Juan Francisco Saenz-Tamez was ruthless enough to become chief of Mexico's Gulf cartel at the age of 23—but apparently not smart enough to avoid visiting the US, even after a federal jury indicted him on three drug and money-laundering counts. Saenz-Tamez was busted during a shopping trip to Edinburg, Texas, earlier this month and made his first court appearance yesterday, reports the AP. He is the cocaine and marijuana-trafficking cartel's third leader in three years, following the arrest of cartel chiefs in 2012 and 2013, and faces up to life in prison if convicted.
Saenz-Tamez "moved steadily up the cartel ranks, working as a lookout, record keeper, plaza boss, and finally its leader," and the Drug Enforcement Administration "watched his progression" and then pounced when he was in the US, the agency says. The once-dominant Gulf cartel has weakened in recent years as rivals gain strength, says a security expert at the Center for Research and Teaching in Economics in Mexico City who had never heard of Saenz-Tamez before. "It's a cartel that is in decline," he tells the Los Angeles Times. "The truth is that this organization is not as relevant as it used to be."