Mexico arrests gang figure in slaying of U.S. worker

By William Booth
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, July 3, 2010; A12

MEXICO CITY -- The execution of a U.S. Consulate worker in Ciudad Juarez this March was ordered by a high-ranking drug cartel enforcer who thought the woman was dealing visas to a rival gang, Mexican federal police said Friday.

Jesús Ernesto Chávez, said to be a leader of a binational gang that supplies contract killers to the Juarez drug cartel, was arrested on charges that he masterminded the March 13 daylight ambush and murder of U.S. Consulate staffer Lesley Ann Enriquez and her husband, Arthur Redelfs, an El Paso sheriff's deputy.

Enriquez, who was four months pregnant, and Redelfs were killed by a squad of commandos as they were leaving a birthday party. The attack occurred within sight of the international bridge, and their deaths raised fears that U.S. officials were being targeted by warring drug traffickers. The couple's uninjured 7-month-old daughter was found crying in the back seat of their car.

Chávez told police that Enriquez was targeted because she was providing visas to members of the rival Sinaloa drug cartel, the chief of the federal police anti-drug unit, Ramón Pequeño, said at a news conference.

U.S. law enforcement officials said Chávez is a leader of the Barrio Azteca organization, a violent gang born in Texas prisons that has members on both sides of the border.

"He is the real deal, and we are glad they got him," said a federal anti-drug agent, who was not authorized to speak on the record.

But U.S. officials also said they were uncertain whether Chávez was telling the truth about Enriquez dealing in visas. She worked in the American Citizens Services department, which helps U.S. citizens renew passports, register foreign births and get help after running out of money or being robbed.

The same law enforcement officials said that soon after Enriquez and her husband were slain, another Barrio Azteca gang member was arrested in Ciudad Juarez. The gang member told authorities that the couple were killed because the husband had mistreated Barrio Azteca members incarcerated in El Paso.

U.S. Embassy officials in Mexico City and FBI agents in El Paso, which neighbors Ciudad Juarez, said that the investigation was ongoing and that they had no comment.

Mexican police said Chávez, 41, served five years in a Louisiana prison for distribution of narcotics. He was also arrested on April 1, 2008, by the Mexican army -- but he was released and then quickly rose to become leader of Barrio Azteca, Pequeño said.

Mexican authorities say Chávez was also linked to the killing of 15 high school student-athletes and neighbors who were having a party in a poor barrio in Ciudad Juarez this year. The Aztecas attacked the party under the mistaken impression that the youths were members of a rival gang of killers called the Artistic Assassins.

The slaughter of the youngsters, and callous remarks about them by President Felipe Calderón and his administration, was seen as important milestone in the drug war, as an angry public denounced the government's failures to stem the violence.

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