04/19/14 (written by cmolzahn) — A judge in Morelia, Michoacán has indicted the mayor of a Michoacán town considered to be at the center of the ongoing struggle between the Knights Templar Organization (Caballeros Templarios, KTO), vigilante groups, and the federal government. Uriel Chávez Mendoza, mayor of Apatzingán and member of the Institutional Revolutionary (Partido Revolucionario Institucional, PRI), will face charges for crimes of extortion, despite efforts by his attorney to have the charges against Chávez dismissed. His attorney has since dropped Chávez as a client. Chávez, who is the nephew of Nazario Moreno, “El Chayo,” the KTO leader killed in a federal operation on March 9, is also accused by state authorities of being responsible for the death of the former secretary of the National Action Party (Partido de Acción Nacional, PAN) in the state, Octavio Contreras Solórzano.
Chávez, was arrested on April 15, accused by Michoacán’s Attorney General’s Office (Procuraduría General de Justicia del Estado, PGJE) of extorting a reported $20,000 pesos (around $1,500 USD) on a monthly basis from Apatzingán city councilmen to support the Knights Templar Organization. Apatzingán is the largest city in the Tierra Caliente region, which has seen a drastic increase in violence since self-defense groups (grupos de autodefensa) emerged in February of last year to confront the KTO, who have come to rely in large part on extortions from area residents and businesses. Self-defense groups in the area had accused Chávez of having ties to organized crime prior to his arrest. He is reportedly facing charges on 50 counts, including extortion, kidnapping, and organized crime.
Apatzingán Councilmen Ramón Santoyo Gallegos and Ricardo Reyna Martínez went to the Michoacán PGJE on March 6 to complain of the extortion, claiming that Chávez had taken them, along with other councilmen, to a location near the town of Las Bateas, where they were confronted by armed men. There they were told that their monthly payments would be used for the purchase of arms. Aside from extorting the city council members of an estimated 40% of their monthly salaries, Milenio reported that Chávez also planned to divert 30% of the city’s funds to the Knights Templar Organization through an illegal business contract with a clerical services company. Milenio claims to have evidence that Chávez attempted the illegal allocation of the funds—federal funds are handed over to municipalities with very specific earmarks—by means of a falsified transcript of a city council meeting that never transpired. Councilman Santoyo has been appointed as interim mayor of Apatzingán.
On the same day authorities also detained Noé Octavio Aburto Inclán, mayor of Tacámbaro, on unrelated embezzlement charges. Aburto is accused of stealing a Caterpillar tractor worth an estimated $2.1 million pesos (around $160,000 USD) in October 2012. Authorities say that he filed a false police report to cover up the disappearance of the tractor.