Mexico City – Mexican marines detained a suspected top financial operator for the violent Los Zetas drug cartel and 10 of her assistants, the Navy Secretariat said.
The 29-year-old Carmen del Consuelo Saenz Marquez, arrested along with the other assistant "accountants" in the eastern state of Veracruz, managed the Zetas' finances in several states of eastern and southeastern Mexico, the secretariat said.
It said the earlier arrest of a man identified as Gerardo Alberto Limon Zavala, 33, led to the capture of Saenz Marquez and the other suspects on Tuesday in the Veracruz city of Cordoba.
The suspected financial operator took orders from the head of the Zetas' south region, an individual identified as "Luky" who is part of the third level of the criminal gang's structure, according to the secretariat.
It added that Saenz Marquez received proceeds from the sale of cocaine and marijuana, fuel theft, extortion, kidnapping and piracy, among other crimes.
Assistant "accountants" in Veracruz, Oaxaca, Hidalgo, Quintana Roo and Tabasco states reported to her.
The funds, according to the secretariat, were used to pay the salaries of the gang's regional leaders, "plaza" chiefs responsible for coordinating drug shipments, hit men and "lookouts," as well as accountants and other administrative personnel.
Some of the money also was used to bribe corrupt officials and to purchase communications gear.
The assistants "did accounting work and were responsible for making contacts for drug purchases and distribution in their areas of operation," the secretariat said.
The marines also seized a handgun, six fragmentation grenades, 49 rounds of ammunition, 66 cellular phones, computer equipment, two hard disks with payroll information, six bill-counting machines, pay sheets and paperwork on illegal activities and five vehicles.
Saenz Marquez and her assistants will be turned over to the federal Attorney General's Office's Siedo organized crime unit.
The operation was part of the "Safe Veracruz" security program, which was launched earlier this month after a wave of drug-related violence in that state and has included the deployment of hundreds of federal police and military personnel.
Mexican President Felipe Calderon gave the military the lead role in battling the nation's heavily armed cartels shortly after taking office in December 2006.
Since then, drug-war violence has claimed nearly 50,000 lives across Mexico.
Founded by deserters from an elite special forces unit, Los Zetas began as the armed wing of the Gulf drug cartel, but ended that relationship in March 2010 to go into business for themselves.
Hundreds have died in the ensuing turf battles between the aggressive upstarts and the established drug trafficking organizations.
Separately, Mexican federal police arrested two U.S. citizens carrying nearly $1 million in their luggage as they were attempting to fly in a private plane from the central city of Toluca to Houston, Texas, the Public Safety Secretariat said in a statement Thursday.
The arrests occurred at the international airport in Toluca, Mexico state, after intelligence reports indicated that two individuals were planning to travel to the United States with large sums of money.
Steven Craig Knight, 56, and Walter Davis Stephens, 41, became visibly nervous when they were asked where they had come from and their planned destination, the statement said.
The federal police then inspected their luggage and found 95 packets, each containing 500 $20 bills. The men were detained after they were unable to prove the licit origin of the money.
After running a background check with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Mexican police learned that Knight had a prior conviction for drug trafficking in his homeland and had served a two-year sentence.
The undeclared cash and various electronic material seized from the two men were turned over to Mexican prosecutors.