The man believed responsible for the June 20 murder of two elderly priests in Chihuahua lived in luxury before he was forced to go on the lam: he owns an opulent home in an otherwise poor town in the Sierra Tarahumara region.
José Noriel “El Chueco” Portillo Gil – the 30-year-old presumed leader of a Sinaloa Cartel-affiliated criminal cell called Gente Nueva (New People) – has a large brick home in the town of Bahuichivo, located about 20 kilometers north of Cerocahui, where the two priests and a tour guide were killed in a church 23 days ago.
According to a Milenio newspaper report, the house is easily the most luxurious in Bahuichivo, which has a population of fewer than 800 people. “The luxurious United States [style] architecture with high-quality finishings and a yard with synthetic grass contrasts with the poverty that this region of Chihuahua, and in particular this locality, suffers,” reported Milenio, which visited the home.
The newspaper also reported that at least a dozen sicarios, or gunmen, formerly lived on a property in front of Portillo’s home where two decidedly less luxurious houses stand. One has five rooms with “dirty beds and mattresses” as well as altars to Santa Muerte (Holy Death), a saint worshipped by many drug traffickers and other criminals.
There are more beds, old blankets and small dirty bathrooms in the other home, Milenio said, adding that it appeared to be a safe house where abductees were held. “In a couple of strategic points on this property vantage points were built to watch at all hours … the main entrance to the residence of the ‘boss,’” the newspaper said.
Chihuahua and federal authorities carried out an operation in late April to arrest Portillo at his home, but the alleged criminal leader – who is accused of other homicides including the 2018 murder of a United States citizen – was reportedly tipped off by his criminal cronies and managed to escape.
“We were on the verge of catching him,” said Chihuahua Attorney General Roberto Fierro Duarte. While El Chueco got away, police and navy personnel did seize large quantities of weapons and drugs.
According to state Security Minister Gilberto Loya Chávez, Portillo could still be in the Sierra Tarahumara, despite the commencement of an extensive manhunt in the region three weeks ago. He said Tuesday that authorities are also looking for the suspect in neighboring states and the rest of the country. In addition, an immigration alert aimed at preventing his entry to the United States has been issued.
Loya said that authorities are seeking to break up the group led by Portillo, who allegedly murdered the priests at the tail end of a rampage precipitated by an argument after a baseball game. He said that several people with links to El Chueco’s gang have already been arrested and dozens of firearms have been seized.
Milenio said that Portillo, for whom a reward of up to 5 million pesos is being offered, is currently the most wanted criminal in Chihuahua, and possibly in the entire country. He has some stiff competition in the latter category. Among the other high-profile wanted criminals in Mexico are Jalisco New Generation Cartel leader Nemesio “El Mencho” Oseguera Cervantes and Sinaloa Cartel capo Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada.