Pubdate: Fri, 12 Apr 2002
Source: New York Times (NY)
Section: International
Copyright: 2002 The New York Times Company
Author: Tim Weiner


MEXICO CITY -- Federal authorities arrested 41 law enforcement officers 
today, including the police chief of Tijuana, in a continuing crackdown on 
corruption fueled by one of Mexico's biggest drug cartels.

The arrests of the police chief, Carlos Otal, 20 Tijuana officers and 20 
state police officers and municipal commanders from Baja California State 
was one of the biggest single sweeps of uniformed suspects in decades, 
officials said.

In an unusual series of successes in the last year, Mexico has arrested 
senior members of four major drug cartels that have corrupted and 
controlled sectors of federal and local law enforcement, as well as the 
Mexican military, since the 1980's.

Federal officials in Mexico City said the detentions today were a direct 
result of recent investigations of the Tijuana-based Arellano Felix drug 
cartel, for years the most violent and perhaps the richest of the major 
Mexican drug syndicates.

It has been said, not entirely in jest, that of every 10 police officers in 
Tijuana, 11 were on the cartel's payroll in the 1990's. Officials say the 
cartel paid many millions of dollars in bribes to police officers, 
prosecutors and judges over the years to stymie investigations and buy 
protection for multi-ton drug shipments.

They said the detained police officers were under investigation for selling 
inside law-enforcement information to the gang, including the nature and 
scope of undercover investigations.

Victor Clark Alfaro, a prominent Tijuana lawyer, said the arrests were a 
blow to the corrupt network of police officers and government support 
mobilized by the Arellano Felix gang. He said pressure from the United 
States had played "a fundamental role" in the investigation and the arrests.

The Arellano Felix gang has been weakened by the arrest of its chief, 
Benjamin Arellano Felix, on March 9 and the death of his brother, Ramon, on 
Feb. 10 in a shooting carried out by state police officers in Mazatlan. 
That shooting, officials say, was in all likelihood paid for by a rival 
drug lord. A man accused of being one of the gang's top smugglers, Manuel 
Herrera Barraza, was also arrested last month.

Before taking command of Tijuana's police, Mr. Otal served in secret 
intelligence units of the federal attorney general's office for 10 years, 
officials said. They said his resume included formal training by United 
States Drug Enforcement Administration agents.

Jose Campos Murillo, a senior federal investigator, said the arrested 
officers had been under investigation since 1999.

"This is a consequence of the blows to the Arellano Felix cartel by the 
attorney general," Mr. Campos Murillo said at a Mexico City news conference.

The arrests were carried out Wednesday at a state police academy in Tecate, 
on the California border, where the officers had been called for a meeting 
under false pretenses: they were told that they were receiving official 
evaluations of their work.

More than 60 soldiers and federal agents working under Jose Santiago 
Vasconcelos, the chief of Mexico's federal organized crime unit, broke in 
on a meeting of the officers and placed them under arrest, officials said.

In addition to Mr. Otal, those arrested include the police chief of Tecate, 
Jesus Jacobo Aguirre; two state police commanders, Sergio Riedel and Mario 
Anaya; and a former police chief of the city of Mexicali, Juan Cristobal 
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