Mexican authorities arrest suspect in killing of a U.S. Border Patrol agent

A member of a drug-robbery ring suspected in the 2010 shooting death of a Border Patrol agent in Arizona has been arrested deep in Mexico, leaving just one member of the original "rip crew" still at large in a case that highlighted the failings of a gun-tracking operation that let firearms fall into the hands of criminals in Mexico.

The suspect, Heraclio “Laco” Osorio-Arellanes, was apprehended Wednesday in an area known as the “Golden Triangle,” the confluence of three Mexican states where drug cartels control vast stretches of territory. He was identified by the Mexican Marines who arrested him only as "Heraclio N."

"At the request of the authorities in the U.S.," the Mexican navy said in a statement, “naval personnel arrested Heraclio N. on the border of Sinaloa and Chihuahua."

The U.S. Justice Department confirmed later Thursday that the man in custody was Osorio-Arellanes. He had been named in an extradition order issued in December 2011, more than a year after the death of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry. The U.S. government had offered a $250,000 reward for information leading to his capture.

Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions said in a news release that the capture should send a message to fugitives.

“We will hunt you down, we will find you and we will bring you to justice,” Sessions said.

Osorio-Arellanes was being held Thursday on suspicion of murder, theft and illegal use of a weapon. A previous suspect in Terry's death was held for two years before extradition to the United States.

Robert Heyer, Terry's cousin and a spokesman for the Phoenix-based Brian Terry Foundation, said the U.S. attorney's office in San Diego called family members at 7:30 a.m. on Wednesday to inform them of the arrest.

"This is great news," Heyer said. "The last two they apprehended have been fugitives in Mexico on the loose. That Mexican authorities are still willing to pursue justice despite the political climate is really important."

Terry and three other Border Patrol agents were on duty in a section of Peck Canyon near Rio Rico, Ariz., on Dec. 14, 2010, when they encountered a heavily armed six-man team that had sneaked across the border and was headed to rob marijuana dealers. Their illegal operation was known as a "rip-crew."

According to court testimony from Border Patrol agents at the scene, Agent Gabriel J. Fragoza saw the rip crew's "long rifles and backpacks." They were, he said, "looking for something, and ready to shoot." Agent Timothy Keller said he saw one of the men with a hand on the grip of his rifle, the other on the barrel.

According to court papers, one of the agents shouted "Police!" in English and Spanish, and fired non-lethal beanbag rounds. The rip crew responded with gunfire.

One of the crew was wounded with a shot to the torso. Terry, 40, was struck by a single bullet and called out that he had been hit.

"I'm paralyzed," Terry said. According to Agent William Castano, "Agent Terry soon lost consciousness and died at the scene."

The other Mexicans fled back across the border.

The agents and Terry's family have to relive the events of that night each time another member of the rip crew is tried in the U.S., Heyer said. The agents' testimony is the basis for the convictions, along with physical evidence and the information obtained from the imprisoned members of the robbery ring.

"It's always difficult to hear that testimony," Heyer said.

While he was campaigning for president last year, President Trump told the Terry family he would "open the books" on Terry's death and the Fast and Furious operation, Heyer said. On April 3, Heyer said the family spoke to Dana Boente of the Justice Department, who briefly served as acting attorney general after Trump fired Sally Yates.

"We told him we wanted the pursuit of accountability in the Department of Justice” and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Heyer said about the 40-minute phone call. "We told him that we believed the [Fast and Furious] whistleblowers are still being retaliated against."

The Naco, Ariz., Border Patrol station was renamed after Terry in 2012.

Two guns found at the scene were eventually traced to a member of a gun-smuggling ring that was being monitored in a Justice Department-sanctioned, gun-tracking operation known as Fast and Furious.

The aim of the operation was to let guns cross into Mexico and to monitor how and where they were used. U.S. authorities have been criticized for allowing informants to walk away from Phoenix-area gun shops with weapons rather than immediately arresting them.

The scandal captured Washington’s attention for a time, as the insurgent tea party wing of the Republican Party cudgeled the fledgling Obama presidency in congressional hearings over Fast and Furious. The furor resulted in the resignation of the head of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and underlined one of the signature failures of the Obama administration. The ATF lost track of 1,400 of 2,000 firearms that were being monitored.

The government of Mexico announced Osorio-Arellanes's arrest on Thursday, proclaiming it as evidence of the country's commitment to working with American authorities.

The arrest comes during a period of strained relations between the two countries, prompted by allegations by President Trump and conservative politicians that Mexican migration is a major source of crime in the U.S., a contention refuted by social science and criminal justice statistics.

As for the rip crew's remnants, in 2015, Ivan Soto-Barraza and Jesus Leonel Sanchez-Meza were each tried and convicted in Tucson of first-degree murder in connection with Terry's death.

Manuel Osorio-Arellanes, who was shot and apprehended the night of the confrontation, is serving a 30-year sentence after pleading guilty to first-degree murder, as is Rosario Rafael Burboa-Alvarez. It is unclear what, if any, relation there is between Manuel Osorio-Arellanes and Heraclio Osorio-Arellanes.

The U.S. government is still offering a $250,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of another alleged member of the rip crew, Jesus Rosario Favela-Astorga, who is still at large.

Follow Nigel Duara on Twitter: @nigelduara

nigel.duara@latimes.com

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UPDATES:

3:25 p.m: This story was updated to report that U.S. authorities identified the man arrested in Mexico as Heraclio “Laco” Osorio-Arellanes.

1:40 p.m.: The story was updated with additional background and comments from Robert Heyer.

The story was originally published at 1:15 p.m.

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