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Border & Immigration

Major Tijuana Drug Gang Leader Captured

Major Tijuana Drug Gang Leader Captured

GLORIA PENNER (Host): Mexican police made a significant arrest early Tuesday morning. Teodoro Garcia Simental, or “El Teo” as he's known, was captured at a home in Baja California. El Teo was believed to be responsible for savage killings, kidnappings, and drug trafficking. Amy Isackson joins me now to explain the importance of his capture. Welcome, Amy.

AMY ISACKSON (KPBS News): Thank you.

PENNER: So who is El Teo?


ISACKSON: El Teo is known as just the worst of the worst; one of the most violent drug gang leaders in Tijuana. The DEA actually called him one of the most dangerous criminals in the world when they put out their release after his capture. He worked himself up through the ranks of the Arellano Felix cartel, became a top hit man. In 2008 he split with the cartel, supposedly went to Sinaloa, got their backing, came back to Tijuana and unleashed himself and declared war on the Arellano Felix cartel.

PENNER: So now what will his capture mean to all the violence and the killings and the drug wars in Tijuana.

ISACKSON: And that’s really – as an analyst told me – the $64,000 question. It’s worth mentioning in the last few days since his arrest there's been killings in Tijuana. There was actually a note left that said El Teo is still calling the shots, in effect, in Tijuana. Some analysts say that the violence could die down because he's out of the picture. Some say it could pick up again while a new “El Teo” emerges, and also while other cartels try to capitalize on this vacuum and try to fill in the power and take over.

PENNER: So he's been arrested. He's in Mexico City?

ISACKSON: He is in Mexico City.


PENNER: And what's he being charged with?

ISACKSON: He's being charged with 300 murders, with drug trafficking, with racketeering. Here in Tijuana the State Attorney General said he's linked to 50 open criminal investigations including murder, kidnapping, extortion, et cetera. The State Attorney General also says that he is tied to about 1,000 murders during the last two and a half years in Tijuana.

PENNER: So I would guess that if he were convicted he’d be put away for a long time, if not forever.

ISACKSON: One would expect.

PENNER: Meanwhile, he's been out there for a while hasn’t he? How long has he been evading capture?

ISACKSON: Well in 2004, 2005, there was a picture of him that was released. And I believe that probably made his life much more difficult. Then in January of 2009, the DEA released another photo of him; they were looking for information for him. I've heard that El Teo did not spend 72 hours in one place. And there’re rumors that they were actually close to capturing him recently but that he escaped.

PENNER: Well of course we are really concerned in San Diego about all of the drug cartels and the violence in Tijuana. We are so close. So how important, let’s say, would his capture be to severing the power of those drug cartels in Tijuana?

ISACKSON: The analysts that I've talked to say that El Teo, he was horrible. He was violent. He was savage. But he was really muscle. He is not the brains behind the Sinaloa cartel or La Familia, who he supposedly aligned with. And he's not the financial power. And they say he's also not the political power. So in that sense, it leaves a power vacuum in Tijuana in terms of the muscle but it doesn’t really attack, analysts say, at the base of the cartel.

PENNER: And the people in Tijuana? The family and friends – let’s say of those who were killed – how are they reacting to all this? Are they breathing a sigh of relief or…

ISACKSON: You know, I was there the morning that El Teo was captured. And when I went up to interview people in the street, it was the first time that they had heard that El Teo had been captured. And just this look of astonishment came over their faces, and they had a million questions. They were jubilant, but then quickly said, well, there's still more work to do. There’s a group of people in Tijuana, families of disappeared people, and this has given them some hope because El Teo oversaw a man who dissolved hundreds of bodies in acid. So they’re asking El Teo if he can identify photos of their loved ones to see if maybe he had something to do with their disappearance.

PENNER: But you did say there have been more killings since he was captured. So I'm wondering about the Mexican police, the police in Tijuana, whether they think they can breathe a sigh of relief or whether it just goes on.

ISACKSON: The police chief in Tijuana, El Teo had threatened him and the State Attorney General to death. So the police chief is breathing a bit of a sigh of relief, but he says that it will take a while for violence to die down. The State Attorney General says state and federal forces are ready for anything that comes their way and any kind of retaliation that comes their way.

PENNER: Ok, well thank you very much, Amy Isackson.

ISACKSON: Thank you.