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10 border gang members charged in U.S. Consulate killings

A woman and two men tied to the U.S. Consulate in El Paso were ambushed last year in Mexico. The indictments also target 25 other members of the Barrio Azteca organization on drug and murder charges.

March 10, 2011|By Richard A. Serrano, Washington Bureau

Reporting from Washington — Federal authorities have charged 10 border gang members in the shooting deaths a year ago of three people tied to the U.S. Consulate in El Paso who were killed as they returned from a children's birthday party on the Mexican side of the Rio Grande.

Also indicted on drug, murder and racketeering charges by a federal grand jury in El Paso were 25 other members of the Barrio Azteca organization, a group that rose out of Texas and New Mexico prison gangs two decades ago, joined arms with a notorious Mexican drug cartel and flooded the west Texas border region with drugs and death.

A break in the investigation came when U.S. officials said they learned of a telephone call made by one of the gang members, Ricardo Valles de la Rosa. Shortly after the ambush in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, authorities said he called an individual in west Texas and "received verification of the description of an intended target for murder."

Seven of the 10 people indicted are in custody in Mexico, and U.S. authorities are working with Mexican officials to extradite them. The other three remain at large, including Eduardo Ravelo, who is on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted List with a $100,000 reward for information leading to his arrest.

U.S. Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. said the consulate victims — Leslie Ann Enriquez Catton, her husband, Arthur Redelfs, and Jorge Albert Salcido Ceniceros, the husband of another U.S. Consulate employee — were, "like so many other innocent victims of the Mexican drug wars, caught in the crosshairs of a violent criminal enterprise."

With violence raging along the border, including the recent killing of a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent inside Mexico, Holder acknowledged that "this is, at times, a gruesome battle."

But, he vowed, "this fight is not over. We are in this for the long haul."

The attack last March on the three consulate workers was particularly heinous. Catton was pregnant, and she and her husband were killed in front of the couple's infant daughter. Though unharmed, the girl was crying loudly in the back seat of the car when police in Ciudad Juarez arrived.

Ceniceros was ambushed in a second vehicle, and his car was set on fire in an apparent attempt to hide the crime.

No clear motive for the ambush has been confirmed. In Mexico, police have said that two men they arrested confessed to the slayings, but that each of them took credit as the mastermind of the attack. They were arrested at separate times and then, according to Mexican officials, separately admitted to their roles in the killings and said the attack was carried out because Catton allegedly had helped provide U.S. visas to members of a rival drug cartel.

The U.S. indictments unsealed Wednesday state only that the 10 defendants and "other Barrio Azteca members and associates directed others to the location" and "caused" the deaths.

"There are a variety of different scenarios," said FBI Executive Assistant Director Shawn Henry. "It could be as simple as mistaken identity. But whatever the motivation is, the brutality of the murders was really quite extraordinary."

richard.serrano@latimes.com

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