MEXICO CITY (AP) — The leader of a crime gang notorious for siphoning gasoline from government fuel ducts has been sentenced to 60 years in prison for kidnapping, according to authorities in the central Mexico state of Guanajuato.
José Antonio Yépez Ortiz had been one of Mexico’s most wanted suspects prior to his arrest on Aug. 2, 2020, following a shootout with police. President Andrés Manuel López Obrador praised the arrest at the time as “important, very important.”
The gang had long fought a bloody turf battle with the Jalisco cartel, and authorities blamed him for much of the violence in the industrial and farming state of Guanajuato.
The state Attorney General’s Office said late Friday that the man known as “El Marro” — which means “The Sledgehammer” — was sentenced by a court in the region. Local news media said he still faces charges of attempted homicide, robbery of fuel and organized crime.
Yépez Ortíz’s Santa Rosa de Lima gang got its start robbing freight trains and stealing from fuel pipelines but branched out into extortion and other crimes — especially after López Obrador declared war on pipeline taps and temporarily shut off the flow of fuel early in his administration.
Yépez Ortiz was unusual among gang leaders in posting videos with emotional calls to his followers, including one a few months before his own arrest in which he appeared to cry after several of his supporters and relatives were arrested. In another video around the same time, he threatened to join forces with the Sinaloa cartel to combat Jalisco.
The turf battle with Jalisco turned Guanajuato, with its foreign auto plants and tourist towns like San Miguel de Allende, into the most violent state in Mexico.
The Santa Rosa gang was not a drug cartel, but rather a powerful, violent gang that grew up in a farming hamlet of the same name by stealing fuel and robbing trains.
It tried to build a support network among local residents by allowing them to take a minor share in the spoils of the robberies. When government security efforts made fuel thefts more difficult, it turned to extorting money from businesses like tortilla shops and dealers of cars and farm equipment.