TIJUANA, Mexico (AP) — Mexico has captured a kingpin accused of terrorizing his way to the top of a gang fighting for control of key U.S. drug routes — even ordering rivals dissolved in caustic soda. Tuesday’s arrest, announced by U.S. and Mexican officials, capped a series of victories in Mexico’s U.S.-backed war on narcotics.
Teodoro Garcia Simental, known as “El Teo,” was arrested before dawn at a home he owned in the city of La Paz on the Baja California peninsula, said Mexican federal police commissioner Ramon Eduardo Pequeno.
Mexican authorities had been tracking him for more than six months, with the help of U.S. anti-drug officials, he said.
Federal police marched the frowning, heavyset Garcia in front of cameras at a news conference in Mexico City on Tuesday afternoon. Police displayed about a dozen seized handguns, along with several laptop computers and bundles of cash.
Garcia — one of Mexico’s most wanted drug traffickers — is the second kingpin to be taken down in less than a month by President Felipe Calderon’s government.
Pequeno said Garcia is responsible for the deaths of at least 300 people, including some whose beheaded bodies were dumped in Tijuana. He also ordered hundreds of bodies to be dissolved in caustic soda, officials said.
Officials say Garcia was a cartel lieutenant who broke away from the Arellano Felix gang following the arrest of its leader, Benjamin Arellano Felix, and the death of his brother, Raul.
Garcia formed his own gang, which got its drugs from the Sinaloa Cartel run by Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman and from the La Familia gang in Michoacan state, Pequeno said.
Garcia owned three planes that his gang would use to fly drugs from Michoacan, Sinaloa and Jalisco states to the Baja California peninsula, where they were unloaded and then smuggled into the United States by land, Pequeno said.
In Tijuana, he ruled by ordering the killings of drug dealers who betrayed him and buying off and intimidating officials. In the last week of December, authorities arrested a former Tijuana policeman who allegedly led at least 10 criminal cells working for Garcia.
His arrest comes on the heels of another triumph for Calderon’s drug war. Mexican marines killed reputed kingpin Arturo Beltran Leyva on Dec. 16 during a raid on an apartment complex in Cuernavaca, south of Mexico City.
Federal officials on Jan. 2 arrested his brother Carlos Beltran Leyva in another blow to the gang.
Calderon’s government has sent more than 45,000 troops to drug hotspots to confront the cartels. Cartels have responded with a vengeance, unleashing unprecedented killings. More than 15,500 people have died from drug violence since 2006. The government says most of the dead are smugglers.
(This version CORRECTS that bodies dissolved in soda sted acid.)