“HEARST” for Borderland Beat

Two years ago, Sinaloa Cartel figure El Ruso was almost captured by police in the border city of Mexicali – but two FGR agents, who were actively acting as Ruso’s bodyguards, intervened and helped him evade arrest.

Then, while searching the vehicles Ruso left behind, police discovered a driver’s license with Ruso’s real name and photo. Somehow, though, this driver’s license was “misfiled” and not investigated.

This month, however, the state Security Roundtable (a coalition of different law enforcement agencies) re-discovered the “lost” driver’s license.

The weekly magazine Zeta Tijuana published the photo and name from the license on their front cover, as previously covered by Char, and now more details about who Ruso is and who is protecting him have emerged.

The Day FGR Agents Stopped Authorities from Arresting Ruso

On May 14, 2021, El Ruso and an entourage of 13 others traveled to a taco shop called El Moreno, located in the border city of Mexicali.

His entourage, which traveled to the taqueria in a convoy of 4 vehicles, was presumably made up of a mix of friends, colleagues, and bodyguards.

The city of Mexicali is dominated by Los Rusos, so El Ruso likely felt comfortable moving throughout the city.

But there was another factor that contributed to Ruso’s feeling of freedom. Two agents from the federal Attorney General’s Office (FGR) were a part of his 13-person entourage.

This is a point that cannot be brushed over quickly. It is worth repeating – El Ruso, the leader of a Sinaloa Cartel group went to a taco shop accompanied by two federal agents who work at the Attorney General’s Office (FGR) – the very same office which is tasked with investigating and prosecuting cartel leaders.

The two agents were named Iván Doroteo Palafox and Víctor Hugo Alva Rocha. 

Doroteo Palafox is originally from the state of Puebla and he was 39 years old during the time this incident occurred, in 2021. Meanwhile, Alva Rocha is originally from Tampico, Tamaulipas, and he was 50 years old during the time of this incident.

At some point in the night, according to La Voz de Frontera and BCReporteros, the emergency phone line received a call which reported that a large group of armed men were seen at the taco shop.

At approximately 2:00 am, municipal police officers arrived at the location and spotted the large group, who were visibly armed. The police officers decided to approach the group.


Here is where the version of events begin to differ from each other.

According to IV Press Online “municipal police officers observed two armed individuals at the site, who said they were members of the FGR; but the suspects refused to give their names, so the police officers requested backup from federal agents.”

Zeta Tijuana describes the situation differently, saying that the FGR agents did not identify “themselves as officials” but they “allegedly offered a $80,000 bribe to free them.”

How the police officers reacted is unclear but they presumably refused the offer because soon after they offered the bribe, the two FGR agents tried to make a break for it and bolted away from them, but the police officers followed, trying to chase them down. This foot chase “enabled El Ruso to escape the area” and avoid being captured.  

Zeta writes that “the agents, who were on the run, fled into the FGR office and then identified themselves” to the police officers, telling them for the first time that they were FGR agents. 

Tensions between the two law enforcement agencies escalated, as more officers and FGR agents were pulled into the incident.

Eventually, state Attorney General’s Office (FGE) agents and Army (SEDENA) soldiers arrived at the FGR office. Municipal police officers told the reinforcements about the agents’ attempt to bribe them. Based on the allegations, the FGR agents were detained. 

Meanwhile, back at the taco shop, the other 11 members of Ruso’s entourage were officially detained by law enforcement officers and they were brought to the FGR office, where they joined the two FGR agents who had allegedly offered the bribe.

Uncertainty Clouds the Investigation

Police searched the convoy of vehicles. The four vehicles were a 2021 white Chevrolet Tahoe, a 2015 gray Nissan Versa, a 2015 red Chevrolet Aveo, and a 2019 white Nissan Versa. 

According to the official reports, only one of the four vehicles were found to contain firearms. The firearms and equipment found were: 3 long barrel firearms, 1 short barrel firearm, ammo, a butterfly knife, a tactical vest, cellphones, binoculars, passports, a license, and what Punto Norte claims is “$82,000 [USD] in cash”. 

