U.S. authorities arrest head of Mexican drug gang Gulf Cartel


(Reuters) - The head of the notorious Mexican cocaine-trafficking gang, the Gulf Cartel, was taken into custody in southern Texas, U.S. officials said on Tuesday.

Mexican national, Juan Francisco Saenz-Tamez, 23, was arrested on Oct. 9 while shopping in Edinburg, Texas just north of the Mexican-U.S. border, the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Texas said in a joint statement with federal authorities.

Law enforcement officials said he led the cartel as it shipped thousands of kilograms of cocaine and marijuana into eastern Texas, which were then distributed across the country.

Saenz-Tamez was indicted by a grand jury in September 2013 and was charged with conspiracy to distribute cocaine and marijuana as well as a money laundering conspiracy count, the statement said. He made his initial appearance before a federal judge in Beaumont, Texas on Tuesday.

"He oversaw much of the violence and bloodshed that has plagued Mexico, and the (U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration) is pleased he will face justice in the United States," said DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart in the statement.

Officials said Saenz-Tamez climbed up the cartel's ranks after the 2013 arrest of former gang boss, Mario Ramirez-Trevino, also known as X-20 or "The Bald One".

In May, Mexican authorities captured Juan Rodriguez Garcia, whose struggle to gain control of the Gulf Cartel after Ramirez's capture was behind a wave of violence that has hit the northern state of Tamaulipas this year.

The cartel's power has waned in recent years in a feud with Mexico's most brutal gang, the Zetas, which initially provided protection to the cartel's operations in northeastern Mexico.

If convicted, Saenz-Tamez could face a maximum sentence of life in federal prison, according to the statement.

(Reporting by Curtis Skinner in San Francisco; Editing by Ryan Woo)

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