Mexican security forces have arrested the leader of the Santa Rosa de Lima gang who spread violence through north-central Mexico and fought a years-long turf battle with another powerful criminal cartel.
Officials in the state of Guanajuato said Jose Antonio Yepez Ortiz, better known by his nickname “El Marro”, which means “The Sledgehammer”, was captured on Sunday along with five other people.
Security forces rescued a kidnapped local businesswoman during the operation and also secured an “arsenal” of weapons, the Guanajuato attorney general’s office said.
Security Minister Alfonso Durazo said Yepez would be taken to the Altiplano penitentiary, a maximum-security prison where drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman was housed before he escaped through a tunnel in 2015. Guzman was recaptured in 2016.
Yepez’s arrest is considered a major coup for Mexican President Lopez Obrador, who pledged during his 2018 campaign to bring down record levels of violence plaguing the country.
Instead, gang violence has further increased during his presidency, with homicides reaching a record rate in 2019.
Yepez’s Guanajuato-based gang has been engaged in a bloody struggle for criminal control of the state with the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG), one of the country’s most powerful and violent groups.
The turf battle with Jalisco turned the industrial hub, with its foreign auto plants and parts suppliers, into the most violent state in Mexico.
Yepez is considered one of Mexico’s most-wanted bosses and has appeared in expletive-laden videos threatening his enemies.
He built his gang’s wealth by drilling into the pipelines that crisscross the state and then selling the fuel on the black market, as well as robbing trains.
In June, a clip of an emotional Yepez lamenting the arrest of his mother and sister, who were taken into custody with 30 gang members, was widely broadcast on national media.
The women were freed days later, and both claimed they had been tortured.
On July 24, the authorities also arrested a top Yepez lieutenant and head of one of the group’s cells, Jose “El Mamey” Guadalupe.