The firearms found in the vehicles enabled authorities to temporarily hold the 13 detainees, giving prosecutors time to evaluate who they wanted to charge for the firearms possession and whether they had enough evidence for attempted bribery charges. 

The next day, at approximately 7:00 pm, police officers discovered that “friends” of the detainees had hung four identical narco banners on the Juarez bridge, near the Mexicali US-border crossing. 

The banners read:

“We are warning all the federal agencies that this is the first and last time they will attack our organization.  

They don’t know who they are messing with.  

And to the Municipal and State governments, things can never be the same after this. You have gone too far. 


The Revolutionary Forces of El Ruso”

It’s unclear if the narco banners spooked prosecutors, or if their supervisor began to pressure them to stop pursuing the case. All we really know is that on May 16, 2021, nine out of the 13 detainees were released without charges due to “alleged inconsistencies and not enough evidence in the official police report delivered by the Municipal Police.”

Among these nine was FGR Agent Víctor Hugo Alva Rocha. His alleged attempts to bribe authorities with $80,000 on behalf of El Ruso was, evidently, not something worth pursuing.

The nine released were: 

Víctor Hugo Alva Rocha (FGR Agent)

50 years old, from Tampico, Tamaulipas

Marinana Alejandra Meza Rivera

21 years old, from Baja California 

Víctor Hiram Camacho Salazar

31 years old, from Baja California 

Justino León Zazueta

40 years old, from Baja California 

Jesús Antonio Villa Valenzuela

33 years old, from Baja California 

Víctor Manuel Reyes Madueña

36 years old, from Sinaloa 

Justino León Zavala

59 years old, from Sinaloa 

Heriberto Guadalupe Martínez Bastidas

23 years old, from Sinaloa 

Rafael Ochoa Barraza

31 years old, from Sinaloa

Meanwhile, the four not released were brought up on weapons possession charges. Zeta alleges that prosecutors were unable to prove the attempted bribery and the charge was not pursued against either FGR agent. 

The four detainees who weren’t released were:

Iván Doroteo Palafox (FGR Agent)

39 years old, from Puebla

Junior Antonio Astorga López
28 years old, from Baja California

Irver Wenceslao Quintero Sosa
23 years old, from Sinaloa

Kevin Daniel López Cuevas

24 years old, from Sinaloa

Shortly after this, the government released their official version of events. It, naturally, did not mention El Ruso and his near capture. Instead it presented the event as purely the arrest of an “armed group escorted by FGR agents”, as Punto Norte put it. Even clued-in publications like Zeta Tijuana did not hear, nor report, any connection between the arrest and El Ruso at the time. 

Some media groups like Nexo Informativo and Personajes Mexicano even tried to claim the detainees were not Rusos – but Salazars members instead.

Others, like Buggs, correctly described the detainees as Rusos and connected the incident to the May 15 banners.

Now, in 2023, two years after this incident, the trial against all four of the detainees is “in an intermediate stage, the defendants walk the streets freely [are not being held in jail during the trial], and none of them are being investigated for their alleged relationship with El Ruso.”

His Driver’s License

While investigators were searching the vehicles seized from El Ruso’s entourage, they discovered a driver’s license and an ID card from the National Electoral Institute (INE). The license and ID featured the name “Juan José Ponce Félix” and the photos seen below.

The photos bear a striking resemblance to known images of El Ruso, such as the frames taken from videos of Ruso shooting at Bingo 777 ranch, as seen below. This visual similarity was later acknowledged by the Security Roundtable, who said “the license owner’s photograph ‘had many similarities with the videos and photos of El Ruso known up to that time’.”

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However, the ID and license were somehow “misfiled” by investigators, or as Zeta put it, they were lost in “bureaucratic limbo.” Two years passed with the ID cards untouched and unnoticed. 

Finally, at some point in 2023, after a number of key government positions changed hands, the folder was “rediscovered” and the state’s Security Roundtable began investigating the name and photo on the license, looking for potential links to El Ruso. 

