Mexico catches leader of La Familia cartel

By ADRIANA GOMEZ LICON | June 21, 2011 | 5:59 PM EDT

MEXICO CITY (AP) — Mexico's security spokesman says federal police have caught one of Mexico's most-wanted drug lords.

Alejandro Poire says police have captured Jose de Jesus Mendez Vargas, the alleged leader of the La Familia cartel.

A posting by Calderon on his Twitter account says the arrest "is a big blow" to the drug cartels.

Mendez is known by the nickname "El Chango," or "The Monkey." The government has offered a $2.5 million reward for his capture.

The cartel's top leader was killed in a shootout in December.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

MEXICO CITY (AP) — President Felipe Calderon said Tuesday that federal police have caught one of Mexico's most-wanted drug lords.

Calderon did not identify the suspect, but an official in central Aguascalientes state who was not authorized to be quoted by name said authorities have captured Jose de Jesus Mendez Vargas, alias "The Monkey," the alleged leader of the La Familia cartel. Mexican newspapers also reported that Mendez had been detained.

A posting by Calderon on his Twitter account called the arrest "a big blow" to organized crime.

The government has offered a $2.5 million reward for his capture.

The cult-like La Familia, based in Calderon's home state of Michoacan, uses pseudo-Christian ideology while gruesomely decapitating foes and selling cocaine and methamphetamine by the ton.

The cartel's former top leader, Nazario Moreno Gonzalez, was killed in December during two days of shootouts between his gang and federal police.

After his death, the group split into warring factions, causing increased bloodshed in the state.

Mendez was believed to have remained the leader of the La Familia faction, according to federal police, while messages appeared in March from a split-off group calling itself the Knights Templar that said it would replace La Familia.

That name alludes to a Christian order of knights founded in 1118 in Jerusalem to protect pilgrims in the Holy Land after the First Crusade.

Another La Familia leader, Servando "La Tuta" Gomez, is believe to lead the Knights Templar, federal police say.

La Familia first appeared four years ago, announcing its presence by rolling five severed heads into a Michoacan nightclub and leaving messages vowing to protect Michoacan from rival cartels.

Calderon responded by deploying thousands of federal police in the state, warning that La Familia was corrupting local officials, extorting businesses and terrorizing the population.

More than 35,000 people have died in drug violence since, according to government figures. Local media say the number is closer to 40,000.

___

Associated Press Writer Mark Stevenson contributed to this report