GUANAJUATO, Mexico (AP) — Mexican police and military forces on Sunday arrested the leader of the Santa Rosa de Lima gang who spread violence through north-central Mexico and fought a years-long bloody turf battle with the Jalisco cartel.
The armed forces and officials in the state of Guanajuato said they had captured José Antonio Yépez Ortiz, better known by his nickname “El Marro,” which means “The Sledgehammer.”
Yépez Ortiz was unusual among gang leaders because he posted videos with emotional calls to his followers, including one in June showing him appearing to cry after several of his supporters and relatives were arrested. In another video around the same time, he threatened to join forces with the Sinaloa cartel to defeat Jalisco, Mexico’s fastest-rising drug cartel.
The turf battle with Jalisco turned the industrial hub of Guanajuato, with its foreign auto plants and parts suppliers, into the most violent state in Mexico, with 2,293 murders in the first six months of this year. The Santa Rosa gang has been blamed by some observers for the July attack on a drug rehabilitation center in the city of Irapuato in which 27 men were killed.
But Mexico’s top civilian security official, Alfonso Durazo, said Yépez Ortiz would be charged with organized crime and fuel theft, not murder.
Yépez Ortiz had been the subject of massive manhunts for years, and was caught along with five other suspects allegedly holding a kidnapped businesswoman. He was among Mexico’s most wanted suspects, trailing Jalisco cartel leader Nemesio “El Mencho” Oseguera and Sinaloa cartel leader Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada.
His Santa Rosa gang was not a drug cartel, but rather a powerful, violent gang that grew up in a farming hamlet of the same name in north-central Guanajuato state by stealing fuel from government pipelines and refineries and robbing freight from trains.