Mexico Nabs Alleged Top Financer of Zeta Cartel

Mexican authorities said Thursday they have detained a woman who allegedly worked as a top financial operator for the Zetas drug cartel, and collared two Americans with $950,000 in cash in a separate bust.

Mexican marines detained alleged Zetas "accountant" Carmen del Consuelo Saenz two days ago in the Gulf coast state of Veracruz, along 10 other alleged Zetas members.

Saenz, 29, was allegedly in charge of receiving proceeds from drug sales, pirated goods, kidnappings and extortions in five southern states of Mexico, said Navy spokesman Jose Luis Vergara.

Saenz used the illicit proceeds to bribe authorities and meet the drug gang's payroll, Vergara said.

The Zetas are a hyper-violent drug cartel that is based along Mexico's Gulf coast, but who have recently expanded further into the interior of the country.

In a separate bust at an airport just west of Mexico City, Mexican federal police said Thursday they had detained two American men for attempting to fly out of Mexico with $950,000 in undeclared cash in a suitcase.

The men's luggage was searched Monday at an airport in Toluca, just outside of Mexico City, as they prepared to board a private jet to the United States. Police said the men appeared nervous when questioned, and background checks revealed one of the men had served a prison sentence for drug-related offenses.

Federal police said the men could not prove the licit origin of the money, and were turned over to prosecutors pending possible charges.

The U.S. Embassy in Mexico City did not immediately respond to requests to confirm the men's' nationality, names or hometowns.

Also Thursday, the U.S. Treasury Department announced it is imposing sanctions on the owner of a Mexican racetrack and car dealership for alleged involvement with the Sinaloa drug cartel.

The Treasury Department said it has designated Martin Guadencio Avendano and his two brothers as foreign drug traffickers under the Kingpin Act. That prohibits people in the U.S. from conducting businesses with them and freezes their U.S. assets.

The department said the 42-year-old Avendano launders money for the cartel's co-leader, Ismael Zambada. The other leader is Joaquin Guzman, known as "El Chapo." Both are fugitive.

Treasury says Avendano has a car dealership in Ensenada and a racetrack in Culiacan. There was no response to an e-mail sent to the track.

Also Thursday, the mayor of an upscale suburb of the northern city of Monterrey said he was going to keep the municipal police chief and the director of the municipal police monitoring center in their jobs, even though they had failed to pass background and security tests.

Mayor Mauricio Fernandez Garza of the suburb of San Pedro Garza Garcia said he will ask federal authorities to allow the two to take the tests again, in hopes they would pass.

"The progress San Pedro is making in public safety is extraordinary ... the people who I have in charge are doing a good job," Fernandez Garza said.

Federal authorities have said that all those who fail the vetting process should be fired, but left open the possibility that some might be reassigned.

On Wednesday, Mexico's National Public Safety System reported that almost one-third of 63,436 low-ranking Mexican police officers tested so far have failed background and security checks.

Almost one-quarter of the police chiefs and top commanders tested so far have also failed, as had about 10 percent of midlevel police commanders and officers.

On Thursday, the Defense Department said soldiers in the northern state of San Luis Potosi detained two local police officers from the city of Cardenas with 39 doses of cocaine in their possession; a dose in Mexico is usually measured as a gram.

The soldiers then detained the city's police chief and a police commander, who allegedly gave orders to the police officers to commit illegal acts; documents linking them to a drug cartel were found in the raid, the army reported.