By Jerry Seper
The Washington Times
The Departments of Justice, State and Homeland Security announced Wednesday a reward of up to $5 million for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the Mexican gunmen who shot and killed U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Special Agent Jaime Zapata and wounded his partner, Victor Avila Jr.
The two agents were ambushed Feb. 15 on a major highway in the state of San Luis Potosi, 250 miles north of Mexico City. They were purportedly attacked by members of the brutal Los Zetas drug cartel.
Agent Zapata was shot five times and died en route to a hospital. Agent Avila, who was transported back to the U.S. for treatment, was shot in the legs. Both agents were assigned to ICE’s attache office in Mexico City. Neither man was armed, as the Mexican government does not authorize U.S. law enforcement personnel to carry weapons in that country.
U.S. and Mexican law enforcement authorities have said the two agents were southbound on the four-lane federal toll highway in an armored blue Chevrolet Suburban with diplomatic plates when they stopped about 2:30 p.m. at what appeared to be a checkpoint by men dressed in camouflage and carrying automatic weapons.
The agents identified themselves, in Spanish and English, as Americans and as diplomats, authorities said, but were shot anyway.
“This reward reflects the U.S. government’s unwavering commitment to ensuring that all those responsible for the murder of Special Agent Zapata are brought to justice,” said Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.
Violence has been commonplace in Mexico since a raging war between drug-smuggling cartels began in 2006, claiming 35,000 lives. The Los Zetas cartel is considered among the most violent drug gangs now seeking to control lucrative smuggling routes into the U.S.
San Luis Potosi police said the agents’ bullet-ridden Suburban was found off to the side of the highway. Law enforcement authorities said at least 10 assailants were involved in the shooting, some of whom were armed with high-powered weapons.
Mexican federal police have taken more than 30 suspected Zetas into custody in the shooting, including the gang’s suspected paymaster, Mario “El Mayito” Jimenez, accused of managing the payroll for Zetas’ hit men in addition to collecting proceeds from drug sales and purchasing real estate and equipment for the cartel’s operations.
Also arrested by the Mexican navy was Sergio “El Toto” Mora, the reputed head of the Zetas in San Luis Potosi.
Three Texas men arrested in this country on weapons violations also were being questioned in connection with the shooting. Investigators said one of three weapons found at the ambush site was traced by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) to Otilio Osorio, 25, of Lancaster, Texas.
Mr. Osorio and his brother Ranferi were arrested on charges of possessing firearms with an obliterated serial number. Kelvin L. Morrison also was arrested and charged in a separate complaint with making false statements in connection with the acquisition of firearms and dealing in firearms without a license. He lives next door to the Osorios.
A federal affidavit said one of the three firearms used in the Zapata assault was purchased by Otilio Osorio on Oct. 10 in the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex. Ballistic testing in Mexico revealed it was one of the firearms used during the assault on the two agents.
The Mexican government also announced a reward of up to 10 million pesos in the case. The FBI and ICE have set up a 24-hour tip line in the U.S. to process information on potential suspects. Persons in the United States with information should call 866/859-9778. Those in Mexico can call +001-800/225-5324.