09/28/14 (written by cmolzahn) — A district court judge in Michoacán has indicted three Michoacán mayors who are facing charges of having connections with members of the Knights Templar criminal organization (Caballeros Templarios, KTO). The judge found that there was sufficient evidence indicating that former mayors Arquímides Oseguera Solorio (Lázaro Cárdenas), Salma Karrum Cervantes (Pátzcuaro), and Dalia Santana Pineda (Huetamo) used their positions to finance and otherwise support the KTO. The indictment of Santana Pineda is the latest in a string of former mayors detained for alleged ties to organized crime, including those of Parácuaro, Aguililla, Apatzingán and Tacámbaro.
Dalia Santana Pineda was arrested on August 14 on charges of homicide and extortion. The Michoacán Attorney General’s Office (Procuraduría General de Justicia del Estado, PGJE) alleges that Santana, of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (Partido Revolucionario Institucional, PRI), ordered the assassination of Antonio Granados Gómez, identified as Santana’s godfather, and with whom she had personal conflicts, according to Michoacán Attorney General José Martín Godoy Castro. Godoy stated that his agency determined Santana’s role in Granados’ killing through “testimonies of various people.” Granados was killed on April 9 in a local restaurant by a member of an unnamed criminal group operating in Michoacán, according to state authorities. This allegation further implicates Santana as maintaining ties with organized crime. The charges of extortion against the former mayor originate from allegations that she took 20% of Huetamo’s 350 employees’ salaries to make payments to KTO leader Servando Gómez, “La Tuta.” There are also allegations that she imposed the same practice on street vendors in the city.
Just weeks before in early August, Salma Karrum appeared in a video filmed in March of last year alongside “El Tony,” the leader of the Templarios in her municipality. The video was filmed days following the murder of the mayor’s son-in-law, Jonathan Rondan Pacheco (28) in the doorway of Karrum’s home. In the video, she can be heard trying to arrange a meeting with La Tuta”to seek an explanation for the murder of her son-in-law. Karrum, also of the PRI, confirmed the authenticity of the video and said that she would make herself available to authorities for questioning. Nevertheless, the video has been widely viewed as an indictment of her ability and willingness to hold meetings with members of the Templarios.
Oseguera Solorio, member of the Party of the Democratic Revolution (Partido de la Revolución Democrática, PRD), has been in detention since April on suspicion of kidnapping and extortion. His former city, Lázaro Cárdenas, holds Mexico’s second-largest port, and has been a focal point of the Mexican government’s current operation to weaken the influence of the KTO in the state. The group has made inroads into the lucrative iron ore exporting market, presumably with the help of local authorities in the port city. Oseguera also appeared in a video alongside La Tuta.
More recently, during the month of September photos of another Michoacán mayor with La Tuta surfaced, adding him to a growing list of public figures with suspected ties to the Knights Templar leader that includes four mayors, former interim governor José Jesús Reyna García and Rodrigo Vallejo, son of former Michoacán Governor Fausto Vallejo. The images made public by Mexican newspaper Quadratín show Juan Hernández Ramírez, mayor of the Aquila municipality, at a table with La Tuta, along with several other unidentified men. The images are believed to be still shots from a video, similar to others that have surfaced, and which appear to have been filmed with the knowledge of those now implicated by their release. The videos were presumably filmed with the interests of the KTO in mind, and their release to the public—coming as the federal government’s public security strategy in Michoacán continues to unfold, and as officials claim to have come near to capturing La Tuta and weakened the KTO’s operational structure—appears to be a calculated measure on the part of the KTO to destabilize the government’s position there, and to turn public support against local officials.