Fugitive Mexican Cartel Operative Killed in Tijuana

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A key cartel operative wanted by authorities for his alleged role in a conspiracy to traffic huge quantities of methamphetamine, cocaine, heroin, and marijuana to various cities in the United States was gunned down with his wife in Tijuana Saturday morning.

El Cártel de Jalisco Nueva Generación (CJNG) member José Luis Mora Zamora, 37, also known as “El Negro” or “Cabo 23” was gunned down with his wife while eating at a taco stand in colonia Playas de Tijuana, according to local reporting. Zamora and his wife, Gina Leen Romero, had just sat down to eat when they were approached by three gunmen dressed in tactical vests who arrived in Volkswagen Jetta, say eyewitnesses. Zamora was struck multiple times and his wife was hit at least twice in the head. The three gunmen fled in their Jetta.

Zamora previously worked for the Sinaloa Cartel but switched sides to the rival CJNG, working as a key operator for Juan José Pérez Vargas aka “El Piolín or JP,” the leader of the CJNG in Baja California, who was arrested in Guadalajara in September 2017. Zamora was a fugitive during his time with the Sinaloa Cartel. He was named in an indictment which involved “Sixty alleged members and associates of the Mexico-based Sinaloa Cartel,” including some of the highest-ranking leaders, lieutenants, and operators responsible for multiple distribution cells engaged in trafficking large quantities of methamphetamine, cocaine, heroin, and marijuana to various locations around the United States. The indictment included the names of many of the most powerful and influential leaders within the Sinaloa Cartel.

The day before he was killed, Zamora was also believed to be involved in a cartel attack against two Tijuana police officers who were eating at a Chinese restaurant. The incident left one officer dead and second wounded in critical condition. Prior to the hit, the CJNG broadcast numerous death threats against municipal officers and the Sinaloa Cartel on a police radio frequency.

Tijuana officially recorded 2,508 homicides in 2018 primarily thanks to turf wars involving the Cártel Tijuana Nueva Generación (CTNG)–aligned with the CJNG–against the Sinaloa Cartel. The overwhelming number of those killed were low-level street dealers and users of methamphetamine.

Robert Arce is a retired Phoenix Police detective with extensive experience working Mexican organized crime and street gangs. Arce has worked in the Balkans, Iraq, Haiti, and recently completed a three-year assignment in Monterrey, Mexico, working out of the Consulate for the United States Department of State, International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Program, where he was the Regional Program Manager for Northeast Mexico (Coahuila, Tamaulipas, Nuevo Leon, Durango, San Luis Potosi, Zacatecas.)

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