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Mexico Rounds Up Drug Cartel Suspects, Including Police Officers

January 07, 1997|MARK FINEMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

MEXICO CITY — Mexican federal police and army agents seized three Lear jets, thousands of dollars in cash and more than two dozen suspected drug traffickers--including uniformed police officers--in a major blow to Mexico's most powerful drug cartel, authorities said Monday.

The Mexican attorney general's office said it linked the jets and the 25 detained pilots, passengers and police officers--some of whom are federal agents--to the Juarez drug-trafficking cartel.

The seizures and arrests were the first major action taken in recent years against alleged cartel leader Amado Carrillo Fuentes, whose ownership of a large fleet of aircraft based in the border town of Ciudad Juarez has given him the nickname "Lord of the Skies." Carrillo is under federal indictments in the United States and Mexico.

The operation came a month after President Ernesto Zedillo replaced both his attorney general and federal drug czar. The latter post now is held by a Mexican army general who vowed to crack down on the drug cartels that supply up to three-fourths of the cocaine sold in the United States.

Senior Mexican government officials said the appointment of Gen. Jose Gutierrez Rebollo to the anti-drug post was meant to attack corruption and target the Juarez cartel.

The attorney general's office said the operation against the Juarez cartel began Saturday, when federal police and army units detected three privately owned Lear jets leaving the airport in the Mexico City suburb of Toluca without flight plans.

The jets, which authorities said were later found to contain traces of cocaine, flew to the city of Culiacan, Carrillo's birthplace, in the state of Sinaloa. Carrillo's sister was married in the state Saturday, authorities said.

After their arrest in Sinaloa, the pilot and co-pilot of one of the jets told investigators that four of their eight passengers were uniformed federal police officers. The crew of another jet told investigators their passengers included agents from the federal attorney general's office.

As a result of the investigation, federal authorities said police and army units arrested two state and 12 local police officers in the city of Navolato in Sinaloa, where the sister's wedding was held. They also seized pistols, rifles and ammunition.

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