By Tim Johnson, McClatchy Newspapers –
MEXICO CITY — Mexico’s navy said Monday that it had captured a crime boss whom it believes is responsible for a series of heinous mass murders in Mexico as well as the 2010 disappearance of David Hartley, a U.S. citizen apparently shot on his motorized ski on a lake that straddles the border with Texas.
In an early morning news conference, masked naval commandos displayed Salvador Alfonso Martinez Escobedo, 31, also known by the nickname “El Ardilla,” The Squirrel.
Martinez is thought to be the operations chief along the Texas-Mexico border of the Los Zetas crime syndicate, Mexico’s most bloodthirsty, if not most powerful, criminal enterprise.
President Felipe Calderon posted two tweets on the arrest, saying the capture was very important because Martinez “controlled the region most important to Los Zetas.”
Naval spokesman Jose Luis Vergara said Martinez served as operations chief for Los Zetas in the states of Coahuila, Tamaulipas and Nuevo Leon, all of which share a border with Texas.
Martinez nodded and smirked to the news cameras as the navy spokesman read off a series of crimes that authorities contend Martinez ordered, among them:
—The executions of 72 undocumented migrants, mostly from Central America, at a rural compound near San Fernando in Tamaulipas state in August 2010.
—The killings of 200 other people whose bodies were found in mass graves in Tamaulipas early last year.
—A mass jailbreak from a prison in Piedras Negras in mid-September that saw 130 inmates walk free, many of them allegedly gangsters for the notorious crime group. Vergara also linked Martinez to a December 2010 jailbreak that saw 151 inmates flee a Nuevo Laredo prison.
Vergara said the suspect also was linked to the apparent slaying of Hartley on scenic Falcon Lake along the Texas border. Hartley and his wife were riding personal watercraft on Sept. 30, 2010, when, she says, gunmen shot at them, killing her husband. His body was never recovered.
The Hartley disappearance fed an outcry over lawlessness along regions of the U.S.-Mexico border that led to an increased U.S. armed presence.
After Hartley’s shooting, Vergara said, Martinez then ordered the assassination of a state investigator, Rolando Armando Flores, who was probing Hartley’s disappearance. The second murder sent a chill around the case.
Martinez also executed “more than 50 people with his own hand,” Vergara said.
Only scanty details were offered of how Martinez fell into the hands of a naval unit in Nuevo Laredo, a city across the border from Laredo, Texas. Vergara said a vehicle with a driver carrying a weapon was spotted Saturday at dusk in the city’s El Campanario district, and the naval team gave chase.
When the vehicle was trapped, Martinez got out, letting a weapon fall to the ground. Five other men also were arrested.
Vergara said Martinez was a lieutenant to Miguel Angel Trevino, one of the two top leaders of Los Zetas, a group that operates in roughly half of Mexico’s territory and has tentacles into the United States and Central and South America.