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Mexican Mayor Charged With Murder in Corruption Scandal

April 11, 2002|CHRIS KRAUL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

TLALNEPANTLA, Mexico — The mayor of a Mexico City suburb and three other people have been charged with murder in the death of a young city councilwoman who was delving into protection rackets, drug trafficking and rigged city contracts, officials said Wednesday.

Mayor Juan Antonio Dominguez of Atizapan was charged with murder, extortion, engaging in organized crime and fraud in connection with the Sept. 5 shooting death of Maria de los Angeles Tames, 27.

Tames had been openly critical of city contracts and land-use policies, and was gathering evidence of wrongdoing to turn over to investigators, her family has said.

At a news conference in Tlalnepantla, another Mexico City suburb near Atizapan, Atty. Gen. Alfonso Navarrete Prida of the state of Mexico said Tames was killed because she had uncovered a complex and far-reaching "web of corruption" in City Hall, and was about to expose it.

"Unfortunately, it took the death of a person to bring us to know about this criminal activity," Navarrete said. Tames' father, Pedro, an administrator at the Notimex news agency, sat on the dais next to Navarrete during the news conference.

Also charged in the case were the mayor's former personal secretary, Daniel Garcia; the city's public works chief, Javier Sanchez Garcia; and the alleged triggerman in the slaying, Jaime Ortega Gonzalez. Dominguez and his former secretary are in jail; the other two suspects are considered fugitives.

Garcia lost his job as the mayor's secretary shortly before Tames was killed, partly because of her complaints about city land-use practices. His brother, Isaias Garcia, allegedly paid Ortega $33,000 to kill Tames. She was shot five times with a .38-caliber weapon in front of the home she shared with her parents.

An arrest warrant has been issued for Isaias Garcia, but he is still at large and has not been formally charged in the case.

Dominguez's attorney Marcos Castillejos said he would probably seek to have the case moved from a state to a federal court. "I do not completely trust the independence of the local judiciary," he said.

The case has generated controversy because of the extent of corruption apparently pervading the town's local government and because of the youth and idealism of the councilwoman.

There have also been strong political overtones. The state government, which is controlled by the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, has been accused of using the probe to tar the National Action Party, or PAN, to which both the mayor and the slain councilwoman belonged. The PRI ruled Mexico for more than seven decades before PAN's Vicente Fox won the presidency in 2000.

Navarrete said the investigation included previous Atizapan mayors, and singled out Carlos Madrazo Limon, who is now a federal senator representing the PAN.

In a telephone interview, Madrazo said he supported the Tames investigation, and criticized the state government for making insinuations about him. Instead, he said, investigators should be looking into evidence of corruption in the state of Mexico.

Navarrete said evidence exists of wide-ranging organized crime in Atizapan, a wealthy bedroom community northwest of the capital, including a racket run by police in which bars paid up to $40,000 a year for protection from prosecution on prostitution and drug charges.

Dominguez allegedly took out $900,000 in low- or no-interest personal loans from the city coffers, which he lent out at high interest rates, Navarrete said.

State officials also charged that criminals linked to Dominguez, Garcia and fugitive Police Chief Antonio Vega de la Garza wiretapped Tames and other city council members, and that city contracts were rigged so that associates of Dominguez and Garcia were sure to win.

Shortly before she was killed, Tames uncovered a city contract to a sham cleaning company, with payments allegedly siphoned off by corrupt officials, her father told The Times in an interview.

After Tames was killed, other city council members and witnesses were either threatened with death or offered bribes to keep quiet, the attorney general said.

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