Thursday, July 18, 2019

'Don Zefe', the mysterious founder of Los Zetas

"MX" for Borderland Beat

Early life and career: 1990s

It was the 1990s, and Gilberto García Mena ("El June") ruled over drug trafficking operations in La Frontera Chica, a border stretch in Tamaulipas that includes the municipalities of Gustavo Díaz Ordaz, Camargo, Miguel Alemán, Mier, and Guerrero. One of his top enforcers was Zeferino Peña Cuéllar ("Don Zefe"), a man who would later become one of the founders of Los Zetas. Don Zefe was friends with Raúl Antonio Rodríguez Barrera ("El Chupón"), a federal police officer who would later become the mayor of Miguel Alemán (1999–2001). But the story of Don Zefe is worth the tale. He was born in Tamaulipas and grew up in a seemingly ordinary family of multiple siblings. He graduated from college with a degree in civil engineering, and then went on to join the Miguel Alemán Municipal Police force just like his father did. However, once in the police, Don Zefe decided to pursue a different career: organized crime.

Besides his police duties, Mexican authorities suspected that Don Zefe also worked with the Gulf Cartel, a criminal group based in Tamaulipas. He reportedly worked alongside El June and his lead smuggler Edelio López Falcón ("El Yeyo"). Don Zefe originally started as El June's financial operator, but both eventually became involved in drug trafficking activities together.  During that time, the Mexican military was stationed in Miguel Alemán, Tamaulipas, to combat drug trafficking activities in the area. Among their prominent members were Arturo Guzmán Decena ("Z-1") and Heriberto Lazcano Lazcano ("Z-3"). But the drug money was too enticing, and Z-1 and Z-3 – along with multiple others – switched sides and began to work for El June's faction.

Yeyo
In 1997, Don Zefe and El June recruited them as their personal bodyguards. El June's legal team advised him and Don Zefe to hire mercenaries because illegal possession of firearms was considered a more serious crime than drug trafficking at that time. This meant that Don Zefe could "arm" himself with the military and get away from facing illegal firearm charges. Don Zefe was reportedly responsible for paying the corrupt military personnel stationed in Tamaulipas in large cash amounts. The money he used to pay them was collected in the U.S. by Don Zefe, who travelled there in a vehicle and smuggled the money in bags disguised with food supply. On his way back to Mexico, Z-3 and Z-1 provided him with armed protection to transport the money. This group of military men that Don Zefe relied on would later become the foundation of Los Zetas, the Gulf Cartel's former paramilitary group that was originally composed of ex-commandos.

Leadership tenure

In the late 1990s, El June met and befriended Osiel Cárdenas Guillén, a rising drug trafficker who was working in Miguel Alemán with the federal police. Cárdenas Guillén eventually became the top leader of the Gulf Cartel, and appointed Don Zefe and El June as regional leaders of drug corridors in La Frontera Chica, a border stretch in Tamaulipas. Don Zefe was assigned as the leader of the Gulf Cartel in the municipalities of Gustavo Díaz Ordaz, Camargo, Miguel Alemán, Mier, and Guerrero. Little was known of Don Zefe's involvement within the cartel. The Gulf Cartel regarded Don Zefe as a skilled leader and negotiator, specifically with rival cartels. He also commanded a squadron of assassins under Cárdenas Guillén.

According to Mexican federal authorities, Don Zefe mastermined multiple murders in Tamaulipas and Nuevo León since 1999. Among them included Armando Meléndez Sánchez, a political opponent of the mayor Rodríguez Barrera, and Jaime Rajid Gutierrez Arreola and Pablo Gaytán Mejía. The former was a commander in the Federal Judicial Police and the latter the Miguel Alemán Rural Police chief. In 2002, he was accused of participating in the murder of the local journalist Félix Alonso Fernández García, a harsh critic of the mayor. In 2005, Don Zefe was also suspected of ordering the murder of Alejandro Domínguez Coello, who was killed hours after becoming the Nuevo Laredo police chief. Investigators stated that Don Zefe murdered these people because they worked against his interests, or because of drug or money settlements.


