Pubdate: Sun,  1 Jun 2003
Source: Pueblo Chieftain (CO)
Copyright: 2003 The Star-Journal Publishing Corp.
Author: Sergio Haro, Associated Press


MEXICALI, Mexico - Gunmen shot and killed a rancher whose brother-in-law 
had suspected ties to Mexico's most-violent drug smuggling gang as he drove 
his pickup down a crowded street in this sweltering border city, 
authorities said Tuesday.

Witnesses told investigators that 51-year-old Manuel Sanchez was shot 
several times in the head in broad daylight as he passed a government 
building Monday.

Seconds later, a white sport-utility vehicle sped away from the scene, 
witnesses said. It was discovered hours later, abandoned in another part of 
the city, its floor and seats littered with bullet casings, said Diana 
Escalante, a spokeswoman for the state attorney general's office in Baja 
California, where Mexicali is located.

The suspected getaway vehicle was reported stolen recently in a suburb of 
San Diego, California, Escalante said.

Sanchez owned a string of ranches outside Mexicali. He was the 
brother-in-law of Jesus Lopez, a former official at the Mexicali office of 
the state Ministry of Education who is suspected of moving narcotics and 
drug money for the Arellano Felix gang, a smuggling syndicate that controls 
drug corridors between Tijuana and San Diego.

During a crackdown on suspected Arellano Felix smugglers and associates in 
Mexicali in February 2001, police raided Lopez's home and discovered more 
than US$2 million in cash. Lopez disappeared when authorities went looking 
to question him in connection with drug smuggling and money laundering charges.

Lopez was fired from the education ministry for missing work while on the 
run, but was never charged with wrongdoing. In November, he resurfaced and 
filed a wrongful-dismissal suit against the state education department.

Mexicali, 120 miles (190 kilometers) east of Tijuana on the border with 
Calexico, California, has long been considered a hotbed of illegal drug 
smuggling. Sanchez's slaying brought the number of shooting deaths here to 
53 so far this year.
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MAP posted-by: Terry Liittschwager