Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Arrest Made in Ciudad Juarez Consulate Murders (Maybe)

Ricardo "Chino" Valles de la Rosa, under arrest in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico

Mexican authorities have arrested a member of the Barrio Azteca, an El Paso, Texas, crime gang that is affiliated with the Carrillo-Fuentes drug cartel, and say that he has confessed to having a role in the murders of three members of the U.S. Consulate Ciudad Juarez community on March 13.

See the Mexican press release here (in Spanish).

The twist is that, according to the story line picked up by the Associated Press and other media outlets, the attacks on our consulate employees and their families had nothing to do with drug cartel retaliation against the U.S. government. I have my doubts about that, which I'll explain below.

Here's today's story from the El Paso Times:

A former Barrio Azteca gang member from El Paso suspected of being involved in the killing of three people tied to the U.S. Consulate in Juárez claimed the target of the attack was a detention officer who mistreated gang members at the El Paso County Jail.

Mexican authorities on Tuesday accused Ricardo "Chino" Valles de la Rosa, 45, of being a lookout for gunmen who carried out the hit.

Valles was arrested Friday by the Mexican army in Juárez and remains in custody in Mexico.

Valles alleged during his detention hearing that a gang leader ordered the hit on Arthur Redelfs, an El Paso County sheriff's detention officer, because Redelfs mistreated fellow gang members at the jail. Valles had another hearing Tuesday before a judge, also in Juárez.

The Barrio Azteca is a brother gang of the Juárez Aztecas gang, and both are aligned with the Carrillo-Fuentes cartel.

On March 13, gunmen shot and killed Redelfs, his wife, Lesley Enriquez Redelfs, who worked for the U.S. Consulate, and Jorge Salcido Ceniceros, a maquiladora supervisor and husband of consulate employee Hilda Antillon.

Valles said soon after his arrest that a gang leader ordered him to locate Redelfs the next time the detention officer entered Juárez. He said that on the day of the slayings he notified gunmen for the Aztecas that the white vehicle Redelfs was supposed to be driving had left a children's party at the Barquito de Papel hall.

In his statement to officials, Valles said he followed Redelfs' vehicle along Avenida Ribereña until the gunmen asked him to leave the area because "they had him." Redelfs and his wife were killed near the Stanton Street international bridge.

Because two white vehicles left the same party within minutes of each other, the gunmen decided to follow and attack both of them, officials said Valles told them. Redelfs and Salcido both drove white SUVs that day.

El Paso County sheriff's Deputy Jesus Tovar said Valles has a cocaine delivery charge pending against him in El Paso.

Redelfs was a detention officer for the El Paso County Sheriff's Office for more than 10 years.

Sheriff spokeswoman Chris Acosta said the Sheriff's Office had no comment on the allegations concerning Redelfs because the FBI was the lead agency responsible for any communications about the case.

"We will repeat what we said before -- that Arthur Redelfs was a professional who was well-respected," Acosta said.

Chihuahua Gov. Jose Reyes Baeza said the FBI and DEA are assisting with the investigation, mostly by providing intelligence.

"We still maintain that we have no information to indicate that any of the three were specifically targeted," FBI Special Agent Andrea Simmons said Tuesday. "U.S. law enforcement continues to work on this investigation and follow up on all leads."

Soon after the killings, Mexican officials said the Aztecas gang was responsible. The FBI has extensively investigated the U.S.-based Barrio Azteca gang.

On March 18, U.S. investigators in El Paso County launched an operation to shake down Barrio Azteca members and their associates for information about the murders. A few days later, the Border Patrol received intelligence that the gang was considering some kind of retaliation for the operation.

Mexican officials said that several Mexican law enforcement agencies collaborated in Valles' detention, and that the federal attorney general's office was the lead agency for the investigation of the murders. Officials provided background about Valles, who was born in Juárez in 1964.

At the age of 6, Valles and his family moved to El Paso where he lived for 30 years. Valles, nicknamed "Chino," was a member of the notorious Los Fatherless street gang in South-Central El Paso.

