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The Attorney General announced that El Mayo’s Tijuana lieutenant, El Aquiles, organized the street execution of the lawyer of El Lobo, one of the city’s most powerful drug lords.
The Client Who Got Him Killed
On February 15, 2023, Víctor Hugo López Ramírez, a criminal lawyer from Mexico City, was gunned down at a taco stand in the Zona Rio neighborhood of Tijuana.
López Ramírez had made a career from defending some of Mexico’s most infamous cartel leaders, representing clients such as the leader of Los Zetas, Miguel Trevino Morales, alias “Z40”, as well as his brother Omar, “Z42”.
He also represented the Romanian mafia boss, Florian Tudor, who infamously tried to claw his way out of being arrested in Quintana Roo, Mexico, after running a credit card scam that targeted tourists.
Despite the notoriety of his previous clients, it was his latest one that led to his demise.
See, López Ramírez had been hired by the powerful cartel figure David López Jiménez, aliases “El Lobo” and “Cabo 20”, who led a Sinaloa Cartel – Chapitos aligned group in the border city of Tijuana, an important crossing point for the drug smuggling routes of many.
López Ramírez was killed just five days before El Lobo’s first court hearing, which was scheduled for February 20.
According to an interview with the taco seller, the lawyer had only just walked up to his taco stand – at approximately 2:50 pm – when multiple armed men opened fire on him. The gunmen shot López Ramírez at least six times and he fell to the ground. Their gunfire injured an uninvolved woman who was standing nearby.
A municipal police officer who happened to be on a routine patrol heard the gunfire and approached the taco stand, according to Zeta Tijuana. He found the lawyer lying on the ground with a gunshot wound to the head that fractured his upper jaw. He no longer had vital signs. The officer called up the attack up on radio and more police arrived on scene.
Witnesses told the officers that one of the gunmen was wearing a distinctive shirt with the image of a rabbit on it and blue jeans. They described the other gunman as a brown haired man with a dark complexion, wearing a dark long-sleeved shirt and dark pants.
Witnesses also reported that the gunmen were seen nonchalantly entering a Sam’s Club, a bulk grocery store similar to CostCo, at a shopping center nearby just after the attack.
Police officers quickly moved to search the Sam’s Club, where they found and arrested one of the gunmen – the man wearing the rabbit shirt. The two other gunmen managed to slip away, pretending to be customers and exiting the store.
The arrested gunman was found to be hiding a 9mm Beretta pistol, wrapped in a jacket. Another pistol was found abandoned on the ground, about 218 yards south of the murder. Both firearms were sent to for ballistic testing.
The Hitman in Custody
The hitman was taken to the police station and questioned. The 20-year old man told them he was named José Daniel Salazar Ramírez. He had no criminal record.
Police told Salazar Ramírez that surveillance footage placed him (with his distinctive rabbit shirt), and another man, near the scene of crime during the time of the attack. Salazar Ramírez said there were actually two other hitmen working alongside him, possibly alluding to a driver.
Salazar Ramírez gave police details about who gave them the order to kill the lawyer. Police later released a statement which said Salazar Ramírez “stated that he belonged to a cartel group,” but they chose not to publicly specify which group at that time.
Investigators found a hotel room key in the pocket of the deceased lawyer. The key corresponded with a Holiday Inn Hotel, which was just a few yards away from the taco stand.
It’s likely that the hitmen were given information about where the lawyer was staying while in Tijuana and they sat watching the guests coming in and out, looking for the lawyer. When they finally spotted him, on February 15, it seems the lawyer was on his way to grab a few tacos from a stand within walking distance of his hotel.
Ballistic test results came back and revealed that both Salazar Ramírez’s pistol and the pistol found on the ground matched up with the shell casings found near the taco stand. The jacket that Salazar Ramírez was carrying tested positive for gunshot residue on the right sleeve and cuff.
With this physical evidence in hand, prosecutors officially charged Salazar Ramírez with homicide and injury (presumably relating to the wound suffered by the uninvolved woman). A judge approved the prosecution’s request that Salazar Ramírez be kept in jail until the time of his trial on February 18, 2023.
On February 21, the state’s Attorney General Ricardo Carpio Sánchez held a press conference in which he announced which cartel group the hitman said he was from, saying it was “hitmen from El Aquiles, from a Cabo 27 cell.”
“We understand that there is a subject, alias ‘Cabo 27’, who is basically the mastermind behind assassination of the lawyer of ‘El Lobo’. This subject [Cabo 27] was at one point a part of the same cartel organization as El Lobo – the CJNG – and [Cabo 27] has also been a part of a rival organization – the Sinaloa Cartel.”
The Rivalry Defining the Cartel Landscape of Tijuana
The news that Sinaloa Cartel’s El Aquiles orchestrated the killing was not necessarily surprising for those who keep up with the criminal activity of the city. There has been a very public war going on in the underworld of Tijuana.
On one side is a group of Sinaloa Cartel – Chapitos figures (with Cartel Arellano Felix roots) led by Pablo Edwin Huerta Nuño, alias “El Flaquito”, and his right hand man El Lobo.
On the other side is a group of Sinaloa Cartel – Mayo figures led by Alfonso Arzate González, alias “El Aquiles”, and his brother René Arzate García, alias “La Rana”. One of their top lieutenants is Jesús Rafael Yocupicio, alias “Cabo 27”.
Over the last three years, the group which has named and threatened El Lobo the most in narco message signs has been El Aquiles and his subordinate, Cabo 27, as seen in a selection of signs below.
In December 2021, a deceased male with left alongside a sign threatening El Lobo. The message was signed “El Cabo 27, man of Senor Aquiles”
In April 2022, a fentanyl distributor who worked for Lobo and Flaquito was tortured and killed inside a motel. His dead body was marked with the numbers 27, for Cabo 27, on his back. To read more about either of these incidents, please see these previous stories.
Based on this history, it seems that Aquiles and Cabo 27 should have been considered suspects from the very beginning.
Now the real question emerges, will Lobo’s boss Flaquito stand steadfast by his side and provide Lobo protection during his legal battle? Or will the daily hustle of moving product across the border divert his attention? Flaquito’s reputation of being some kind of level-headed negotiator will truly be tested in the coming months.
Sources: Zeta Tijuana Article 1, Article 2 , Article 3 , Article 4, Article 5, Article 6, Azucena Uresti, San Diego Union Tribune, La Silla Rota, Milenio, La Jornada, Hiptex, Punto Norte, Esquina 32 Article 1, Article 2