04/30/14 (written by callison) — A U.S. District Court in El Paso, Texas handed down Arturo Gallegos Castrellón’s sentencing this month for his involvement in the 2010 murder of three U.S. consulate members based in Ciudad Juárez. Gallegos, also known as “El Benny,” “El Farmero,” or “El Güero,” was sentenced to serve ten life imprisonment terms and pay nearly $1 million (USD) in damages to the victims’ families. Judge Kathleen Cardone also sentenced him to an additional 20 years and eight months in prison on ten other charges that included money laundering, and weapons and drug trafficking. The guilty verdict and sentencing are in large part due to the 35 witnesses that detailed Castrellón’s involvement in wide ranging organized criminal activities, including the ordered execution of the U.S. consulate employee and spouses. Witnesses ranged from fellow gang members in Barrio Aztecta to federal agents and civilians. According to U.S. officials, 33 of the 36 suspects involved in the U.S. consulate killings have been arrested, of which 24 have confessed to their involvement.
Arturo Gallegos Castrellón formerly served as leader of the Barrio Azteca street gang, which allied with La Línea—a branch of the Carrillo Fuentes Cartel (Cártel de los Carrillo Fuentes). Castrellón was arrested in November 2010 and extradited to the United States in June 2012 on charges including ordering the killings of Leslie Ann Enrique Catton, Arthur Redelfs, and Jorge Alberto Salcedo Ceniceros. Catton served as a U.S. consulate employee in Ciudad Juárez, and Redelfs was her husband. Ceniceros, meanwhile, was the husband of another consulate employee. The three victims were shot and killed on March 13, 2010, after they left a children’s party for a close friend. Testimony offered in Castrellón’s trial in February indicated that the consulate killings were executed on faulty information, and that gunmen were following the wrong vehicles. Catton and Redelfs’ toddler, who was in the back of their car, survived the attack. It is worth noting that Castrellón claims he was wrongfully held and tortured during the time between his arrest and when Mexican officials presented the suspect before the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Before his 2010 arrest, Castrellón had been named in a number of other high profile murders in Mexico. He played a key role in the 2010 Villas de Salvácar massacre in Ciudad Juárez massacre, which left 15 students dead after gunmen entered a party and opened fire on the attendees after mistaking them as members of a rival gang. Castrellón was also linked to the murder of the wife of former Barrio Azteca member Jesús Ernesto Chávez Castillo after her husband disclosed incriminating information against the Barrio Azteca gang to federal authorities. Castillo, who now serves as an informant to the U.S. government on the Barrio Azteca and Castrellón’s involvement, testified against the latter in February’s hearing in El Paso. According to Luis Cárdenas Palomino, Mexico’s chief of the Federal Police’s Regional Security Division (División de Seguridad Regional de la Policía Federal), Castrellón was reportedly linked to 80% of homicides that occurred in Ciudad Juárez in 2009 and 2010 during the height of the violence. As multiple sources report, U.S. authorities attribute approximately 800 deaths in Mexico from January to August 2010 to the Barrios Azteca’s criminal organization and their connections with La Línea and the Carrillo Fuentes Cartel.
Still, U.S. and Mexican authorities applauded the work done to bring justice in the U.S. consulate case. As Ciudad Juárez Municipal President Enríque Serrano Escobar said, “In the end, justice always prevails.” The family of one of the U.S. consulate victims, Arthur Redelfs, also confronted Castrellón during the sentencing hearing. “Mr. Castrellón, I want to tell you that I don’t hate you. I hate your actions, but not you,” offered Redelfs brother, Reuben. “God has taught me to forgive, and I forgive you.”