On Oct. 15, 1995, he was sentenced to 14 years in prison on drug charges, and he met members of the gangs in La Tuna federal prison, including a leader that Mexican authorities identified as David Almaraz.

On July 25, 2007, Valles was released after serving 12 years in eight U.S. prisons. That year he moved to Juárez, where he joined up with the gang members there. Valles' body is heavily tattooed with ancient Aztec imagery. "El Paso" is inked on the back of his neck, and "Chino" on his abdomen.

The Mexican army arrested Valles on Friday in the slayings of four rival gang members in Juárez and on a weapons charge for being in possession of a 9 mm handgun.

Last Oct. 21, Valles allegedly gunned down 32-year-old Marco Zapata Reyes at a chicken restaurant named El Pollo Sinaloense, authorities said. He is also accused of killing David Angel Contreras Regalado a week later. Both victims were members of the rival Mexicles gang.

Officials said that in January, Valles allegedly shot and killed two members of the Artistas Asesinos (Artist Assassins, or Double A) gang who were in a blue-green Cadillac. Their names were not released.

I think the announced motive for the attack is unconvincing. The idea that a crime gang that got its start in Texas prisons would attack an El Paso jail officer such as Deputy Redelfs has surface plausibility. However, I don't see any indication that Barrio Azteca has retaliated against other jail officers, so there isn't a pattern there that would substantiate such a threat, and so far as I know no one has alleged any specific cause for Barrio Azteca to retaliate against Redelfs personally.

Also, the party with an interest in attacking an El Paso jail officer - the El Paso-based Barrio Azteca gang - didn't commit the attack. The story that Mexican authorities are putting out has the attacks being committed by multiple gunmen from a Juarez-based gang, rather than by the El Paso-based gang. The suspect, Ricardo Valles de la Rosa, acting alone, merely spotted Redelfs when he left El Paso, followed him, and set him up for others to attack. If the motive was really to attack Redelfs because of his status as an El Paso jail officer, then why wouldn't the El Paso-based gang simply attack him themselves? It's not like Valles de la Rosa has any inhibition about murdering people on either side of the border.

And why were there two attacks within a few minutes of each other, if the motive related only to Redelfs? The confession by Valles da la Rosa doesn't account for the attack - mistaken or otherwise - on a second vehicle being driven by Jorge Salcido Ceniceros, the husband of one of the consulate's locally engaged staff. According to Valles' statement, he was never uncertain as to the identity or the whereabouts of Redelfs. Valles followed Redelfs' white SUV after he departed the child's birthday party that had brought him to Juarez, and Valles broke off from that pursuit only after the attackers told him they had the target. Moments later, he heard the gunshots (in the words of his statement, "momentos despues, escucho unos disparos"). He then drove past the Redelf's vehicle, in which he saw a man and a women who appeared to be dead. Why was there any reason for a second crew of shooters to follow a second white SUV from the same birthday party and to attack its occupants?

Most importantly of all, the street gangs, on both sides, work for the Juarez cartel that runs the drug business in Mexico's Chihuahua State.

According to testimony from several different witnesses on both sides of the current trial, BA [Barrio Azteca] now works only with the Juarez cartel of Vicente Carrillo-Fuentes, which has long controlled much of Mexico’s Chihuahua state and Ciudad Juarez, and broke with the Sinaloa Federation earlier in 2008. BA took sides with the Juarez cartel, with which it is jointly running drugs across the border at the Juarez plaza.

BA provides the foot soldiers to carry out hits at the behest of Juarez cartel leaders. On Nov. 3, 10 alleged BA members in Ciudad Juarez were arrested in connection with 12 murders. The suspects were armed with four AK-47s, pistols and radio communication equipment — all hallmarks of a team of hit men ready to carry out a mission.

We'll see what develops as investigations proceed and more arrests are made. But for now, the simplest explanation for the murders of our employee, her husband, and the husband of another employee in Ciudad Juarez seems to be just this: "BA [Barrio Azteca] provides the foot soldiers to carry out hits at the behest of Juarez cartel leaders."

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