The search for the suspected leader of the Santa Rosa de Lima Cartel has gone underground: authorities in Guanajuato have discovered escape tunnels allegedly used by the fuel theft capo known as “El Marro.”
Guanajuato Attorney General Carlos Zamarripa Aguirre told a press conference last night that the tunnels were found during searches of properties in Villagrán, the municipality where the cartel is based and José Antonio Yépez Ortiz was thought to be in hiding.
Zamarripa said the tunnels may be connected to other properties in the community of Santa Rosa de Lima where cartel members are known to have met, including one believed to be owned by “El Marro” Yépez.
Asked whether the criminal boss was in the town located east of Salamanca, the attorney general didn’t rule it out.
However, this morning Federal Security Secretary Alfonso Durazo said that Yépez and other cartel leaders had left Villagrán. He added that authorities know where they are and that they would be captured soon.
Since early Monday morning, federal and state security forces have been carrying out an operation against the Santa Rosa Cartel, a gang of fuel thieves believed to be behind much of the violence that made Guanajuato Mexico’s most violent state last year.
Residents have responded to the operation by setting up fiery blockades on highways to repel the state and Federal Police and the military.
Zamarripa said that seven people have been arrested during the operation including one who is believed to have participated in the execution of five people in a tire shop in the municipality of Valle de Santiago. A video of the multi-homicide was posted online, allegedly by the Santa Rosa Cartel.
Yépez’s sister-in-law and her husband, a Federal Police officer, were also among those arrested.
The attorney general said that 31 vehicles have been seized and that authorities have collected a range of evidence that will assist them in their investigations.
Federal Police also searched and secured a large and luxurious property in Santa Rosa de Lima which allegedly belongs to Yépez.
The approximately 1,000-square-meter property features extensive gardens, a large swimming pool and two stone lion statues. The home is protected by high walls topped with barbed wire.
A video published by the newspaper Milenio shows clothes strewn in the house’s four bedrooms and open drawers, seemingly indicating that the property was abandoned suddenly.
A tanker truck and a dump truck were also found and Milenio said there is a tapped petroleum pipeline that runs through the property.
Many if not most residents of Santa Rosa de Lima, a town with a population of just over 1,000, are believed to be complicit with El Marro’s fuel theft gang.
Attorney General Zamarripa reiterated yesterday that the mayor and municipal police force of Villagrán are also under investigation for failing to support the operation against the cartel.
Mayor Juan Lara Mendoza rejects allegations that he is in cahoots with the Santa Lima criminal organization and denies knowing El Marro.
However, a Federal Police report seen by the newspaper El Universal says that Lara’s brother and three of his nephews are part of Yépez’s inner circle.
According to the report, the four men are among the chief operators of the Santa Rosa de Lima Cartel, which extracts fuel from Pemex pipelines that run through the municipalities of León, Irapuato, Salamanca, Celaya, Apaseo el Grande and Apaseo el Alto.
Guanajuato security official Sophia Huett López said that the state attorney general’s office is investigating whether the Villagrán municipal police force failed to respond to a call for backup on Monday because of negligence, fear or criminal complicity.