MONTERREY, Mexico – Mexican authorities have arrested one of the suspected masterminds of an arson attack on a casino in this northern industrial city that killed 52, officials said.
Agents with the federal Attorney General’s Office arrested Roberto Carlos Lopez Castro this week in the western town of Zapopan, Jorge Domene, the Security Council spokesman in the northeastern state of Nuevo Leon, whose capital is Monterrey, said Friday.
According to testimony from other suspects, Lopez Castro was among the Los Zetas drug cartel leaders who planned the Aug. 25 massacre, Domene said.
Eleven people have been detained in the attack, including a minor and a Nuevo Leon state police officer, and warrants are still outstanding for seven other suspects, including two cartel bosses who allegedly ordered the casino’s torching.
Los Zetas gunmen set fire to the Casino Royale because the gaming establishment’s owner refused to pay protection money in an extortion racket the gang was running.
Domene said Lopez Castro’s capture weakens the criminal organization and that he is confident of further arrests of Zetas members involved in the attack, one of the deadliest against civilians in recent years.
The massacre at the gambling establishment unearthed a web of corruption involving officials and casino owners.
Owners of some Nuevo Leon casinos have complained that they are subjected to extortion by organized crime elements and also by officials, who threaten to shutter their establishments if payments are not made.
Manuel Jonas Larrazabal, the brother of Monterrey’s mayor, was arrested on Sept. 1 by the Nuevo Leon state Attorney General’s Office after several videos were posted on the Reforma newspaper’s Web site showing him receiving cash during visits to casinos.
His defense attorney said the money was payment for the sale of “cheeses and mescal (a distilled alcoholic beverage)” from the southern state of Oaxaca to people linked to casinos in Monterrey.
One of the videos was dated Aug. 19, just six days before the torching of the Casino Royale.
Reports came out after the attack that the casino lacked an operating license, emergency management office administrators did nothing to close it despite the lack of basic safety systems and judges allowed the gaming establishment to continue in business.
Relatives of many of the victims of the arson attack say their loved ones died due to that negligence and corruption.
Officials in some states responded to the massacre at the Casino Royale by ordering the closing of gaming establishments in the past few weeks.
President Felipe Calderon, for his part, ordered an extensive investigation into Mexico’s casinos, many of which operate in an irregular manner, with some staying open for business due to controversial court orders.
Home to many of Mexico’s industrial giants, Monterrey long seemed immune to the drug war that has claimed more than 40,000 lives nationwide since December 2006, when Calderon took office and militarized the struggle with the cartels.
But the metropolis and its suburbs have been battered by a wave of drug-related violence since March 2010.