Sunday, May 8, 2011


AZMEX SPECIAL 8 MAY 2011 Background

Note: Don't know about el kilo, but much of the rest of story seems
pretty much on target

U.S.-bred criminal accused in Mexico mass killings
by Mark Stevenson and Shannon Dininny - May. 7, 2011 09:21 PM
Associated Press

SAN FERNANDO, Mexico - When he was deported from the U.S. to Mexico
for the third time, Martin Estrada Luna was a high-school dropout
with a rap sheet of petty crimes like burglary.

Less than two years later, Mexican authorities say, he has
transformed himself into a drug baron known as El Kilo, the leader of
a ruthless cell of the Zetas gang who masterminded the mass killings
of more than 250 people. He is now under arrest in Mexico City.

Mexican prosecutors have not presented any evidence publicly to
support their claim that he was responsible for the deaths of 72
migrants in August and 183 people months later. The Mexican
government often announces big arrests immediately after high-profile
crimes, but according to its own statistics, three-quarters of those
initially accused as drug traffickers or assassins are let go without

Whether he was a big player or not, Estrada Luna appears to have
succumbed to a cross-border crime culture that is growing as hundreds
of thousands of deportees with criminal backgrounds are dumped in
Mexico. Under a tough-on-crime immigration crackdown, half of the
393,000 people deported from the United States between October 2009
and September 2010 were convicted criminals, with crimes that could
have ranged from minor drug offenses to murder.

There are seldom arrest warrants to hold the ex-convicts in Mexico,
so they are let loose into a lawless border land increasingly run by
drug lords eager to train recruits in violent tactics.

In San Fernando, Tamaulipas, neighbors are too scared to talk about
the 255 bodies found executed in groups or buried in pits. State
police are afraid to venture onto the back roads where the Zeta drug
gang hides out, and even federal police cower for protection in an
understaffed base.

Ranchers complain that their isolated spreads are being taken over by
Zeta gunmen, who Mexican officials say are recruited through violence
and turned into killing machines. Tamaulipas state Interior Secretary
Morelos Canseco said there has been a "terrible upward spiral" in
brutality since 2010, when war broke out between the Zetas and their
old allies, the Gulf Cartel.

"You get status in these groups based on who can do the worst thing,
who can do what nobody dares to do. It is like a competition in
perversity," he said. "First they would steal cars and let the people
go, but later they would steal the car and take the women ... After
that, they steal the cars, take the women, and kill anybody who

It was here where Estrada Luna arrived, a 34-year-old tattooed member
of the Norteno gang, known as El Kilo, a measure of weight, because
of his more than 6-foot, 200-pound frame. Estrada Luna could not be
reached in custody, and does not have a lawyer of record.

Estrada Luna was born in Mexico and grew up in Tieton, a tiny
Washington-state farm town dominated by the apple industry. His
mother lived in Laredo, Texas, and his stepfather was a U.S. citizen.

People who knew Estrada in Washington state said he was trouble, but
don't believe he could have killed more than 250 people.

"We got along. He had never, ever mouthed off to me," said Tieton
Police Chief Jeff Ketchum, who recalled Estrada as a product of a
broken family, crashing on friends' couches and finding petty
trouble. "He was a leader, in a bad sense, obviously, but I don't
believe he actually did (the murders)."

The U.S. deported Estrada for the first time in 1998, after a seven-
month prison term for burglary and weapons charges. He was deported a
second time after a jail stint that included a jailbreak by four
other inmates - Estrada himself was too large to fit through the hole
they had broken in the cell ceiling.

In January 2009, he was deported for the final time from San Diego's
San Ysidro border crossing, after a prison term in Herlong, Calif.
for re-entry after deportation. His mother, Ofelia De La Rosa, who
works as a housekeeper at a hotel in Laredo, Texas, said she hadn't
seen her son in "more than a year." She refused to answer any other

He was dumped in Tijuana, Mexico. He made his way east to the violent
border state of Tamaulipas, where he had family. There, local police
say, he got a job as a "burrero," running drug shipments for the
Zetas up from the lower Gulf coast to the border. While that seems a
quick rise, one U.S. official speaking on condition of anonymity said
the government crackdown and war with the Gulf cartel have caused so
many casualties in Zeta ranks that recruits become local leaders in a
year or two.

From his apparent base in a walled, palm-lined compound in the La
Peregrina slum on the outskirts of the Tamaulipas state capital,
Ciudad Victoria, Estrada Luna began running a network of street-level
drug dealers, police said.

