Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Reputed Knight Templar Mexican Drug Lord, Servando Gomez's Videos Lead to Arrests

After more than six months on the run from federal troops, an alleged Mexican crime lord has been striking back with the release of videos purporting to link government officials and their relatives to his gang, leading to several arrests.

The videos, which in recent months have emerged online, show politicians and their family members meeting with Servando Gómez, known as "La Tuta"—the boss—who heads the Knights Templar syndicate. Federal officials say Mr. Gómez, a former teacher, dominates organized crime and terrorizes residents of Michoacán state.

On Monday, a federal judge denied a bail request of Rodrigo Vallejo, a son of former Michoacán Gov. Fausto Vallejo. Police arrested the younger Mr. Vallejo on Sunday after he emerged on a video with Mr. Gómez.

Mr. Vallejo's father said his son was innocent and was forced by Mr. Gómez to meet with him. "The people of Michoacán know me," the elder Mr. Vallejo, who belongs to Mexico's ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party, said in a post on his official Twitter account last week after the video emerged. "I have never tolerated, nor will I tolerate, breaking the rule of law."

In the video, the younger Mr. Vallejo is seen talking with Mr. Gómez about state politics and the health of his father, who resigned in June, citing an undisclosed illness.

The younger Mr. Vallejo, who in the video laughs easily and sips beer as he chats with the alleged crime boss, was jailed after allegedly refusing to answer federal prosecutors' questions about the meeting, federal officials said. Prosecutors said he faces possible charges of withholding evidence. His lawyer couldn't immediately be reached for comment.

Since being posted last week on the website of Quadratín, a Michoacán news agency, the 18-minute video has been widely viewed across Mexico.

Based on their conversation, the meeting between Messrs. Vallejo and Gómez appears to have occurred last year, during the former governor's leave of absence to deal with his illness.

The interim governor to stand in during his leave, Jesús Reyna, Michoacán's second-ranking official, was jailed in April after videos emerged online of him meeting with Mr. Gómez. Mr. Reyna, who also was charged links to organized crime, has dismissed previous accusations of any involvement with criminal gangs as "baseless, false and absurd."

He remains imprisoned without bail while state and federal prosecutors say they are preparing charges against him.

In the latest video, the younger Mr. Vallejo suggests to Mr. Gómez that Mr. Reyna and another state official wielded political power equal to that of his father. "The thing is there are three governors," the younger Mr. Vallejo says in the video.

The Knights Templar replaced La Familia Michoacana three years ago as the methamphetamine-producing state's dominant criminal band, officials say. Discontent with the gang's widespread extortion and kidnapping, armed residents of some 30 of the state's mostly rural townships rose up against the Templar in early 2013.

In January, fearful of fresh violence, President Enrique Peña Nieto sent thousands of federal troops into the state and appointed a special envoy and other federal officials who have taken control of the state's security and other vital functions.

Michoacán envoy Alfredo Castillo has incorporated hundreds of former vigilantes into a "rural guard" that patrols alongside state and federal security forces.

In another video posted to YouTube last week, Mr. Gómez accuses some leaders of the rural guards of links to a rival gangster band, the Jalisco Cartel-New Generation, which produces methamphetamine for the U.S. market, officials say.

Another Mexican official, Arquímides Oseguera, the former mayor of Lázaro Cárdenas, the Pacific Coast steel-producing city that serves as one of Mexico's key ports, was arrested last year for his alleged links to organized crime after appearing in a video with Mr. Gómez. Mr. Oseguera, who denied any links to organized crime, faces possible charges of extortion and abduction as well, prosecutors said.

Such arrests have happened before in Michoacán. In May 2009, federal officials arrested 38 state and local officials, including 11 mayors, accusing them of protecting La Familia Michoacana. Charges were dropped against all of the officials by 2012, with federal prosecutors pointing to a lack of evidence.

Thanks to Dudley Althaus.

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