MEXICO CITY – Mexican authorities have arrested a suspected top operator of the powerful Sinaloa drug cartel for whom the U.S. government had offered a $5 million reward.
Ovidio Limon Sanchez was detained this week in Culiacan, capital of the northwestern state of Sinaloa, Col. Ricardo Trevilla, spokesman for the Defense Secretariat, said Thursday.
Limon Sanchez, little known in his homeland, has been wanted for extradition since 2007 by the United States for cocaine trafficking and distribution.
Defense officials handed over the suspect, captured Wednesday by soldiers from the 9th Military Zone, to federal Attorney General’s Office agents at Mexico City’s international airport, the coronel said, adding that army troops detained Limon Sanchez in a carefully orchestrated raid without any shots fired.
The suspect managed the cartel’s cocaine shipments to the United States, mainly to Los Angeles and other parts of southern California, and coordinated the purchase, transportation and distribution of drugs in that area of the United States.
The arrest will significantly hinder the Sinaloa cartel’s ability to traffic cocaine and weaken its capacity to obtain proceeds from drug sales, Trevilla said.
The Sinaloa cartel is led by Joaquin “El Chapo” (Shorty) Guzman, who was arrested in Guatemala in 1993 and escaped from the Puente Grande maximum-security prison in the western state of Jalisco on Jan. 19, 2001.
He is rumored to be hiding out in the neighboring state of Durango.
Elsewhere, the Mexican army captured six suspected members of the Los Zetas cartel, one of whom allegedly participated in an Aug. 25 arson attack on a casino that killed 52 people, officials said.
The Defense Secretariat said in a statement that Hugo Ivan Santos Doria confessed to belonging to a Zetas cell and to having participated in the attack on the Casino Royale in the northern industrial city of Monterrey, capital of Nuevo Leon state.
Los Zetas gunmen torched the gaming establishment because its owner refused to pay protection money.
Santos, who was arrested Wednesday in a Monterrey neighborhood, also admitted to taking part in one of the failed attacks on the mayor of the Nuevo Leon municipality of Garza, Jaime Rodriguez, in February, as well as other crimes.
In another operation in Monterrey that same day, soldiers arrested a suspect identified as Ricardo Vazquez Diaz who confessed to being a member of the Zetas and participating Monday in the killing of a police officer and shooting a woman – now in serious condition – only because she was talking on a cellphone.
Vazquez said he had participated in 15 other slayings of members of the rival Gulf cartel, some of whom were hung from bridges in the Monterrey metropolitan area.
In a nearby rural town, armed forces also captured four other gunmen after a shootout in which two of the suspects were wounded.
Founded by deserters from an elite special forces unit, Los Zetas began as the armed wing of the Gulf drug cartel, but ended that relationship in March 2010 to go into business for themselves.
Hundreds have died in the ensuing turf battles between the aggressive upstarts and the established drug trafficking organizations.
President Felipe Calderon militarized the struggle against Mexico’s heavily armed, well-funded drug mobs shortly after taking office in December 2006.
The strategy has led to headline-grabbing captures of cartel kingpins, but drug-related violence has skyrocketed and claimed nearly 50,000 lives nationwide over the five-year period. EFE