2 Mayors arrested on organized crime, theft charges in Mexico

Morelia, Mexico, Apr 16 (EFE).- The mayor of Apatzingan, a city in the western Mexican state of Michoacan, was arrested for allegedly having links to organized crime groups, while the mayor of the city of Tacambaro was detained on theft charges, state prosecutors said.

Uriel Chavez Mendoza, the mayor of Apatzingan, was arrested on extortion charges for allegedly intimidating three councilmen into paying 20,000 pesos ($1,527) each monthly to the Caballeros Templarios drug cartel, the Michoacan Attorney General's Office said.

Apatzingan is the largest city in the crime-ridden Tierra Caliente region, which gets its name from the high temperatures in the area and straddles Michoacan, Guerrero and Mexico states.

The city is considered the main bastion of the Caballeros Templarios, a gang that deals in both synthetic and natural drugs, commits murders, stages kidnappings and runs extortion rackets that target business owners and transport companies in Michoacan.

Councilmen Ramon Santoyo Gallegos, Jose Martin Gomez Ramirez and Ricardo Reyna Martinez told prosecutors on March 6 that in January 2012 Chavez Mendoza took them and the other nine city council members to the village of Las Bateas, where cartel members threatened them.

Chavez Mendoza, a member of the governing Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, won the mayoral election in Apatzingan in 2011.

The community self-defense groups that operate in Michoacan filed at least 30 complaints against Chavez Mendoza, alleging that he had links to the cartel and allowed the criminal organization to take control of the municipal police force so it could commit crimes.

The first vigilante group was formed in Michoacan on Feb. 24, 2013, to fight the Caballeros Templarios cartel.

Vigilante groups operate in 30 of the state's 113 cities.

The federal government deployed soldiers and police in Michoacan on Jan. 13 in an effort to end the wave of drug-related violence in the state.

Federal security forces killed the Caballeros Templarios cartel's two top leaders, Nazario Moreno Gonzalez and Enrique Plancarte Solis, in February and March, respectively.

Moreno and other members of the Familia Michoacana gang formed the Caballeros Templarios organization after he was reported killed by the government in 2010.

Prosecutors, meanwhile, arrested Noe Octavio Aburto Inclan, the mayor of Tacambaro on corruption charges.

Aburto Inclan, a member of the conservative National Action Party, or PAN, allegedly stole a Caterpillar tractor worth 2.1 million pesos ($160,305) owned by the city.

The mayor revealed on Feb. 21 that someone tried to kill him while he was driving his official SUV.

The vehicle was hit by a truck on the highway that links Tacambaro to the city of Ario de Rosales, Aburto Inclan said.

The truck was never found.