MONTERREY, Mexico – Several police officers in northern Mexico allowed a violent drug gang to hold kidnap victims in the local jail while ransom payments were being negotiated, an official said Thursday.
Four police officers from Juarez, a suburb of the city of Monterrey, are being held pending further investigation, said Jorge Domene, the security spokesman for Nuevo Leon state.
The scandal came to light this week when state and federal police freed two kidnapping victims from jail cells in Juarez. Investigators believe that the victims were abducted by the extremely violent Zetas cartel and that the officers were working for the Zetas, Domene said.
Local police in northern Mexico have often been bribed or threatened to work for drug gangs by providing them with information, protecting their activities or detaining and turning over members of rival gangs.
Domene noted that last weekend, the Nuevo Leon attorney general's office detained 73 local policemen from a half dozen communities in the state who confessed to having performed various services for gangs, including spying, acting as lookouts, and carrying out killings and kidnappings.
Authorities then conducted background checks on 99 other officers, 21 of whom were fired after refusing to cooperate. Forty-three have passed the checks so far.
Local police forces in Mexico are often low-paid and poorly armed. A government report released in September said many Mexican police officers still earn $350 a month or less, despite reform efforts aimed at increasing wages and decreasing corruption.
At another northern Mexico prison, in the border city of Ciudad Juarez, a stash of illicit weapons was found buried in a cell block just two days after authorities discovered a smaller arsenal in a separate block, the attorney general's office of Chihuahua state said.
The latest discovery included three assault rifles, 12 pistols and 450 bullets, and involved a cell block dominated by the Aztecas and La Linea gangs, both of which are aligned with the Juarez drug cartel.
The first weapons stash was controlled by the Killer Artists and the Mexicles, both of which are aligned with the rival Sinaloa cartel. Some of the weapons were believed to have been used in the killings of 16 inmates and a woman at the prison in July.
The most scandalous case of prison corruption came to light in July 2010, when an investigation revealed that guards and officials at a prison in the northern city of Gomez Palacio had freed inmates belonging to a gang, lent them guns and sent them off in official vehicles to carry out drug-related killings, including the massacre of 17 people earlier that year.
The guards allowed the inmates to return to their cells after the killings so that they would be safe from reprisals, authorities said at the time.
"We have barely been in time to put the brakes on organized crime in the first stages, but in some towns, in some areas of the country, they have infiltrated authorities in a practically symbiotic relationship," President Felipe Calderon said during a speech to members of the business community Thursday.
He noted that in some instances, citizens who have filed complaints with police have been contacted immediately after by angry criminals, suggesting they were in league with the authorities.