MEXICO CITY — Alleged drug kingpin Ever Villafane Martinez, a Colombian believed to be the main cocaine supplier to an offshoot of Mexico's notorious Sinaloa cartel, was arrested in Mexico City, federal police said Friday.
One of the hemisphere's most wanted fugitives, Villafane Martinez has been on the lam since 2001, when he escaped from a maximum-security lockup in Colombia while awaiting extradition to the United States on narcotics charges.
His arrest was a rare piece of good news for President Felipe Calderon in his U.S.-backed war against Mexico's violent drug cartels. Authorities nabbed Villafane Martinez on Wednesday at a home in the Mexican capital's upscale Jardines del Pedregal neighborhood, where he apparently had lived for some time alongside millionaires and captains of industry.
Police said they seized a semiautomatic rifle, six cellphones and several Mexican identification cards issued to Villafane Martinez under an alias. They included a voter registration card, a driver's license and a business tax identification document.
Villafane Martinez's hands certainly didn't give him away -- he no longer has fingerprints. Authorities released photos of the 51-year-old after his arrest that included close-ups of his smooth, blank fingertips. Drug lords have been known to have cosmetic surgery on their faces and to have their fingerprints surgically removed to help conceal their identities.
"Villafane Martinez was a key character," said Ricardo Ravelo, a Mexico City-based columnist and expert on narcotics trafficking. "He [served] as a link between the Mexican and Colombian organizations."
An alleged big shot in Colombia's Norte del Valle drug cartel, Villafane Martinez is believed to be the main cocaine supplier to Mexico's Beltran Leyva brothers -- Hector Alfredo, Carlos Alberto and Marcos Arturo.
The trio was formerly associated with Joaquin "Shorty" Guzman, head of the Sinaloa cartel. But a power struggle between the brothers and Guzman has exploded into an all-out war, fracturing the cartel. Elite military forces arrested Hector Alfredo in January.
Previous high-profile arrests have led to violent retribution from the cartels.
The western state of Sinaloa has since been gripped by a spasm of violence that has claimed hundreds of lives this year alone.
Nationwide, drug-related violence has killed more than 2,300 people this year.
Villafane Martinez's arrest broke a string of dismal developments in Mexico's drug wars in recent days. Just this week saw the resignation of a top anti-narcotics official in the attorney general's office amid allegations of incompetence; the killing of children in shootouts by suspected drug assassins; and the resignation of dozens of police officers who said they were too petrified to take on the well-armed cartels.
U.S. and Colombian authorities helped in the investigation that led to Villafane Martinez's capture, according to a statement from Mexico's secretary of public safety. Colombian President Alvaro Uribe congratulated Calderon, who was in Colombia for a regional summit aimed at forging closer cooperation in the battle against drug trafficking.
Cecilia Sanchez of The Times' Mexico City Bureau contributed to this report.