Mexican law enforcement officials on Sunday confirmed the arrest by federal authorities of a Tijuana businessman alleged to be a financial mastermind of the Arellano Felix drug cartel based in that city.
The Mexican Attorney General's office said that Jesus Labra Aviles, the reputed godfather of the violent drug gang, had been transferred to Mexico City and was being held on drug-trafficking charges as well as weapons charges.
Labra, who is about 50, is said to be a founder of the cartel--an uncle to the brothers for whom it is named and alleged financial director of its complex web of enterprises. Mexican news reports have said that, among other duties, Labra collected the tolls paid by small-time drug traffickers to operate on turf ruled by the Arellano Felix gang.
"This individual is of significance within the Arellano organization," said Terry Parham, chief spokesman for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration in Washington, D.C. "We're hopeful the gun charge will stick and he'll be brought to justice. This is a good sign overall."
The attorney general's office Sunday said that Labra was arrested Saturday in Tijuana during a sweep by soldiers looking for illegal weapons, suggesting that he was caught by chance in that dragnet rather than targeted individually.
The attorney general's office said Labra, alias "El Chuy," "is being investigated on suspicion of being one of the principal leaders and operators of the criminal organization headed by the Arellano Felix brothers."
At the time of his arrest, Labra was watching a football game that his teenage son was playing in. The statement said Labra was caught as he tried to escape the soldiers by running onto the football field from the stands.
Noting that a previous order had been issued to find and question Labra on drug-trafficking charges, the communique said the federal government had taken jurisdiction in the case because those charges are more serious than the offense of carrying an illegal weapon.
The office said Labra's 22-year-old nephew, Marco Antonio Labra, also was arrested in the raid.
It was not known if Labra faces charges in the United States. A U.S. official said authorities would check to see if there were sealed indictments against Labra.
A wealthy Tijuana businessman, Labra has long been under scrutiny by Mexican authorities for alleged ties to the Arellano drug gang. The cartel, whose more famous members are brothers Ramon, Benjamin and Francisco Javier Arellano, is considered one of the most bloodthirsty in Mexico. Ramon Arellano is on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted List.
Labra's lawyer, Gustavo Galvez Reyes, told reporters Saturday that Labra is a businessman with no criminal ties. Reyes said authorities offered no reason for detaining his client. Efforts to reach Galvez Sunday were unsuccessful.
Labra's arrest added further tumult to a chaotic two-week period in Tijuana during which the city's municipal police chief, Alfredo de la Torre Marquez, was killed in a hail of bullets as he drove without a bodyguard on a city expressway. Last week, after Baja California state and federal authorities promised better coordination against a rising crime wave, the state attorney issued stunning news that a band of seven men had been arrested in connection with the chief's slaying and 14 other recent murders.
James F. Smith of The Times' Mexico City bureau contributed to this report.