Photo: Gregorio Villanueva Salas
A member of Mexico’s Los Zetas drug cartel suspected of running piracy operations for the criminal organization was arrested earlier this week, the Defense Secretariat said Thursday.
Gregorio Villanueva Salas, known as “The Czar of Piracy,” also faces charges in connection with several grenade attacks.
Villanueva was arrested by army troops on Monday in Monterrey, the capital of the northern state of Nuevo Leon, along with three other members of the gang.
All four suspects were paraded before reporters Thursday in Mexico City.
Villanueva was “one of the principal operators” of Los Zetas, a drug cartel notorious for dismembering its victims, Defense Secretariat spokesman Col. Ricardo Trevilla said, reading from a joint statement prepared by the Defense Secretariat and the Attorney General’s Office.
The suspect controlled the production and distribution of pirated music in the states of Zacatecas, San Luis Potosi, Nuevo Leon and Coahuila, as well as in the border city of Nuevo Laredo, located across the Rio Grande from Laredo, Texas, Trevilla said.
Villanueva told investigators that he personally turned over the proceeds from the piracy business to Heriberto Lazcano Lazcano, known as “El Lazca” and considered the top leader of Los Zetas, Trevilla said.
Lazcano Lazcano deserted from the Mexican army in 1999 and formed Los Zetas with three other soldiers, all members of an elite special operations unit, becoming the armed wing of the Gulf drug cartel.
After several years on the payroll of the Gulf cartel, Los Zetas, considered Mexico’s most violent criminal organization, went into the drug business on their own account and now control several lucrative territories.
Villanueva’s arrest “cuts the flow of resources for this criminal organization,” Trevilla said.
Mexico’s drug cartels have expanded into kidnapping, extortion, piracy and other criminal enterprises in recent years.
Villanueva is suspected of being behind an undetermined number of attacks on schools, businesses, media outlets and military installations in Matamoros, a city in the northeastern state of Tamaulipas, since May 31, Trevilla said.
The attacks were designed to “generate a climate of violence” in Matamoros, located across the Rio Grande from Brownsville, Texas, and to “affect the activities” of the rival Gulf cartel, the military spokesman said.
Villanueva told investigators that the bodies found on June 7 in Tamaulipas were those of presumed members of Los Zetas murdered by the Gulf cartel “in retaliation for their participation in the grenade attacks.”
The men arrested with Villanueva were identified as Rodolfo Chan Cornejo, Christian Miguel Navarrete Gonzalez and Ruben Dario Martinez Alvarado.
Soldiers seized four rifles, including a submachine gun, a pistol, six vehicles and 291,000 pesos (about $20,000) in cash from the suspects, the secretariat said.
Villanueva and the other suspects face organized crime, weapons, piracy and other charges.