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Escaped NY convict could have ties to Mexican drug cartel, expert says

Convicted murderer Richard Matt in a handout photo from New York State Police.

Convicted murderer Richard Matt in a handout photo from New York State Police.  (2015 New York State Police)

The nine years fugitive Richard Matt served in a cartel-controlled Mexican prison (1998-2007) are being factored in as the authorities look at the ties the convicted murdered may have established during his time there.

A fact, some say, that could aid him and fellow inmate, David Sweat’s time on the lam.

A former Mexican official told Fox News Latino that the Matamoros prison where the convicted murderer spent almost half of a 20-year sentence for fatally stabbing a fellow American during a bar fight is under the sway of Mexico’s Gulf Cartel.

“Prisons [in Mexico] are controlled by organized crime, particularly in Matamoros,” Gerardo Acevedo Danache, former Consul of Mexico and legal advisor for Tamaulipas Chamber of Commerce told FNL. “The dominating cartel in that area is the Gulf Cartel.”

He added: “Undoubtedly, being imprisoned there for so many years creates the logical presumption that this runaway criminal has the option to get the Cartel’s refuge and protection.”

Matamoros is a city of a little under 450,000 people that sits directly across the border from Brownsville, Texas. The city has been a hot spot for drug trafficking in recent years given its closeness to the United States and its proximity to the Gulf of Mexico.

While there is no hard evidence currently available linking Matt to members of the Gulf Cartel, his time in Matamoros, his “Mexico Forever” tattoo on his back and other circumstantial factors appear to point to the fact that the convicted killer was at the very least on friendly terms with the Mexican organized crime group. Prison officials in Matamoros would not comment about the alleged link to Fox News Latino, citing security concerns.

When Matt was extradited back to the United States in 2007 to face trial for the 1997 abduction, torture and dismemberment of 76-year-old William Rickerson in his native Tonawanda, N.Y – the crime that had him serving a life sentence in the New York prison from which he escaped – he was sent back alongside a slew of high-ranking members of both the Gulf and Arellano-Felix drug cartels.

The most notable cartel member extradited with Matt was Osiel Cárdenas Guillén, the former head of the Gulf Cartel who was charged with drug trafficking and assaulting an FBI agent, a Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agent, and a local Texas sheriff's deputy. He was eventually sentenced to 25 years in a U.S. prison.

The jail where Matt spent his time in Mexico, the Centro de Ejecucion de Sanciones (CEDES) de Matamoros, has been a hotbed of violence in recent years, with a number of bloody prison riots breaking out -- including one last January that left a Texas man who was imprisoned there dead.

It was also the facility where the former jailed American Marine Jon Hammar was chained to his bed in 2012.

Christopher Wilson, deputy doctor of the Mexico Institute and the Woodrow Wilson Center, said it is likely that Matt came into contact with organized crime during his time in Mexico.

“The state of Tamaulipas is one of the most trafficked corridors in the U.S. so just by the geography of where he was he could have been in contact with the cartels,” Wilson said.

But he said that because Matt has been away from Mexico for so long, it is highly unlikely he still has close contacts with Gulf cartel leaders – particularly since the criminal organization has gone through so much shake up since Matt left the country in 2007.

 “If he was in touch with anyone high up in the organization while in prison,” Wilson said, “they are probably not with the Gulf cartel anymore because they are either dead or incarcerated.”

Bryan Llenas contributed to this report.

Bryan Llenas contributed to this report.

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