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Friday, 23 September 2011

El Paso gangster pleads guilty in murder of U.S. consulate

21:07 |


El Paso gangster and an accomplice pleaded guilty Thursday to their roles in a racketeering conspiracy that included the murder of a U.S. consulate worker and her husband, who were gunned down in the besieged Mexican border city of Juarez. El Paso residents Jesus Espino, 43 and Lorenzo Espino,51, each affiliated with the Barrio Azteca gang, pleaded guilty at the federal courthouse in El Paso, across the Rio Grande from Juarez. None of the publicly available records — even now — explains why the couple was killed in March 2010, as was the husband of another consulate employee. The Espinos were convicted as part of plea agreements that likely require them to cooperate with U.S. authorities by sharing what they know about their crimes, but the documents weren't immediately available Thursday. Those killed include then U.S. consulate employee Leslie Ann Enriquez Catton, her husband Arthur Redelf and Jorge Alberto Salcido, the husband of another consular employee. The attack shook U.S. and Mexican officials, as speculation ran wild among the public as to whether it was a hit that involved corruption or was meant to send a message to Washington. Enriquez and Redelf were driving back to El Paso after attending a children's birthday party when their sport-utility vehicle was sprayed with gunfire. Their 7-month-old daughter, who was in the back seat, was not hurt. Salcido was killed in a possible case of mistaken identity as he was in a similar vehicle and had attended the same party. Although based in the United States, Barrio Azteca soldiers have become Mexican drug cartel hired guns by carrying out extortions, kidnappings, money laundering and killings. Prosecutors contend the gang also makes money by sneaking cocaine, heroin and marijuana into the United States, as well as charging a street tax to other crime groups wanting to operate on its turf. Jesus Espino will be sentenced to 30 years, and Lorenzo Espino to life, according to their plea agreements, prosecutors said. A total of 35 Barrio Azteca associates and members have been arrested since March 2011 when authorities unsealed an indictment that included charges such as murder and obstruction of justice. Among those who have been arrested is Jesus Ernesto Chavez Castillo, a supposed member of The La Linea Cartel, who is suspected of having ordered the murders. He was arrested in Mexico and later sent to the United States, where he made an appearance in a closed, heavily guarded federal courtroom in San Antonio. The attack resulted in Barrio Azteca drawing the full attention of the U.S. government, said Fred Burton, vice president of intelligence for Stratfor, an Austin based global intelligence company. “It is probably a tremendous strategic mistake on their part to be linked to this sort of killing,” Burton said. “You can see the outcome. If the Barrio Azteca has decided to kill the average drug runner or Mexican citizen, would you have seen the same reaction?” he continued. “It certainly caused the State Department to keep pressing and pressing and pressing.” The consulate worker, Enriquez, was originally from Mexico, but the attack was so significant it was treated as if it were a hit on a U.S. diplomat, Burton said. While the U.S. government has not officially discussed a motive in the case, the Mexican government has said Enriquez was helping members of a rival gang obtain immigration visas to enter the United States.

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