“HEARST” for Borderland Beat

The Attorney General’s Office (FGE) has found that “La Rana”, from the Sinaloa Cartel – Mayo faction, controls the region where the three surfers were killed and he is likely using it to unload drug shipments from South America.

La Rana and his brother Aquiles are also known to control the drug dealing in El Maneadero, where one of the perpetrators was found with a dealer-level of meth.

So no matter how you slice it – it comes back to La Rana and El Aquiles.

The Daily Beast published Sinaloa Cartel propaganda which alleges 5 the cartel group found and turned in the people who murdered the surfers. 

The Daily Beast ran the allegation as the article’s headline despite there the claim being so implausible that it borders on being outright false. 

Note: This is a continuation of a story published last week. Please read the previous story which covers the murder of three surfers in Ensenada, linked here.

La Rana’s Subordinate Luis Zazueta Controls The Area Where the Surfers Disappeared


The local news publication Zeta Tijuana writes that cartel groups are using the Baja coast to unload “drug shipments arriving from countries in South America, which arrive by sea or by air.”


After the homicide of the surfers, the state Attorney General’s Office (FGE) investigated the area where the surfers were attacked, focusing on the roads surrounding Punta San José, in Santo Tomás.

The FGE found “these dirt roads are controlled by members of organized crime, by drug cartels.”


The FGE said “the area that connects La Bocana with San Juan de las Pulgas and Punta San José is an area inaccessible to the general public” and that “only those that are protected or involved with criminals can safely enter the area.”


Although the FGE acknowledged the area is controlled by cartel groups in the state’s private Security Roundtable meetings (which Zeta Tijuana attends), the FGE has not yet acknowledged this publicly.


Instead, the FGE and its leader, Attorney General María Elena Andrade, insist in press conferences that there are no signs of cartel groups being involved in the homicides of the surfers.


The FGE investigation of Santo Tomas found that it was controlled by the Sinaloa Cartel – Mayo faction, more specifically naming “Rene Arzate Garcia, alias ‘La Rana’.”


La Rana, and his brother Alfonso Arzate Garcia, alias “El Aquiles”, are known to be some of the most powerful drug lords in Baja California. 

They are primarily known for operating in the city of Tijuana, but they also have a strong presence in Ensenada and a lesser presence in Tecate. They also have an alliance with los Rusos, the cartel group in charge of Mexicali, so the Arzate brothers have a hand in every major city in Baja California.

FGE investigators found that La Rana’s subordinate Luis Zazueta oversees Santo Tomas.


They described Luis Zazueta as “a low-profile criminal” and although he works under Rana, they said “he even works with other cartels. He is known in the area for recruiting criminals to rob ranches, he offers [the ranch owners] a set of conditions related to activities outside of the law.”

Zeta Tijuana states that the Sinaloa Cartel is operating  “on this coastline with no fear of law enforcement” and the only area where their reach is limited is the Ensenada port itself, “where different cartel groups [such as the CAF and CJNG] also operate.”


An Ensenada municipal police officer further confirmed this when he told Zeta Tijuana that he and his colleagues “have direct orders from CDS [shorthand for Cartel de Sinaloa] not to put patrols in all those areas.”


An FGE agent agreed with what the Ensenada officer said and added “Those thugs have always worked like that, robbing foreigners. That is what they do, robbery, cattle theft, burglary, and violent robbery – mainly of foreigners.”

The statement of this FGE agent, that the Sinaloa Cartel group in this area has “always” robbed foreigners, differs greatly from Attorney General Andrade’s claim that attacks against foreigners are “atypical,” saying that Baja California has had “an influx of tourists and a similar case has not occurred.”

New Information About the Crime Itself


Zeta Tijuana describes two key “lookout points” where the Sinaloa Cartel has members watching incoming and outgoing traffic, monitoring for signs of law enforcement, cartel rivals, and hapless tourists who make ideal robbery targets.


One of these lookouts is “a tire shop located in the town of Santo Tomás on the way to the beach, where criminals act as punteros [drug dealers]”. The tire shop is said tp be operated by a gang known by the locals as “los Enanos”, or the dwarves.


The second look out spot is “on the way to Ajusco. It is through these two places that they monitor and control who enters and exits through their area.”

The FGE is investigating if the three surfers stopped in town and it was there that they were spotted by the perpetrators, who were “drawn to their tires.” The FGE believes the perpetrators “followed them to [Punto San Jose] lighthouse, where they were camping.”


The state Attorney General said the current hypothesis is that the perpetrators intended to rob the surfers, but the surfers resisted, so “the attackers took out a firearm and shot at the first person who resisted the robbery, then a physical altercation broke out.”


Zeta writes that in addition to the blood stains and tooth found at the campsite, investigators also found “a bloody shell casing, plastic bottles, […] and drag marks.”


Ari Gisel García Cota, one of the detainees, said in court that her boyfriend, Jesús Gerardo García Cota, visited her home during the evening of April 27, and he borrowed her vehicle, a white Ford Ranger pickup truck.


