The mother of Santa Rosa de Lima Cartel leader José Antonio “El Marro” Yépez was released from prison on Sunday due to a lack of evidence, triggering criticism from President López Obrador.
At a two-day hearing that concluded on Sunday afternoon, a judge ordered the release of María Eva Ortiz, one of her daughters, her niece and two men after ruling that there was insufficient evidence to submit them to trial.
All five were arrested in the municipality of Celaya, Guanajuato, on June 20 on charges related to involvement with the Santa Rosa de Lima cartel, a notoriously violent fuel theft, drug trafficking and extortion gang.
Security authorities arrested a total of 31 people with alleged links to the gang in an operation in Celaya on June 20 but all of them have since been released from preventative custody.
During the weekend hearing, lawyers for Ortiz and the other defendants presented evidence that showed that security authorities planted 2 million pesos on El Marro’s mother, who was accused of being a financial operator for the Santa Rosa de Lima Cartel.
According to a report by the newspaper El Universal, Ortiz’s defense team proved that agents with the Guanajuato Criminal Investigation Agency removed the money from 30 different addresses in the community of San Isidro Elguera that have no connection to the Santa Rosa gang.
The lawyers also asserted that Ortiz was not detained at the address at which authorities said she was arrested. They said she was arrested at a nearby address and subsequently taken to another house for which the authorities had a search warrant.
However, Ortiz and the other alleged cartel members were arrested hours before the search warrant was issued at about 9:00 p.m. on June 20, the defense team said. Lawyers asserted that some of those detained, including members of El Marro’s family, were subjected to psychological torture.
In audio evidence presented at the hearing, men believed to be federal security agents are heard pressuring a woman, allegedly Yépez’s cousin, to tell cartel members to cease their dramatic response to the arrests, which included setting vehicles on fire to create almost 50 road blockades in 13 Guanajuato municipalities.
The woman subsequently calls her son and asks him to tell the cartel members and associates to “calm down.”
“They will beat us if they keep burning [vehicles],” she said.
A presumed federal agent is also heard threatening to kill cartel lookouts if those detained don’t cooperate by telling them to put an end to the blockades.
“[If you don’t cooperate], all that you’ll achieve is that I’ll come for them in the night because I already know who they are. … Let them know that I won’t catch them alive,” the presumed agent said.
An investigation has been launched into the alleged psychological torture to which some of those detained were subjected, El Universal reported.
Speaking on Monday morning, López Obrador condemned the release of Yépez’s mother and claimed that it is related to “an old problem” in the judicial system “linked to inefficiency and corruption.”
He implied that the judge – a woman by the name of Paulina Iraís Medina Manzano – had reached some kind of agreement with the suspected criminal and attempted to hide it by ruling that there were inconsistencies in the way in which authorities said she was arrested.
“Some judges have always looked [to see] if there was a mistake in [detailing] the time of arrest, in the paperwork, in anything that [allows them] to release alleged criminals,” López Obrador said.
“In this case, a thorough investigation will be carried out to review the reason why [Ortiz] was released,” he said.
Her son, El Marro, is one of Mexico’s most wanted persons but has managed to evade arrest despite the launch of a security operation last year whose specific aim was, and is, to take him into custody.
After the arrest of his mother, sister and cousin, Yepéz appeared in two emotional videos posted to social media in which he threatened authorities.
An attempted bomb attack on the Pemex refinery in Salamanca, Guanajuato, last week is suspected of being related to the law enforcement crackdown on his Santa Rosa de Lima Cartel, including the recent arrests.