is truly a crisis. We’re tired of burying our colleagues,” said photojournalist Quetzalli Gonzalez.

(Reporting By Mitra Taj and Reuters TV; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)

A decade into drug gang fight, Mexican army pushes to return to base

Mexican General Alejandro Ramos Flores, head of the defense ministry's legal department, speak during an interview with Reuters at the Secretariat of National Defense (SEDENA), in Mexico City, Mexico May 11, 2017. Picture taken May 11, 2017. REUTERS/Henry Romero

By Lizbeth Diaz

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – After more than a decade on the streets of Mexico battling ruthless drug cartels, the nation’s battered armed forces have thrown their weight behind a law that would force them to return to barracks and put the fight back in the hands of the police.

Since former President Felipe Calderon sent out the army to bring the gangs to heel at the end of 2006, about 150,000 people have died in the violence, including hundreds of soldiers as well as scores of police and members of other security forces.

The bloody struggle has also taken a heavy toll on the reputation of the armed forces, exposing one of Mexico’s most respected institutions to the corrupting influence of organized crime and the risk of extrajudicial killings.

General Alejandro Ramos Flores, head of the defense ministry’s legal department, told Reuters in an interview that a bill currently in congress known as the Law of Internal Security would oblige civilian authorities to retake control of fighting organized crime.

“We’re not going to resolve the problem. It’s a problem with more social and economic aspects. Everything has to converge to resolve the problem and return it to the authorities responsible for taking charge of this situation,” Ramos said.

President Enrique Pena Nieto replaced Calderon in December 2012, vowing to return the military to base, but it has remained stuck in the struggle without any strict legal formalization of the division of responsibilities between the various forces.

This has often proven a recipe for trouble.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, an army source said on occasion the armed forces would arrest suspects only to have civilian authorities such as local police or prosecutors fail to appear or release them.

More damaging have been accusations that Mexican soldiers have acted outside the law, often with impunity, to kill suspects, eroding public support for the army.

This week Pena Nieto and the defense ministry called for an investigation into a video apparently showing a soldier shooting dead a prone man at point blank range following a clash with suspected criminals in the state of Puebla.

Two shootouts between federal security forces and suspected gang members in 2014 and 2015 that took more than 60 lives prompted accusations by human rights groups that federal forces had carried out extrajudicial killings.

And questions continue to dog the army over its failure to prevent the abduction and apparent massacre of 43 trainee teachers by corrupt police and local gangsters in the southwestern city of Iguala in September 2014.

The government strongly disputed a report this week that said Mexico had the second-highest number of murders last year among countries considered in “armed conflicts.”

Mexico said its drug fight was not an armed conflict, that the 2016 violence numbers were not final and challenged the report’s methodology, saying that per capita other countries in Latin America had far higher murder rates.

In December, General Salvador Cienfuegos, Mexico’s minister of defense, declared that fighting the drug war had pulled the Mexican military away from its core functions.

“We don’t want them to give us more responsibilities, or for them to give us the police’s responsibilities. We don’t want this law to foresee anything that would violate human rights,” Ramos said.

(Writing by Dave Graham; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

Carnage and corruption: upstart Mexican cartel’s path to top

Joaquin "Shorty" Guzman (C) is escorted by soldiers during a presentation at the Navy's airstrip in Mexico City February 22, 2014.

By Dave Graham

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – In barely four years, a little-known criminal gang has grown to challenge the world’s most notorious drug lord, Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, for domination of the Mexican underworld, unleashing a new tide of violence.

Once minions of Guzman’s Sinaloa Cartel, traffickers of the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG) have turned on their former masters, seizing territory and buying off thousands of corrupt police.

Led by former policeman Nemesio Oseguera, aka “El Mencho”, the gang soon carved out an empire at the expense of weaker rivals.

The speed of its ascent shows how quickly power can shift in Mexico’s multi-billion-dollar drugs trade.

Juggling interests from China to North Africa and eastern Europe, the CJNG’s bloody advance has pushed murders to their highest levels under President Enrique Pena Nieto, who vowed to restore law and order when he took office in late 2012.

Mexico's President Enrique Pena Nieto speaks during a news conference at the National Palace in Mexico City, Mexico

Mexico’s President Enrique Pena Nieto speaks during a news conference at the National Palace in Mexico City, Mexico January 8, 2016. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido

All but four in a 2009 list of Mexico’s 37 most wanted capos are now dead or in jail, and Pena Nieto did initially succeed in reducing violence.

But a resurgence that led to 3,800 murders between July and August highlights the government’s failure to beat down cartels without new ones springing up in their place.

Pena Nieto recently sought to allay security concerns by announcing a plan to step up crime prevention in the worst-hit areas. He did not set out the details of his plan, but urged states to speed up efforts to put local police under unified statewide command.