In the first massacre in the area in August last year, 72 mainly
Central American migrants were asked whether they wanted to work for
the Zetas. When they refused, they were gunned down.

In March, possibly also in an attempt at forced recruitment, the
Zetas kidnapped passengers off passing buses, took them into the
backwoods, killed them and buried them dozens at a time in mass pits,
police said. No ransom demands were ever received.

Tamaulipas official Canseco acknowledged that "a very large number"
of the victims died of blows to the head with a heavy object, and
that a sledgehammer was found at one of the sites. But he could not
confirm whether they were forced to fight.

On April 16, Estrada Luna was arrested at his house by Marines. A
Mexican Navy official who was not authorized to be quoted by name
said that once in custody, Estrada Luna was unusually violent,
struggling with his guards and attempting to slip off his handcuffs.

"It was as if he couldn't get it through his head that he was
caught," said the Navy official.

While some residents of the La Peregrina slum said they'd never seen
or heard of "El Kilo," others remembered him as a drug trafficker
with a violent streak - but hardly the ringleader that authorities
have depicted.

The owner of a small food store said he came in on two or three
occasions just before his arrest to buy single cans of beer, while a
companion picked up bags of chips or snack foods. She said he was
silent, bulky and brooding, but did not seem threatening.

The store owner - who asked that her name not be used for fear of
reprisals - said Estrada Luna once asked her for two small bags of
bicarbonate of soda, a remedy frequently used in Mexico for stomach
ailments. She heard him tell a friend, "I'm going to use it for
mixing." Thinking he had an upset stomach, she suggested he try
mixing Coca-Cola with lime juice, another folk remedy.

"He just smiled at me, and then I was for mixing
something else," she said, gesturing to her nose. She suggested a
real drug-gang chief wouldn't be buying his own beer and bags of
chips or cutting his cocaine with cheap bicarbonate.

But another shop owner described how he came into her shop one day
not long ago with a girl whose throat was ringed by severe bruises.
She said she overheard Estrada Luna tell a friend, "I almost killed
her, but I relented."

People still fear his gang in the dirt streets of La Peregrina, an
area so rough that it is patrolled not by police but by convoys of
soldiers in pickup trucks, guns at the ready.

"They are still here. It's not safe," said one man as he stood near
the compound where El Kilo was arrested. Nervously eyeing a man
dressed in military-style clothes down the dirt street, he said,
"They haven't gone away."

Some police sources suspect federal authorities may have arrested
Estrada Luna because he was a top contender to take over local
leadership after other Zeta bosses fled or disappeared.

In San Fernando, none of the police, local officials or residents
said they had seen or heard of "El Kilo," even people who lived less
than a mile from one of the pits used to dump the bodies.

"If I answer that question, I'd be found the next morning with my
throat slit," said one heavyset, gregarious store owner sitting on a
metal chair outside his business.

Police sources suggest Estrada Luna wasn't well known because he took
drug shipments through San Fernando rather than basing himself there.
But many people would be too afraid to say they had seen him in any
case; even Mayor Tomas Gloria doesn't allow himself to be videotaped
or photographed during interviews. Asked if he knew of El Kilo,
Gloria said no, but added that "people in San Fernando have learned
to be discreet."

Even with a heavy military presence, life is alarmingly normal in the
center of San Fernando; people stroll through a sun-washed central
plaza and eat ice cream. But that ends abruptly on the outskirts of
town, where an armed convoy of several state police vehicles refused
to venture down a dirt trail that leads to a mass grave.

"They could be anywhere in there, and we would just be targets," said
the commander of the convoy.

At one of the pits, the marks of backhoes were still visible, like
the ones authorities say the Zetas used to cover the corpses.

Only the Mexican army and Marines can enter here. Federal police say
that sometimes their lonely base on the outskirts of town has been
surrounded by convoys of taunting Zetas who send them death threats
over radio frequencies.

Those who knew Estrada Luna wonder what happened to him in this
borderland that has turned into a magnate for drifters, deportees and
thousands of migrants with criminal backgrounds. Authorities say even
Central American Mara street gang members wander there and end up
working for the Zetas.

Melva St. George, a Tieton, Washington woman whose uncle married
Estrada Luna's mother, described "El Kilo" and his brother this way:
"they were good kids, but they just started getting into trouble as
they got older."

Estrada calls himself a "proud parent" on his MySpace page -
relatives say he has at least two children. As his hero, he lists "my
jefita" - Mom.

Associated Press writer Elliot Spagat contributed to this report from
San Diego.

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