Former members of cartel guilty

Two former gunmen from the Tijuana drug cartel have been found guilty of kidnapping as part of a series of attacks in San Diego County.

Jorge Rojas, 29, and Juan Gonzalez, 27, could face life in prison after their conviction Thursday by a San Diego County jury, said Mark Amador, the San Diego County prosecutor in the case.

The pair led a group known as Los Palillos (the Toothpicks) that focused its attacks on alleged associates of the Arellano-Felix drug-smuggling organization, which has controlled the flow of narcotics from Tijuana into Southern California for more than 15 years. The Palillos adopted the nickname of Rojas’ brother, Victor, a cartel enforcer who was killed by higher-ups in 2002.

Law enforcement officials say Rojas organized the gang of disgruntled ex-gunmen believed responsible for as many as 20 kidnappings and a dozen murders in San Diego County beginning in about 2004. Most of the victims did not report the kidnappings.


Last year, the gang kidnapped Eduardo Gonzalez, a Tijuana businessman and off-road race car champion residing in Chula Vista. Gonzalez’s family called the FBI, which eventually raided the home where he was being held, recovering ransom money and arresting six members of the gang. The remaining four suspects are scheduled for trial in January.

-- Sam Quinones