Pubdate: Wed, 28 Feb 2007
Source: Tucson Citizen (AZ)
Copyright: 2007 Tucson Citizen
Note: Reprinted from The Arizona Repulic


MEXICO CITY - As drug wars raged along other parts of the U.S.-Mexico 
border, things had remained mostly quiet in the Sonoran town of Agua 
Prieta. Not anymore.

On Monday, assassins gunned down Police Chief Ramon Tacho Verdugo, 
spraying more than 40 bullets in an ambush outside police 
headquarters. The motive is murky, but it almost certainly involved 
control of the lucrative smuggling routes into Arizona, Mexican and 
U.S. officials said Tuesday. "Rival organizations are vying for 
control of these lucrative corridors," said Ramona Sanchez, a 
spokeswoman for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. "(Tacho's 
murder) is a reminder of how violent these criminal organizations 
are, and they will continue to use whatever means they need."

Tacho's death followed a number of drug-related killings in Agua 
Prieta and the Dec. 9 arrest of Carlos "Calichi" Molinares from 
nearby Naco on drug-smuggling charges in Tucson.

State and city police were on high alert and patrolling Agua Prieta 
for fear of further violence, said Jose Larrinaga, a spokesman for 
the Sonora attorney general.

Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano was "very concerned" about the attack 
and asked federal and state law enforcement officials to meet with 
border sheriffs to exchange information about border violence, said 
Dennis Burke, her chief of staff.

With Tacho's death, Agua Prieta joins a growing list of Mexican 
cities where hit men have gunned down police chiefs. At least 12 have 
died in the past year, including the top lawmen in the border cities 
of Tijuana and Nuevo Laredo.

The killings have many police thinking twice about taking the top 
post. The Sonoran border town of Naco, for example, has had 12 police 
chiefs in the past three years. The last one to resign was Tacho's 
brother, Roberto Tacho Verdugo.

With his cowboy hats and Western shirts, big belt buckles and wide 
mustache, Ramon Tacho looked the part of the wild West sheriff. He 
had a talent for music and had recorded an album of traditional 
Mexican music and corridos, romantic cowboy-style ballads. That style 
helped make him one of Agua Prieta's most high-profile officials, 
said Ray Borane, the mayor of Douglas, which lies just across the 
border. Tacho was head of Sonora's state detective force before 
becoming police chief in Naco, then in Cananea. He took over Agua 
Prieta's police force in September. Borane said Tacho was a good 
lawman and had made important arrests. But his flamboyant manner also 
fed rumors of ties to drug traffickers. "Because of things people 
said about him - his way of dressing, acting and the way they 
executed him - it was said he was compromised," said Luis Arvayo, a 
reporter for El Imparcial newspaper who covers crime in Agua Prieta.

It was the most brazen assassination in Agua Prieta since gunmen 
killed the regional commander of the Federal Preventive Police in 
July 2003. The Arizona border had been mostly quiet since then, even 
as pitched battles raged between drug lords in Nuevo Laredo, Tijuana 
and other border points.

Police commanders are frequent targets in those places. In June, 
gunmen killed Nuevo Laredo's police chief less than seven hours after 
he took the job. In November, Tijuana's police chief was found shot 
and dismembered on a street near police headquarters.

The Arizona border is controlled by the Sinaloa cartel of Joaquin "El 
Chapo" Guzman. That cartel has struck an alliance with the 
neighboring Juarez cartel, leading to relative peace along Arizona's 
southeastern border. But on Jan. 19, Tacho's officers arrested a 
Sinaloa man on charges of carrying out the execution-style slaying of 
two men in an Agua Prieta backyard Jan. 3.

And on Thursday, two suspected drug smugglers were found dead in 
their home, their faces slashed with a knife or razor.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Beth Wehrman