Officials from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration say they captured a top leader of one of Mexico’s most violent drug cartels. The 23-year-old cartel boss was arrested while shopping in Texas, and made his first court appearance this week, U.S. officials said.
Juan Francisco Saenz-Tamez had been the leader of the Gulf cartel, one of Mexico’s oldest and most notorious drug trafficking organizations, for just a year before he was arrested in Edinburgh, Texas, on Oct. 9, DEA officials said Tuesday. But despite his young age and short period of leadership, DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart said in a statement that Saenz-Tamez “oversaw much of the violence and bloodshed that has plagued Mexico.”
The circumstances of Saenz-Tamez’s arrest – in the United States, rather than in Mexico – as well as his relative youth are both unusual in the world of Mexican organized crime. Most of Mexico’s drug kingpins are arrested within the country and spend many years working their way up the ranks of the cartel before they emerge as top leaders.
DEA officials said Saenz-Tamez emerged as leader of the Gulf Cartel after the 2013 arrest of former leader Mario Ramirez-Trevino, and that a federal investigation into Mexican drug trafficking operations in Texas enabled authorities to identify him.
Saenz-Tamez was indicted by a federal grand jury in September 2013 and charged with conspiracy with intent to distribute cocaine, conspiracy with intent to distribute marijuana and conspiracy with intent to launder money. He faces up to life in prison if convicted.
This latest capture follows a string of high-profile arrests of drug kingpins in Mexico, including Héctor Beltrán Leyva of the Beltrán Leyva cartel and Vicente Carrillo Fuentes of the Juarez drug cartel, both of whom were arrested earlier this month.