MEXICO CITY — A 17-year-old former Mexican drug cartel member, who admitted to killing four people while in the group’s employ, was released from a juvenile detention center early Tuesday morning and is headed to the United States, where he was born, Mexican officials said.
The youth, Edgar Jimenez Lugo, known as “El Ponchis,” was released from the juvenile center in the central Mexican state of Morelos at 2:30 a.m. He then traveled in a police escort to the Mexico City airport, where he was scheduled to fly to San Antonio, said Jorge Vicente Messeguer Guillen, the Morelos government secretary, in an interview with Mexico’s Milenio news channel.
Messeguer said that the youth, who had served all but about a week of his three-year sentence, had family in San Antonio. Once in the United States, Jimenez would be sent to what he referred to as a “support center” where he would be treated as a “boarder,” not as an inmate.
A spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City released a statement Tuesday morning that shed little light on the fate of the youth, who was born in San Diego.
“We are aware of Edgar Lugo’s upcoming release by the Mexican authorities following completion of his sentence,” the statement said. “We are closely coordinating with our Mexican counterparts and appropriate authorities in the United States regarding Edgar Lugo’s release. Due to privacy considerations, we do not publicly discuss details of matters involving U.S. citizens.”
Jimenez caused a stir inside and outside of Mexico when he was arrested in December 2010. At the time, he was 14 years old and already a veteran criminal. His stark circumstances brought new attention to the plight of impoverished Mexican youth who are often recruited by the drug cartels.
After his arrest, he told reporters he had been working for the Beltran Leyva drug cartel in the gritty city of Jiutepec, near the weekend retreat of Cuernavaca. He said that the gang paid him $200 a week, and that he killed four people by cutting their throats.
He said that he was 11 years old when he made his first kill. He said he killed at the behest of a man who was a suspected cartel enforcer, who threatened to kill the boy if he did not follow orders.
In the 1990s, child welfare officials removed Jimenez and five siblings from their parents’ custody in San Diego. In a 2010 interview with The Times, Edgar’s father, David Jimenez, said that he and his wife had been known to fight violently.
Edgar Jimenez’s grandmother was appointed legal guardian and brought the children to Mexico. But she died in 2004, and Jimenez dropped out of school in the third grade.
“I’m not defending him,” Messeguer said. “But … his circumstances caused him to be a victim as well.”
In a separate TV interview, Morelos Gov. Graco Ramirez said that Edgar’s rehabilitation had been “notable,” and that he would continue it in the United States.
Ramirez said that the youth was not being extradited to the U.S. Rather, he was being sent there because his life was at risk if he remained in Morelos.
Cecilia Sanchez in The Times’ Mexico City Bureau contributed to this report.