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Alleged leader of the Gulf drug cartel, the gang that kidnapped and killed Americans, is captured in Mexico

New details emerge after kidnapping
New details emerge about kidnapping in Mexico after 2 Americans killed, 2 rescued 03:12

Mexican marines detained one of the top leaders of the Gulf drug cartel, the gang that kidnapped four Americans and killed two of them in March 2023.

The public safety department of the border state of Tamaulipas said the suspect was arrested in the neighboring state of Nuevo Leon, and identified him as "La Kena."

That was the nickname the state previously listed on a Tamaulipas wanted poster for José Alberto García Vilano in 2022. Mexico's national arrest registry said García Vilano was taken into custody on Thursday.

Mexico's Navy Department said in a statement that marines had detained a suspect it called "one of the key leaders of one of the most powerful criminal organizations in Tamaulipas," adding he was "one of the main targets of the Drug Enforcement Administration," but did not provide his name.

Miguel Treviño, the mayor San Pedro Garza García, located on the outskirts of Monterrey and considered one of Mexico's wealthiest communities, confirmed that García Vilano was arrested at a local shopping mall.

"Thanks to good intelligence, coordination and police monitoring, today an alleged criminal leader was arrested without a single shot," Treviño wrote on social media next to an article about the arrest.

In 2022, Tamaulipas state prosecutors also identified García Vilano by a second nickname, "Cyclone 19," and had offered a $150,000 reward for his arrest.

The Cyclones are one of the most powerful and violent factions of the now-divided Gulf cartel. The kidnapping and killing of the Americans has been linked to another faction, known as "The Scorpions."

The four Americans crossed into the border city of Matamoros from Texas in March so that one of them could have cosmetic surgery. They were fired on in downtown Matamoros and then loaded into a pickup truck.

Americans Zindell Brown and Shaeed Woodard died in the attack; Eric Williams and Latavia McGee survived. Most of them had grown up together in the small town of Lake City, South Carolina. A Mexican woman, Areli Pablo Servando, 33, was also killed, apparently by a stray bullet.

In an April 2023 interview, Williams said that at one point he lay covered on the floor of a pickup truck, hidden by the dead bodies of Woodard and Brown.

The Gulf drug cartel turned over five men to police soon after the abduction. A letter claiming to be from the Scorpions faction condemned the violence and said the gang had turned over to authorities its own members who were responsible. A Mexican woman also died in the March 3 shootings.

"We have decided to turn over those who were directly involved and responsible in the events, who at all times acted under their own decision-making and lack of discipline," according to the letter.

Last May, police arrested a top lieutenant of the violent Metros faction of the Gulf drug cartel. The suspect was identified as Hugo Salinas Cortinas, whose nickname "La Cabra" means "The Goat." 

Just weeks before that, the brother of Miguel Villarreal, aka "Gringo Mike," a former Gulf Cartel plaza boss, was sentenced in Houston to 180 months in prison for his role in distributing cocaine.

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