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Alleged enforcer for Sinaloa Cartel arrested

This news story was published on February 8, 2012.
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By Tracy Wilkinson, Los Angeles Times –

MEXICO CITY — Mexican authorities have arrested a reputed enforcer for the country’s most powerful drug cartel — a man also alleged to have amassed weapons from the U.S. government’s failed “Fast and Furious” gun-smuggling operation.

Jose Antonio Torres Marrufo, 33, is also wanted by U.S. officials on drug-trafficking charges in El Paso, Texas.

Mexican and U.S. authorities say he served as a top lieutenant to fugitive drug billionaire Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman and the Sinaloa cartel and was in charge of operations in the border state of Chihuahua.

It was there, in the violent city of Ciudad Juarez, that a raid by Mexican police in April 2011 turned up high-powered assault guns purchased illegally through the Fast and Furious program, initially a secret project run by the Arizona field office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

As the Los Angeles Times reported last fall, the discovery confirmed that Fast and Furious weapons were reaching the ruthless Sinaloa organization and that the geographic spread of the guns was wider than originally thought.

Citing U.S. federal court documents and ATF trace records, the Times reported that about 40 weapons made their way from Phoenix to El Paso, then over the border and into Torres Marrufo’s arsenal.

In the April Ciudad Juarez raid, police found the mirrored walls of a basement gym in Torres’ home were in fact hiding a secret room that contained the Fast and Furious weapons and dozens more, including an antiaircraft machine gun, a sniper rifle and a grenade launcher.

“We have seized the most important cache of weapons in the history of Ciudad Juarez,” Chihuahua state Gov. Cesar Duarte said at the time, although Torres Marrufo remained at large.

Fast and Furious was designed to allow illegal buyers to “walk away” with guns in the hopes of being able to follow them to the cartels and to arrest their leaders. Instead, dozens of the guns turned up at crime scenes in the U.S. and mostly Mexico, with as many as 150 people killed or wounded.

Mexican federal police said they tracked Torres Marrufo to a recently acquired home in Leon in central Mexico and captured him, as well as a bodyguard, over the weekend.

In a statement, which did not mention the Fast and Furious connection, police said Torres Marrufo was wanted in connection with numerous crimes including murder, extortion, kidnapping and the sale and distribution of drugs. The statement did not indicate whether Torres resisted arrest.

He was also accused of masterminding the September 2009 massacre of 18 people at a drug rehabilitation clinic in Ciudad Juarez, one of several attacks on such facilities where traffickers often enlist new recruits by preying on addicts.

Police said Torres confessed to having been recruited by the Sinaloa cartel in 2002 and, in recent years, having taken over armed operations for the organization in Chihuahua as head of a group called Gente Nueva, or New People.

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