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Police Held in Sting Suspected of Ties to Tijuana Drug Cartel

April 12, 2002|CHRIS KRAUL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

MEXICO CITY — The 41 Baja California policemen, including the Tijuana police chief, who were arrested in an elaborate sting operation and flown to the capital are all suspected of involvement in the Arellano Felix drug cartel, Mexican authorities said Thursday.

The suspects were lured to the Tecate police academy Wednesday under the pretense of a firearms check. After all had turned over their weapons, Mexican army units and federal officers swooped in and made the arrests from about 200 officers present. There was no resistance.

Among those arrested was Tijuana Police Chief Carlos Otal Namur and one of his deputies, Jesus Jacobo Aguirre. An assistant state prosecutor, Rogelio Delgado Neri, was also held.

A spokesman for Tijuana Mayor Jesus Gonzalez Reyes said Francisco Arellano Ortiz has been named the city's acting police chief.

"The mayor's position is that he recognizes that the purpose of the raid, to clean up the police force, should be welcomed," said spokesman Alfredo Ortiz. "We are still waiting to hear from the attorney general what the legal status is of those who have been detained."

The sweep is part of an ongoing crackdown on drug trafficking that in recent weeks has resulted in several arrests, including Benjamin Arellano Felix, chief of the so-called Tijuana cartel.

Army units and federal investigators sealed off several blocks in the La Mesa district of Tijuana on Thursday and conducted searches of some houses.

Deputy Atty. Gen. Jorge Campos Murillo said at a news conference in Mexico City that each of the 41 detainees was under investigation for drug trafficking and organized crime connected to the Arellano Felix mob. Asked what functions they served, Campos said only that they provided information. So far, none of them has been charged.

The sting in Tecate, about 30 miles east of Tijuana, was devised to avoid an armed confrontation, Campos said. In addition to the 21 municipal police officers and the prosecutor taken into custody, agents arrested 20 state police officers.

"These people always go in armed groups. So we decided that this was a way to avoid resistance and gunfire," Campos said. "It turned out to be a completely clean operation."

Otal Namur is the second police chief of a major Baja city to be arrested recently. Mexicali's top policeman, Antonio Carmona Anorve, was arrested in September for alleged links to the Arellano Felix cartel.

U.S. law enforcement officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, applauded the operation as further evidence of Mexico's determination to cripple the nation's top drug cartels. They said they had no advance knowledge of the sting.

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