Assassination attempt: 2001

On 30 October 2001, fourteen gunmen dressed in military uniforms stormed an estate in Hacienda Santa Lucía neighborhood in Monterrey to kill Don Zefe. They arrived at the property at around 5:45 a.m, and surrounded it with two Hummers and two Suburbans. The gunmen then went inside the premises by placing several portable stairs that helped them reached the estate's rooftops. Other gunmen destroyed the main entrance gate. A shootout broke out between the gunmen and Don Zefe's henchmen. Around twenty of Don Zefe's henchmen were inside the premises when the shootout occurred. After nearly an hour of gunfire, Don Zefe's men surrendered; some were kidnapped and forcibly taken in the assailants' vehicles. René Montiel Muñiz and Eduardo Luna Estrada, two of Don Zefe's alleged operators, were injured in the attack. Daniel de la Garza Aguilar, a former police officer and chauffeur, was killed. Don Zefe was not at the scene when the attack occurred, but he frequented the estate and was there hours prior.

The main line of investigation authorities were pursuing was that organized crime members linked to the Gulf Cartel tried to kill Don Zefe. Investigators stated that the attack was likely stemmed from the April 2001 arrest of El June. Initially, the Gulf Cartel suspected that El Yeyo provided authorities with information that led to his arrest. However, the police suspected that El June later discovered that it was Don Zefe and not El Yeyo who plotted against him. Other versions from the police stated the attack may have been ordered by El Yeyo as vengeance after he discovered that Don Zefe was the one that started the rumor that El Yeyo was the one responsible for El June's arrest.

The assassination attempt against Don Zefe brought an increased attention against him and his properties. A few days later, Mexican federal authorities raided the Hacienda Santa Lucía estate and another one known as El Faisán, properties linked to Don Zefe. Don Zefe's legal team has tried to recover the properties over the years, but they have been unsuccessful.

Possible whereabouts

Over the years in organized crime, Don Zefe reportedly amassed a fortune and bought multiple properties from his drug proceeds, including a cattle ranch in Miguel Aléman. Don Zefe defended the criminal accusations multiple times by stating that he was a legitimate cattle rancher, agriculture engineer, and businessman.

Unlike the rest of his accomplices, who were eventually arrested and/or killed during their manhunts, Don Zefe fell off the radar over the years and reportedly went into hiding outside of Mexico. In Mexico, he is wanted for drug trafficking and homicide and remains a fugitive. According to several accounts within organized crime circles, Don Zefe retired from the Gulf Cartel with the fortune he made during his tenure and may be in hiding in Brazil, Canada, or Cuba. His wife Manuelita Barrera de Peña still lives in Miguel Alemán, where she owns a kindergarten school under her name. Don Zefe used to sponsor the graduation ceremonies by giving out gifts, but he hasn't been seen there in years.

Note: This post includes excerpts of the Wikipedia article of Zeferino Peña Cuéllar ("Don Zefe"), which I created/published on 17 July 2019.


Sources and notes
Wikipedia article is under free domain 
* Multiple sources, see here for more details 
* Images are owned by El Norte newspaper 
Facebook page of Don Zefe's wife's school

31 comments:

  1. Changed appearance and living under an assumed name.

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    1. He knew when to get out.
      Smart man

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  2. Replies
    1. Do you have an online or print source to back this up? Brazil, Canada, and Cuba are the only cited ones.

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  3. I pictured Don Zefe as a much older man; the word "Don" usually refers to a senior person. He has family in Monterrey (his children at least). I'm surprised his wife still has the school in Miguel Alemán. Don Zefe is probably enjoying his riches somewhere else, or maybe not.

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    1. My understanding is "Don" usually refers to someone with $$$

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  4. He was more Powerful and Respected than Chapo the Snitch

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    1. 11:16 wow, que machote,
      badmouthing daddy when he is gone...
      Very impressive.

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  5. Z40 was the true leader of zetas he made them grew bigger than Sinaloa when they were at their peak they took over most of Mexico what a shame he got arrested by the corrupt government

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    1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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    2. El señor y amo de los Z fue y sera el Lazca Z3 el levanto y puso el ejemplo de un verdadero sicario

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    3. He’ll always be just car washer.

