EXCLUSIVE: La Linea cartel leader No. 1 target on border’s Most Wanted list

Border Report Tour

U.S. Border Patrol confirms identity of man Chihuahua Attorney General calls 'a factor in the violence' that afflicts Ciudad Juarez

EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – The reputed leader of the La Línea drug cartel is target No. 1 on the recently released border’s Most Wanted list, the U.S. Border Patrol has confirmed.

Jesus Venzor Salas-Aguayo is wanted by the FBI on charges of conspiracy, possession of 100 kilograms or more marijuana with intent to distribute and operating a continuous criminal enterprise. The Border Patrol says he is also wanted on homicide and weapons charges in the United States.

In Mexico, Salas-Aguayo is considered a fugitive for violating the terms of his supervised release on drugs and weapons charges through the removal of an electronic monitoring device in January 2020. Since then, he has disappeared from public view, though Chihuahua Attorney General Cesar Augusto Peniche says he remains “a factor in the violence” in Juarez. The city has recorded more than 4,000 homicides – most of them drug-related – in the past 32 months.

“He is back on the streets after some years in jail, freed improperly by a federal judge and now a part of the warfare we are seeing,” Peniche told El Diario. Some of the disputes “are tied to this man trying to recover what he had prior to his apprehension.”

The U.S. Border Patrol and other federal agencies in July released a list and photographs of 10 fugitives known to operate on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border. A toll-free telephone number (1-800-635-2509) was set up in El Paso to receive tips on the fugitives’ whereabouts and text messages can also be sent through WhatsApp on either side of the border at 1-915-314-8194.

U.S. Border Patrol El Paso Sector Chief Gloria I. Chavez announces the ‘Se Busca Informacion” binational Most Wanted program. (file photo)

The individuals featured in the poster were not named, but the Border Patrol on Friday confirmed to Border Report information obtained through face-recognition technology regarding the identity of subject No. 1.

“El Paso Sector Border Patrol confirms that Se Busca’s target #1 is the same person (Salas-Aguayo, Jesus) listed in the FBI’s Most Wanted poster,” the Border Patrol said in an email.

Heir to the Juarez cartel’s structure

Salas-Aguayo, a.k.a “Chuyín,” reached a position of leadership in La Línea in the 2000s-2010s when the group made up mostly of former police officers was the enforcement arm of Vicente Carrillo Fuentes’ old Juarez cartel.

The FBI’s wanted poster featuring Jesus Venzor Salas-Aguayo (courtesy FBI)

Carrillo is in jail and the Juarez cartel doesn’t exist as such, but La Línea has become a transnational criminal organization controlling swaths of the Chihuahua-Texas and Chihuahua-New Mexico drug corridors. The group also has influence over gangs like La Empresa and Aztecas and has formed an alliance with the powerful Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG).

“La Línea doesn’t have the reach of the old Juarez cartel because Sinaloa pushed into a large portion of that territory. Nevertheless, they not only produce marijuana and synthetic drugs but are also moving loads (of drugs into the United States) for the Jalisco New Generation Cartel and make money that way,” said Scott Stewart, vice president of intelligence for U.S.-based TorchStone Global.

The Mexican army arrested Salas-Aguayo in December 2015 in a ranch in Villa Ahumada, Chihuahua, on drugs, weapons and organized crime charges. One judge in Mexico later dropped the organized crime charges and sentenced him to 11 years in prison. A different Mexican judge reduced his sentence to 8 years in December 2019 and allowed him to go home wearing an electronic monitoring device. The device “went dark” a month later.

‘His maneuvering in the courts and the way he was released hints at his power and capabilities. That’s something you don’t see often, that’s something the little guys just don’t have. I believe he’s fairly high up there” in the drug trafficking hierarchy, Stewart said.

Will the U.S. outing Salas-Aguayo lead to his arrest?

Juarez is a coveted drug trafficking “plaza” or drug corridor into the United States where La Línea and the Sinaloa cartel are constantly at war. However, the two groups are also fighting in the mountains of Western Chihuahua and south of the New Mexico-Arizona border. That’s where the cartel leader is likely holed up, a Chihuahua state police official told Border Report.

“That kind of makes sense,” Stewart said of his whereabouts. He recalled reports linking La Línea to the Nov. 4, 2019, massacre of nine U.S. citizens with ties to the independent Mormon settlement of LeBaron, near Nuevo Casas Grandes, Chihuahua.

Several members of La Línea have been arrested in connection to the killings, whom the Mexican government says stemmed from Juarez gang members believing they were shooting at a convoy of rivals from the Salazar cell of Sinaloa, not families traveling in a caravan for safety.

“That dynamic hasn’t gone away … the tensions between La Línea and Sinaloa cartel units like the Salazars and Gente Nueva hasn’t gone away in that region,” Stewart said. “We’re still seeing pretty frequent violence” there.

Stewart said it’s up in the air if outing Salas-Aguayo as part of the “Se Busca Informacion” campaign will lead to his arrest.

“You’d like to think it’s going to lead somewhere. In the past, we’ve had efforts to get people like (Joaquin) El Chapo Guzman,” he said. “At the same time, larger rewards for Rafael Caro Quintero and Nemesio “El Mencho” Oceguera have been unsuccessful so far. It will all depend on his connections to remain (out of jail) or get tipped off if they come for him.”

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