Mexican authorities say a suspected gunman for the Tijuana drug cartel, slain in a Thanksgiving Day attack on a Tijuana journalist, may have been a member of the California prison-based Mexican Mafia.
The involvement of David Barron Corona in the assassination attempt on editor Jesus Blancornelas was the latest twist in a series of cross-border crimes that underscore the transnational character of the drug empire allegedly run by the Arellano Felix brothers, U.S. and Mexican federal sources say.
Police are still unsure whether Barron was killed by Blancornelas' bodyguard, who died in the attack, or by his fellow gunmen in the cross-fire. There has been no official news of arrests.
Barron, who grew up in San Diego's Barrio Logan, was among the young men allegedly recruited by the cartel from poor neighborhoods in San Diego and wealthy districts of Tijuana for violence on both sides of the border, which they used as an invisible shield against apprehension.
"They commit crimes and escape to one side of the border or the other," said Sgt. Manuel Rodriguez, head of San Diego's cross-border police task force. "It makes it real difficult. It's one of the weaknesses."
"The border traditionally was exploited by criminals for the sanctuary it offered between two jurisdictions that did not communicate very often or coordinate very well," said San Diego U.S. Atty. Alan Bersin.
"What Barron represents is a cross-border alliance between outlaws from both countries who have exploited the border for criminal purposes," he said.
Diana Ortiz Villacorta, spokeswoman for the Mexico attorney general's Tijuana district office, said Barron was a suspected cartel gunman known as CH who was named in an extradition case as one of the San Diego gang members involved in the 1993 killing of Guadalajara archbishop Juan Jesus Posadas Ocampo.
"He crossed the border to kill," Ortiz said.
The violence of the drug cartel--like its power to corrupt--has not recognized borders since it emerged as a major player in the shipment of heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine to the United States in the early 1990s.
In March, a U.S. informant on the Tijuana cartel was seriously wounded by gunmen in southern San Diego. In December 1996, a reputed cartel enemy, Fernando Jesus Gutierrez, was targeted so expertly by a marksman during rush-hour traffic on San Diego's picturesque seaside Silver Strand roadway that the killing was initially reported as a car accident. The modus operandi was identical to the slaying four years earlier of San Diego businessman Alejandro Ledesma Cazares, also believed to be a victim of cartel violence.
In 1989, Mexican police say, a senior godfather from the Arellanos' extended family in Sinaloa state sent a henchman to seduce the long-suffering wife of a rival trafficker. The man persuaded the wife to withdraw millions of her husband's money and then killed the woman in San Francisco. He took her two children to Venezuela, where he threw them off a bridge to their deaths. He later died in jail there, police said.
The difficulties of prosecuting suspects in cross-border crimes have been illustrated by the ongoing effort to extradite two alleged cartel gunmen jailed in San Diego in September 1996 after the slaying of the Baja federal police chief. The extradition is bogged down in allegations that key witnesses against them were tortured into confessing in Mexico.
In the 1993 slaying of the archbishop, eight of the suspects were members of a San Diego gang allegedly recruited by the Arellanos for killings in Mexico and the United States.
Barron, long reputed to be a member of the 30th Street gang of San Diego's Barrio Logan, had a large "M" on his chest and other tattoos that are characteristic of members of the Mexican Mafia, Ortiz said. U.S. federal authorities said he had long been suspected of being a member of that mafia.
U.S. federal authorities said they believe that Barron--who was known as CH, Charly and Charly Logan--had been living in Mexico.
He carried a Mexico City driver's license falsely identifying him as Javier Ortiz Calvo, a practice typical of a murky drug underworld whose members have been known to carry even false police IDs.
Blancornelas, one of Mexico's most respected journalists, had named "CH" in the Nov. 21 issue of his newsweekly, Zeta, as one of the authors of the gangland slaying two weeks ago of two Mexican soldiers assigned to the Baja federal police.
According to Zeta, the soldiers were slain in retaliation for their involvement in the arrest of alleged cartel lieutenant Arturo Paez Martinez in Tijuana three weeks ago.
Blancornelas was hospitalized Friday in stable condition, according to a relative.
Despite this rash of crime, Bersin said he sees progress in the form of the Binational Safety Council launched in June.
In the past, he said, "there has been extraordinary mistrust between law enforcement officials on both sides."
But "rather than speak in terms of one nation or another nation, we have to understand this as regional issues of public safety," Bersin said. "What law enforcement has to do is to organize itself to counter this transnational threat."