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." (Read more Gulf Cartel stories.)