Mexico City – A judge has sentenced 18 members of the La Familia Michoacana cartel to between 23-25 years in prison on racketeering, drug-trafficking and vehicle-theft charges, the Mexican Attorney General's Office said Wednesday.
The 13 men and five women had tried to bribe the officers who arrested them in October 2008 in the central town of Dolores Hidalgo, Guanajuato state, offering 40,000 pesos ($3,450) for their release.
Even in custody, they persisted in trying to buy their way out of trouble, telling the local police chief they would pay him the equivalent of $4,300 a week to let them escape and another $8,500 per month if he agreed to tolerate their drug-dealing operations in the town.
La Familia, based in the western state of Michoacan and formerly one of Mexico's most powerful cartels, has been severely weakened in recent months by infighting and government operations targeting the gang.
The cartel began unraveling after its ideological leader, Nazario Moreno, was killed in December 2010 in a shootout with Federal Police.
Last month, one of the cartel's founders, Jesus "El Chango" Mendez, was arrested in the central state of Aguascalientes and said afterward that the organization was close to complete collapse.
Moreno's death led to the emergence in March of a splinter group known as Los Caballeros Templarios (The Knights Templar), which has been fighting the faction formerly led by Mendez.
Los Caballeros Templarios, like La Familia, requires members to adhere to a code of conduct and portrays itself as working for the good of the community despite its criminal activities.
More than 40,000 people have died in recent years as a result of turf battles among Mexico's well-funded, heavily armed drug gangs and clashes between cartel enforcers and the security forces.