A kidnapped hitman and rising tension pushed Sinaloa and Juárez cartels into war, informant says

Border Crime

A general view of Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua State, on a windy, dusty afternoon on May 20, 2019. (PAUL RATJE/AFP via Getty Images)

EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) – Years before the Sinaloa and Juárez cartel warred with each other, planes filled with hundreds of kilos of cocaine landed on clandestine airstrips outside the town of Guadalupe, Chihuahua.

Sinaloa cartel members would await the two-man airplanes as they utilized radio to communicate with the pilots before landing on the secret airstrips. State police would watch as the cartel would set up lights for pilots to see the runway as they descended on the cleared-out desert land.

After unloading the drugs, David Sanchez Hernandez, a former sergeant with the Juárez police department would ride off into the desert toward a highway. He would be escorted by members of the state police who had the capability to maneuver vehicles through the mountainous terrain.

And, in his truck, Sanchez would ride to a warehouse or auto shop controlled by the cartel to load drugs onto trucks destined for the United States.

Sanchez revealed the history tracing back to the late 1990s and early 2000s during his testimony in a trial of his former Sinaloa cartel colleagues on Thursday. He and other informants, many imprisoned cartel members and former police have testified in a case of two high-profile cartel members this week.

Arturo Shows Urquidi and Mario Alberto Iglesias Villegas are on trial in U.S. federal court in El Paso for their involvement in the Sinaloa cartel.

Arturo Shows Urquidi. / Courtesy of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency

The trials are part of a large indictment by a federal grand jury that included Sinaloa cartel leaders Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman and Ismael “Mayo” Zambada Garcia. On April 24, 2012, the leaders and 22 other members of the cartel were charged with criminal activities ranging from trafficking drugs to conspiracy to kill in a foreign country.

Sanchez’s testimony offered a rare insight into the tension between the Sinaloa and Juárez cartels before war broke out in the late 2000s.

He mentioned the Juárez cartel leader at the time, Jose Luis Ledesma, sought more oversight of his counterparts operating in the border city. For years, the Sinaloa cartel had operated with little to no objection from the Juárez cartel.

But Sanchez said Ledesma wanted to know more about the Sinaloa’s operations and how many shipments of cocaine were coming into the city. And, he wanted to know, who in law enforcement agencies worked for the Sinaloa cartel.

Ismael Zambada García, also known as “El Paisa,” was not pleased with Ledesma’s requests, Sanchez said. And, tension rose high enough for Guzman, who was the leader of the cartel at the time, to send two of his top hitmen to Juárez.

One of those hitmen was Antonio Marrufo, who was known as “Jaguar.”

Sanchez claims the Juárez cartel kidnapped Marrufo in 2005, and he learned of it from a police officer he had been bribing. After telling Zambada what happened, a meeting was arranged between members of both cartels.

Antonio Marrufo / Courtesy of the Drug Enforcement Agency

They met near the Channel 44 station in Juárez, where Ledesma appeared intoxicated, Sanchez said. And, appeared hostile towards him.

Shortly after, Marrufo was released and appeared to have been beaten while he was captured.

Sanchez said Zambada called a meeting with Sinaloa leaders in Juárez to discuss fighting back against their counterparts and that his drug traffickers needed to find safety in stash houses because of the impending bloodshed.

The former policeman said several men who had been in charge of drug trafficking left the city for Mexico City, Culiacán and Mexicali.

Sanchez and other informants said they are offering testimony in the hope of reducing their sentences. Some, including Sanchez, have not been sentenced in their own cases yet.

The former police sergeant admitted to killing at least 10 individuals, including one man named “Tiscareno,” during his time working with the cartel. He killed Tiscareno on Zambada’s orders because of his disagreement with how the Sinaloa cartel was managing its operation in Juárez.

Sanchez also admitted to participating in “many” kidnappings and assisting in the burial of at least 30 bodies. He was arrested in 2017 after he had been indicted in 2012 along with over 20 of his Sinaloa colleagues.

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