MEXICO CITY – An heir to one of Mexico's most notorious narcotics empires was grabbed by police as he exercised in a city park, officials announced Thursday, shortly before U.S. and Mexican Cabinet officials met to coordinate attacks on escalating drug violence.
Vicente Carrillo Leyva allegedly inherited a top position in the Juarez cartel from his father Amado Carrillo Fuentes, who was nicknamed "the Lord of the Skies" for sending jetliners full of cocaine to the United States.
The father was considered Mexico's No. 1 drug trafficker when he died in 1997 during plastic surgery to change his appearance. The U.S. Embassy said Thursday that the embattled remnant of his cartel is still "one of Mexico's most ruthless organized criminal gangs, which controls one of the primary transportation routes for illegal drug shipments into the United States."
Prosecutors say Carrillo Leyva, 32, was second only to his uncle Vicente Carrillo Fuentes in the gang, whose battles with upstart cartels have fed a bloodbath that saw 1,600 people killed in its home base of Ciudad Juarez last year.
Just a week ago, Mexico's government posted a 30 million ($2.1 million) reward for Carrillo Leyva and 23 other top cartel suspects. Another figure on the list already has fallen captive, as have two alleged cartel sidekicks facing smaller bounties.
Masked police officers wearing helmets and bulletproof vests hauled Carrillo Leyva before cameras at a news conference early Thursday. The young man, looking a little like a well-coiffed college student in dark-framed glasses and a track suit emblazoned with "Abercrombie NY," showed little emotion before the flash of lights.
The announcement came hours before U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder met with Mexican Attorney General Eduardo Medina-Mora and Interior Minister Fernando Gomez-Mont in Cuernavaca. They were aiming at ways to stop arms smuggling across the border as well as new strategies for fighting the cartels that have fueled violence in both countries.
More than 9,000 people have been killed in drug-related violence in Mexico since President Felipe Calderon took office in 2006.
Police said Carrillo Leyva was caught Wednesday morning while exercising in a park in Mexico City's mansion-dotted Las Lomas neighborhood.
He was using an alias, Alejandro Peralta Alvarez, and was passing himself off as a businessman, said Federal Police Commissioner Rodrigo Esparza. But authorities were able to track him down through his wife, who did not change her name. The government had records showing her sister was married to Rodolfo Carrillo Fuentes, a brother of the cartel leader.
The U.S. Embassy said Carrillo Leyva apparently faces no charges in the United States.
Two weeks ago, police arrested Vicente "El Vicentillo" Zambada, a purported top figure in Mexico's Sinaloa drug cartel. Calderon has described Zambada's father, Ismael "El Mayo" Zambada as "perhaps the most important leader of cartels in Mexico."
Elsewhere Thursday, Guatemalan police captured Juan Policarpo, alleged to be one of 11 drug traffickers involved in the grisly killings of 15 Nicaraguans and a Dutch man aboard a bus in November.
Investigators say the drug gang was apparently looking for a rival trafficker's shipment when it stopped the bus in eastern Guatemala. They didn't find any drugs, but killed and burned the bodies of the passengers, some of whom they believed were members of the rival gang. Policarpo is the second suspect arrested in the case.