Intimidating, paying off or eliminating police, CJNG leaders have ruthlessly applied lessons learned during their apprenticeship under Guzman’s cartel to muscle in on battered rivals and snatch trafficking routes, security experts say.

Interviews by Reuters with over a dozen serving and former officials underlined how collusion between gang members and law enforcement in the CJNG’s stronghold, the western state of Jalisco, laid the foundation for the gang’s advance.

“People stopped trusting the police. People believed the police in the state were working for a criminal gang,” said Jalisco’s attorney general Eduardo Almaguer.

Bearing the brunt of the chaos are the ports, trafficking centers and border crossings that light up the multi-billion dollar trail of crystal methamphetamine from Mexico to the United States, the CJNG’s main source of revenue.

Both savage – one gang hitman videoed blowing up victims he had strapped with dynamite – and shrewd, the CJNG is flanked by a white collar financial arm known as “Los Cuinis”.

“They’re the entrepreneurs. They’ve made big investments in property, in restaurants, car leasing,” said Almaguer. “They’re the ones who know how to do business and corrupt authorities.”

Almaguer has fired dozens of state officials suspected of corruption since becoming attorney general in July 2015. But it is municipal police that pose the biggest liability in Jalisco, the home of Mexico’s second biggest city, Guadalajara.

Roughly one in five actively collaborate with gangs and about 70 percent “do not act” against them, Almaguer said.

As of September, 1,733 serving police in Jalisco, or nearly 16 percent of the municipal force, had failed evaluations known as “loyalty tests” aimed at rooting out corruption, according to data compiled by Causa en Comun, a transparency group.

The worst performer was Sinaloa, home state of the now captured Guzman, where half the active police flunked the test.


A captured CJNG gang member claimed it had over half of Jalisco’s municipal police on its payroll, said a former official from the state government who interviewed him.

Depending on their role, the police were paid between 1,000 pesos and 50,000 pesos a month or more by the CJNG, the official said, requesting anonymity: “Otherwise they would kill me.”

Mexican police earn as little as $500 a month in some areas, meaning many are tempted to take the traffickers’ money.

CJNG suspicions that local police were buckling to pressure from the Sinaloa Cartel to betray them and change sides was one of the reasons the gang lashed out against security forces in 2015, four current and former Jalisco officials said.

In six weeks, the CJNG killed over two dozen police in an onslaught culminating in the shooting down of an army helicopter on May 1, 2015 during a botched attempt to capture Oseguera.

Since October 2015, when the leftist opposition took control of the Guadalajara municipality, around 10 percent of its 2,600-strong police force have been or are in the process of being dismissed, said Salvador Caro, the police chief.

Most were suspected of having links to organized crime, and of those, most for ties to the CJNG, Caro said.

It is not the only gang with the law on its payroll.

Documents recovered by local officials and reviewed by Reuters showed the Knights Templar gang, once the main local rival of the CJNG, got copies of intelligence files to compile dossiers on suspected CJNG members, including police.

The dossiers included addresses, car license details, tax and social security data, voter registrations and phone numbers. The data could only have leaked from law enforcement sources, a federal security official said.

Police are not the only problem, said Jalisco attorney general Almaguer, who also wants to make judges in the state take loyalty tests to stop collusion with gangsters.

“We’ve had rulings where it’s obvious some bad members of the justice system tried to protect gang members,” he said.

A spokeswoman for Jalisco’s Supreme Court declined to comment.


The CJNG steadily became more independent from the Sinaloa Cartel after the 2010 death of Ignacio Coronel, Guzman’s top lieutenant in Jalisco. Still, a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) map in January 2012 showing the territorial influence of Mexico’s main cartels did not feature the gang at all.

It was not until after Guzman’s capture in February 2014 – he would break out of prison in July 2015 and was recaptured this January – that the split degenerated into war.

By April 2015, another DEA map showed the CJNG dominant in most or parts of 10 states, with a growing or significant presence in four others.

Since then, the CJNG surge has sparked record murder levels around the Pacific ports that feed the gang’s demand for precursor chemicals from China used to make crystal meth.

The gang’s power grab has also fueled violence in the port of Veracruz on the Gulf of Mexico, the main gateway for crystal meth exports to Europe and North Africa, and Tijuana, a major border crossing into the lucrative U.S. market.

Some experts believe the CJNG is already the main supplier of crystal meth to the United States.

Mike Vigil, a former DEA chief of international operations, believes the split is still about 60-40 in favor of the Sinaloa Cartel in a market the two utterly dominate.

Estimating sales of the drug were worth about 25-30 percent of a $60 billion U.S. illegal narcotics trade, Vigil said the CJNG’s power base and absorption of local expertise meant it had the potential to become the new “superpower” in crystal meth.

“They have a PhD in drug trafficking thanks to the education provided by the Sinaloa Cartel and other cartels,” he said.

(Editing by Simon Gardner and Kieran Murray)