Forensic experts later determined that the three surfers had died that night, on April 27, which lends credibility to Ari’s testimony.


The next day, on April 28, Jesús Gerardo returned to her home at about 1:00 pm. He drove up in her vehicle and he had a 2016 Chevy Colorado pickup truck in tow. He told Ari that he was bringing her some tires for her Ford Ranger.

Ari reportedly asked Jesús Gerardo where the Chevy Colorado had come from, and he responded that “I just fucked up some gringos [Americans] because they had a lot of money.”

Note: The Attorney General later claimed “The evidence suggests they [the killers] did not know they were foreigners.” Ari’s court testimony would seems to suggest otherwise.

Jesús Gerardo reportedly went on to change the tires on Ari’s Ranger and the pair took the Chevy to a property where they set it on fire.

New Information on the Ranch Where the Bodies Were Found


The location where the bodies of the surfers were found is often referred to as a ranch, however, Zeta Tijuana writes it is merely two buildings and a well.

Zeta alleges that the FGE arrived at the “ranch” already knowing “where to look for the remains of the three foreign surfers.”

Whether this implies one of the three detainees told them about the location or if an unnamed cartel figure passed on the location is unclear.

The FGE reportedly was not warned that there would be a fourth body found inside the well where the three surfers had been dumped.

Currently, “investigators suspect that the fourth body could be the person who owned the ranch before it was taken over by cartel members.” Forensic experts determined that the man had been “murdered and thrown into the site more than a month and a half before.”


One of the buildings on the property appeared to be a house, with a bed, some armchairs, and a kitchen. Investigators looked through the house and “they found remains of fresh food, recently used clothes and some personal items, bottles and bags.”

This seems to imply that cartel members who work under Luis Zazueta had killed the ranch owner a month and half earlier, presumably because the ranch owner resisted the Sinaloa Cartel takeover of his property. Luis Zazueta’s underlings then lived in the dead ranch owner’s home and slipped away before the FGE arrived to search the well.


This also gives us some key information. If the ranch owner was only killed a month and a half ago, then this spot was likely safe for surfers to camp in just months earlier since the “ownership” of the property had only recently changed hands.


This invalidates the arguments of some online who allege the surfers “should have known” not to camp at the location.

Updates on the Perps


Zeta Tijuana states outright that the perpetrators were found because the family members of the surfers allowed law enforcement to track the location of the surfer’s cell phones.

By tracking Carter’s phone, police officers found Ari Gisel, who was walking in a small town south of Ensenada called Maneadero. When they searched Ari, they found she had a large bag of meth and Carter’s iPhone.


Ari’s boyfriend Jesús Gerardo García Cota, who is known by the criminal alias “El Kekas”, has been charged with kidnapping.

Ari and Kekas’s brother, Cristian García Cota, have been charged with drug possession. None of the detainees have been charged with homicide for any of the three surfers, nor has anyone been charge for the homicide of the ranch owner.


Zeta Tijuana reports that “local ranch owners, from Santo Tomás to as far as Uruapan, were already aware of the three detainees.”


They write that El Kekas is a known drug trafficker and he “is known for stealing wood, dismantling foreigners’ mobile homes, stealing water pumping motors from ranches, stealing tires, and stealing vehicles.”

During the court hearing for Ari Gisel, Ari and her sister testified that she was the victim of domestic violence. They said that Jesus Gerardo “physically and psychologically assaulted her.” Are said that she knew that Jesus Gerardo had weapons and that he sometimes threatened to kill her.


Ari Gisel said that El Kekas “does very bad things”. She also pleaded against being sent to prison, saying that she has a 4-year-old son.

It’s important to note that El Kekas reportedly has an extensive criminal history which includes domestic violence charges, in addition to drug trafficking and vehicle theft. 

Which Cartel Controls Drug Dealing in Ensenada? 

As mentioned earlier, Ari Gisel, one of the three suspects, was arrested by Mexican law enforcement in El Maneadero, a small, satellite town outside the city of Ensenada.

Zeta Tijuana reported last year that El Maneadero “is among the regions with the highest criminal incidents in all of Baja California.” 

In 2022, the publication alleged the group in charge of Maneadero is Sinaloa Cartel’s El Aquiles and La Rana. 


They name one of their subordinates, Leopoldo Lizárraga Ochoa, aliases “El Polo” and “El Pantera”, as the man who was managing the drug dealing, extortion, and kidnapping in Maneadero. 

The article goes on to state that the Sinaloa Control is in charge of the narcomenudeo, or street-level drug dealing, of other neighborhoods in Ensenada as well, describing the control of each neighborhood as the following:

The Popular 89 Neighborhood of Ensenada

Group: Sinaloa Cartel

Leader: Julio César Hernández Armenta, alias “El Perro”

The Morelos 2 Neighborhood of Ensenada

Group: Sinaloa Cartel

Leader: José Luis Gutiérrez Caranda, alias “El Diablo”

The Centro Neighborhood of Ensenada

Group: Sinaloa Cartel

Leader: Sonia Isabel Ramírez, alias “La China”

The Villas del Real Neighborhood of Ensenada

Group: Sinaloa Cartel 

Leader: Luis Angel Urana Bolanos, alias “El Cirillo”

El Sauzal, town north of Ensenada 

Group: Sinaloa Cartel – Arzates

Leader: María de la Luz Segura Hernández, alias “La Rana”

This is important because Ari was arrested with a dealer-level amount of methamphetamine in El Maneadero.  

