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Mexico army nabs vats-of-lye suspect

Crime, Law and JusticeMexicoCrimeMedicineHealthHomicide

A suspected hit man who allegedly dumped more than 300 bodies in vats of lye at the behest of a top Tijuana crime boss has been arrested near Ensenada, according to the Mexican military.

Alleged crime boss Teodoro Garcia Simental, nicknamed El Teo, narrowly escaped after soldiers on Thursday raided an upscale resort outside the Baja California port city 70 miles south of San Diego, according to one Mexican news report.

The military said Santiago Meza Lopez, a 45-year-old from the state of Sinaloa, was arrested after allegedly trying to flee from soldiers and federal agents on the Ensenada- Tijuana coastal highway. Soldiers also arrested Garcia's cook and seized four automatic weapons and two grenades.

Military authorities said Meza admitted being Garcia's body disposal expert, nicknamed "El Pozolero del Teo" -- roughly translated: Teo's soup maker.

Garcia, said to be in his mid-30s, is believed to be battling the Arellano Felix drug cartel for control of the Tijuana area in a turf war that has claimed more than 500 lives since late September. Many of the disintegrated remains left in barrels on busy streets have been attributed to El Teo, and have included messages addressed to reputed rivals threatening to make their henchmen into pozole, a Mexican soup.

In an interview last week, Tijuana's top military commander, Gen. Alfonso Duarte Mugica, said Garcia's capture was one of his top goals. The military's efforts have been stymied by Garcia's network of police informants, who keep track of the military's movements.

"It's been difficult," Duarte said. "But it's not impossible. It's just a matter of time and better intelligence."

richard.marosi@latimes.com

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