Their investigation concluded that the IDs belonged to El Ruso and his real government name was, in fact, Juan José Ponce Félix. El Ruso has previously been named by government authorities as Jesús Alexander Sánchez but it is relatively commonplace for cartel leaders to acquire forged birth certificates. 

The writers at Zeta, a Tijuana-based magazine, were informed about the Security Roundtable’s investigation into the identity of Ruso. The magazine managed to gain access to the investigation file and made the bold decision to feature the newly discovered photos of Ruso on the front page of their weekly edition.

The magazine’s choice to expose El Ruso carried significant risks. Over the past two decades, El Ruso had effectively prevented any clear photographs of himself from being published. The only glimpses available came from blurry videos. These low-res videos themselves were frequently reported and removed from the internet.

The Zeta editors were well aware of the inherent peril in publishing Ruso’s photo. They understood the potential danger of cartel retribution because it was a grim reality they had already experienced. 

In 1997, the co-founder of Zeta, Jesús Blancornelas, was shot by CAF hitmen after daring to publish a photo of CAF figure Ramón Arellano Félix. 

Similarly, in 2004, Francisco Ortiz Franco, another co-founder of Zeta was murdered due to his articles exposing the criminal activities of the CAF.

Even in recent history, in 2016, the CJNG cartel figure, Israel Alejandro Vázquez Vázquez, alias “Cabo 50,” ordered a hit on the magazine’s office in retaliation for publishing his photo. 

And just to be clear, Cabo 50 is considered to be less-powerful and less-connected than El Ruso, making the risk of publishing his photo even greater.

Despite this history, Zeta magazine still went forward with revealing El Ruso’s identity. 

The publication’s extraordinary courage, demonstrated not just in this story but so many of their stories, is all too often under-acknowledged. 

El Ruso’s Personal History


The “discovery” of the driver’s license and the revelation of El Ruso’s real name is major. Now that the Security Roundtable knew his true identity, as “Juan José Ponce Félix”, they were able to find government records on both him and his family members – revealing previously unknown details about his history. This allows us to create a more complete profile of his criminal history, as detailed below.

Juan José Ponce Félix, alias “El Ruso”, was born in 1981 in the city of Obregon, Sonora. El Ruso has six siblings, three brothers and three sisters.

All of his siblings, unlike Ruso, were born in Sinaloa and all of them are believed to currently reside in the town of Agua Caliente del Monzón, which lies just outside of the city of Culiacan, in the state of Sinaloa.

According to Zeta, El Ruso began his criminal career in 2000, when he was 19 years old, by working under the Sinaloa Cartel (CDS) figure named Gonzalo Inzunza Inzunza, known by the alias “El Macho Prieto.” 

When Ruso first joined up, Macho Prieto was operating within the state of Sinaloa and he was primarily associated with El Mayo, rather than El Chapo. 

Many of the feuds that Macho Prieto got involved in would later be carried on by El Ruso, so it’s worth briefly reviewing Macho’s history while Ruso was working under him. 

In 2002, Macho’s vehicle convoy was intercepted by federal authorities in Culiacan. Macho’s bodyguards refused to back down and allow the feds to arrest Macho, which led to a bloody shootout which left 4 federal police officers dead. 

In 2005, Macho Prieto was arrested in Mazatlan but quietly released by the officers before he ever made it to police headquarters. It is suspected that Macho bribed the cops into releasing him – this method, evidently, would later be adopted by El Ruso himself. 

According to Riodoce, in 2010, Macho Prieto and his men were sent to Baja California, joining the Mayo lieutenant Cenobio Flores Pacho, alias “El Checo”, in overseeing Sinaloa Cartel forces in the state.

That year Macho Prieto’s group got into some hot water for their alleged murder of a subordinate of El M1 named Payón Paulo Osorio, alias “El Pablo”, but it eventually subsided when Ondeado was killed in 2012. 

