Reputed Drug Boss Arrested in Mexico : Cocaine: Officials there say they have nabbed the Medellin cartel's top trafficker in the country.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The man believed to be the Medellin drug cartel's top cocaine trafficker in Mexico has been arrested at his headquarters in a fashionable Mexico City neighborhood, the attorney general's office said Saturday.

Javier Pardo Cardona, a Colombian known as "the Uncle," reputedly has shipped more than 100 tons of cocaine through Mexico to the United States, according to the attorney general's office.

The government called Pardo Cardona "the third-most-important boss" in Colombia's Medellin cartel and said that he was the primary contact between the cartel and North American traffickers.

"He's probably the most heavily connected Colombian operating in Mexico," a U.S. official here confirmed. "He's important: a major, major trafficker."

Most South American cocaine entering the United States is first flown by small airplanes to clandestine landing strips in rural areas of Mexico and Central America, and then shipped by land across the long, porous U.S.-Mexican border.

Increasingly, as the ranks of top Mexican drug traffickers have been depleted through arrests and killings during the last three years, Colombians have been moving here to oversee shipments of their cocaine.

Under President Carlos Salinas de Gortari, U.S. and Mexican drug agents have been working together to intercept drug shipments and traffickers.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration had been tracking Pardo Cardona for a year before his arrest Thursday.

The U.S. government is seeking his extradition to face federal trafficking charges in Alabama, the U.S. official said.

Federal judicial police posing as telephone repairmen, milk vendors and street sweepers had staked out Pardo Cardona's headquarters in the upscale Polanco neighborhood. They arrested him and nine other people as they left a birthday party for the 41-year-old Pardo Cardona, authorities said.

Police confiscated $1.5 million in cash that was allegedly intended to pay for an air shipment of cocaine due to arrive in the southern state of Campeche in the next few days, U.S. and Mexican officials said. Pardo Cardona reportedly admitted he was awaiting a second shipment in Caborca, Sinaloa state, also in the next few days.

Officers also confiscated sophisticated radio equipment, aerial maps of the Americas, portable refueling pumps and modern office equipment.

During his interrogation, Pardo Cardona "accepted" that he was the leader of a ring trafficking cocaine to the United States, the attorney general's office said.

"This band of Colombians had contacts in Panama, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico and the United States. They would study rural zones of Mexico to install clandestine airstrips or locate high-visibility places to receive the cocaine tossed from overflying planes," the bulletin said.

Leonardo Payan Aguilar, the only Mexican among the 10 detainees, reputedly is a member of one of Mexico's largest cocaine rings.

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