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    4. 11:32 just because he learned broken Inglis and had his criminal brothers in Tejas prisons to connect big time to make shit easy for the golfas, La trevi Chorrienta got made, but he was no melitary like Spanish spiking Lazca and his brother zetas, all a pinche bola de nacos with special forces training straight from the Schools of the Assassins Franchises used to murder scores of Indians in Chiapas, Guerrero, Oaxaca for a few years...

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    5. HE WASN;T EVEN A ZETA, HE WAS A L-40.

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  6. surprised enemies don't mess with his wife or her school

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    1. The enemies at the end of his career were people from El June's and/or El Yeyo's faction, but they were all replaced by Osiel's group once he took full command. So no one really cared to go after him, that's my guess.

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    2. So, who took upon themselves to get rid of Juan Garcia Abrego the real big one and leave mini boss Osiel Cardenas in charge?
      The story used to be Lt Arturo Guzman Decena got out of the Mexican Army, became a Policia Judicial Federal officer and jumped into Osiel's loving arms, then recruited his former GAFE TEAM to form the Zetas. Maybe these other newcomers just were smaller local operations that could not handle growth.
      And then behind them all el chamuco mayor Carlos Salinas de Gortari, his daddy had been ambassador in Russia and was a major trafficker in fridges, estereos, TVs, and gas stoves from the US before they discovered drugs were sooo much profitable...
      Manuel Cavazos Lerma another tamaulipeco graduated from monterrey tech was another earlier drug trafficker, wanted on the US for a long time until he helped prepare the treaties for "energetic reform" of PEMEX for EPN and Co. and the US classified his records along with Manlio Fabio Beltrones' he also helped Cavazos...
      --All the Tamaulipas corruption grew under his watchful eye.

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    3. Like Don Juan Nepomuceno Guerra, Don zefe knew when to get out, but he never got to be as famous, deliberately maybe. no way somebody is going to control unruly greedy gangbangers, unless you become gobernador like Tejas born francisco javier garcia cabeza de cagadas de vacas.

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    4. @1:02 from the article, I think Zefe played both El June and Yeyo...I’m a distant retailer of Yeyo and June was good friends with my uncles.

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    5. Juan García Ábrego got too big for his own sake. The Mexican government at a federal level took him out because of U.S. pressure. Then they "expelled" him from Mexico because of his U.S. birth certificate from La Paloma, Texas (though he has one in Matamoros too, where most people say he was actually born).

      What happened with Z-1 was that El June (who originally hired the military along with Don Zefe) pretty much allowed Osiel to lead. They got along quiet well and Osiel had a lot of backing from the police. El June was more tenured in the business, but didn't want the attention. In fact, he disliked El Yeyo for trying to smuggle cocaine through his corridor (he preferred marijuana, which kept things quiet). Z-1 left with Osiel since he knew he was the rising star. El June was taken down in the new PAN administration, and Osiel left Miguel Alemán to settle back in Matamoros. Los Zetas followed. The rest is history.

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  7. Great read. So the mythical "Comandante Sol" wasn't the founder of the Zetas?

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    1. There are many "founders" of Los Zetas. The media loves using the word "founder" to describe several of the early (or "original") Zetas. If we're strictly speaking, El June and Don Zefe were the men who laid the foundation for what would later become Los Zetas through Osiel. Osiel basically joined El June and Don Zefe when he was in Miguel Alemán, but took the use of military men to higher dimensions.

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    2. Comandante Sol was the one that started the first zetaboot camp in China, Nuevo Leon back in 97.

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  8. Probably 1 of the smartest narcos Capo's ever lol book smart too ... Interested in more from this man

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    1. 8;29 nice to see You in action, Gilbertona.
      Just last night you swore I was the only one.
      -Sol Preendido

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  9. I'm surprised his wife is that open. She should be in danger.

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  10. Is this el chuta?

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  11. El yeyo has being provided with coke by the Beltran

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    1. @9:20 there may truth to that...story I got was he had formed an alliance with el cartel milenio (los Valencias) and no one agreed. The coke was a definitely. La frontera was notorious for just weed

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    2. El Barbas took along too many associates, for free, no wonder some of them betrayed him, it happened to GOD Herself, Luzbel, alias Lucifer felt he was sooo damn pretty he could not find a haven wide enough and left for hell.
      All the former associates of El Barbas are gone, being traitors nobody wanted them around...

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