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State authorities say the leader of a criminal gang known for siphoning gasoline from government fuel pipelines has been sentenced to 60 years in prison for kidnapping

MEXICO CITY — The leader of a criminal gang known for siphoning gasoline from government fuel lines has been sentenced to 60 years in prison for kidnapping, according to authorities in central Mexico state of Guanajuato.

José Antonio Yépez Ortiz was one of Mexico’s most wanted suspects before his arrest on August 2, 2020, following a shootout with police. President Andrés Manuel López Obrador hailed 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 it for much of the violence in the industrial and agricultural state of Guanajuato.

The state attorney general’s office said Friday night that the man known as “El Marro” – meaning “the sledgehammer” – had been convicted in an area court. Local media said he still faces charges of attempted homicide, fuel theft and organized crime.

Yépez Ortíz’s Santa Rosa de Lima gang began robbing freight trains and robbing oil pipelines, but branched out into extortion and other crimes – especially after López Obrador declared war on the pipeline valves and temporarily shut off fuel flow early in his administration.

Yépez Ortiz was unusual among gang leaders in posting videos with emotional appeals to his followers, including one months before his own arrest in which he appeared to be crying 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 fight Jalisco.

The turf battle with Jalisco has turned Guanajuato, with its foreign auto factories and tourist towns like San Miguel de Allende, into Mexico’s most violent state.

The Santa Rosa gang was not a drug cartel, but rather a powerful and violent gang that grew up in a farming hamlet of the same name stealing fuel and robbing trains.

He tried to build a support network among the local residents by allowing them to take a minor share in the spoils of the robberies. When government security efforts made fuel theft more difficult, it turned to extorting money from businesses like tortilla shops and car and farm equipment dealerships.

ABC News

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