That same year, José Manuel Garibay Félix, alias “El Manuelón”, a major cartel rival was released from prison and his group los Garibays began contesting Macho’s group for control of Mexicali. The war between los Garibays and Macho’s group, and the subsequent law enforcement heat it brought, would eventually lead to the death of both El Manuelón and Macho Prieto in 2013. 

Ultimately, though, the remnants of Macho’s group prevailed against Garibays and they maintained control over Mexicali. Many of this group would later become a part of Los Rusos. Garibays would continue to operate in the Mexicali Valley area though and eventually the group allied with two of Ruso’s rivals: los Chapitos and los Salazars. 

In October 2019, El Ruso was said to have “disagreed with the chaos” unleashed by Sinaloa Cartel Chapitos-loyalists during the government capture, and subsequent release, of Ovidio Guzman. This dissatisfaction with the manner in which Chapitos “did business” would fester and as time went on tensions between Mayo-loyalists and Chapitos-loyalists continued to rise.  

During this period of strained relations, two men working under El Ruso grew to prominence: Alfonso Peralta Limon Sanchez, alias “El P1”, and Felipe Eduardo Barajas Lozano, alias “El Omega”. 

Both P1 and Omega stayed loyal to El Ruso as the feud with Chapitos and their lieutenant Néstor Isidro García, alias “El Nini”, worsened. (You can read more about who El Nini is here.)

At some point during June 2020, hitmen working for los Chapitos communicated over radio with Ruso’s men. They promised they would grant amnesty to any Ruso hitmen who left his group and joined up with them instead. They promised to accept anyone who took up this offer, unless they were “El Omega” or “El Ruso” himself. 

On June 24, 2020, the forces of Nini and Ruso battled each other in Sinaloa. In the town of Bagrecitos, three people were shot dead in the street; then hitmen broke into a home and killed 8 people inside.

Meanwhile, 26 kilometers (16 miles) away from Bagrecitos, a white Nissan Hilux driving on the highway to El Tepuche was shot up with high caliber fire. 

The hitmen killed inside the Hilux were later revealed to be residents of Mexicali, in Baja California. This makes it likely that they were Ruso-associated hitmen. 

In early 2021, El Ruso had his aforementioned run-in with police in Mexicali, which almost led to his capture. After that incident, he appears to have returned to Sinaloa and refocused on battles against Chapitos forces, such as the July 13, 2021 battle in Tecolotes and the October 20, 2021 battle in Tepuche

It is largely believed that at this point El Ruso became less involved in directly leading the group and entered a semi-retired type of role, passing off day-to-day leadership responsibilities to P1.

In December 2022, a 49-vehicle convoy of Chapitos and Garibays forces attempted to kill El Ruso, who was visiting Gerardo Rueda Torres, alias “El Tochín”, in the small town of Luis B. Sanchez, located in the state of Sonora. Ruso’s men battled it out with them in the street and El Ruso managed to escape.  

Current Status of El Ruso

According to the Security Roundtable, El Ruso has at least two driver’s licenses. One of these licenses alleges that Ruso lives in Baja California, in a house located on Jesús Leyva Torres street in the Lucio Blanco neighborhood of Rosarito. The other alleges that he lives in Sonora, in a house on Lechuza street in the Villa Sonora neighborhood of Nogales.

Zeta alleges that El Ruso, much like his six siblings, currently owns a residence in Agua Caliente del Monzón,

According to Zeta, Ruso currently has a warrant out for his arrest for extradition purposes – presumably requested by the US.

May 2021 Incident Sources: Zeta Tijuana Article 1, Article 2, Article 3La Voz de Frontera, IV Press Online, BCReporteros, El Imparcial, De Opinion Article 1, Article 2, El 5to Poder, Punto Norte, Borderland Beat Archives, Tribuna Campeche, TV Azteca, Nexo Informativo, Jornada, Proceso, Columna Ocho, Expresso BC

Ruso Personal History Sources: Pulso SLP, Noroeste Article 1, Article 2, Proceso, PausaMX, El Financiero, Luz Noticias, Reforma