Each neighborhood of Ensenada is divided up as turf between cartel figures, each street corner seemingly has an owner. 

So, if Ari is carrying a quantity of drugs like that in El Pantera’s turf, it may imply a connection. It’s certainly an avenue that’s prime for further investigation by law enforcement.

Daily Beast Claims that the Sinaloa Cartel Turned The Perps In, There’s No Evidence That’s True

In a new article from the Daily Beast, the writer Luis Chaparro claims he spoke with a Sinaloa Cartel member who said the detainees “were low-level robbers acting alone. But we handed them over.”

“We learned that the cops were looking for the gringos and they also began looking for those who were responsible. We called the authorities to let them know where to find them.”


This claim, because it was published as a headline in a major US publication like the Daily Beast, has been picked up and spread by other publications like SkyNews, NewsNation, News.com.au, and Surfer.com. The republishing of the claim has only further amplified its reach and lent it an undue amount of credibility.


The allegation is seemingly disproven by a bevy of credible sources which state the perps were found through law enforcement tracking their phones.


The Daily Beast article briefly covers this, quoting a Baja California investigator who said “We tracked down the devices, until one of them was turned on and we had a location. That’s when we found this woman who was in possession of the American’s cellphone.” But the Daily Beast article never really addresses, nor even acknowledges, that this directly conflicts with the claim made by the cartel member. 


The Daily Beast presumably published the cartel member’s quote because they thought there was some chance that the Sinaloa Cartel had turned actually the perpetrators in, presuming that Baja law enforcement hid the cartel’s aid by making a false claim about cellphone tracking.


But the Daily Beast article, by choosing to quote just one investigator, misrepresented just how many varied sources have stated that the perpetrators were found by law enforcement through tracking a stolen phone. Let’s review some of the sources:


May 1, 2024

At 9:30 pm, the local Facebook group Patrulla646 reported that “one of the cell phones of the missing persons was turned on and it was tracked to the area of Maneadero, where a woman identified as Ari N, of about 25 years of age, was detained in possession of the phone.”


Just half an hour later, English-speaking, primarily American locals reported on TalkBaja that “the cell phone of one of the surfers was tracked and found around Maneadero in the possession of a woman.” Note that Ari was detained on May 1, so these reports came just hours after it happened, long before law enforcement released any statement.


May 2, 2024

State prosecutor Socorro Ibarra told reporters that three people were being investigated for possibly being connected to the case, but Mexican officials made no comment which mentioned cell phone tracking. Therefore, all the allegations of the cellphones being tracked are still coming in from independent sources and not merely repeating an official statement.


So, on May 2, the Australian Broadcasting Company published an article which quoted local journalist Oliver Quintero who said that “the woman who was arrested was reportedly found in possession of a stolen phone” and “that is actually how [the three people] were found.”


That same day Zeta Tijuana reported that “Ari Gisel García Cota was found to be in possession of a victim’s cell.” (Note that Zeta Tijuana is not a publication which gives in to cartel pressure – this is the same publication which bravely named cartel figure La Rana in connection to the crime. If they believed the Sinaloa Cartel had turned in the perpetrators, they would have indicated that in their reporting.)


May 3, 2024

Former FBI agent Phil Andrew told 7News that “one of their [the victim’s] phones was found in the hands of a third party.”


May 6, 2024

The very first time Baja law enforcement made a statement confirming they had found one of the surfer’s cellphones in the possession of a detainee came on May 6, when the Attorney General gave an interview to Aristegui Noticias.


The Daily Beast article fails to offer an explanation as to why so many different sources, from local Americans to former FBI agents to local reporters, all said that the perpetrators were found through cellphone tracking.


And, look, its good to sometimes doubt the Mexican law enforcement version of events when it comes to cartel-related incidents.


There are plenty of reasons to doubt the credibility of statements made by Mexican law enforcement. They are frequently influenced by cartel groups and they may misrepresent the influence that cartel groups wield over their investigation.


Sometimes, there is even reason to doubt the credibility of US federal law enforcement when it comes to cartel issues because the US has previously retracted statements in order to appease Mexican officials.

(For an example of this, look to July 2022, when the DEA retracted a statement about their involvement in the arrest of drug lord Rafael Caro Quintero after Mexico’s President AMLO declared the US was not involved in the arrest.)


But there doesn’t appear to be a lot of reason to doubt the credibility of all the sources listed, who all said the perpetrators were found by police through tracking the surfers’ cellphones.

Please consider just how many people would have to be actively covering for Baja law enforcement in order for this Sinaloa Cartel claim to be true.

Also consider that since the very beginning of the investigation, Mexican law enforcement has had to coordinate and information share with the US FBI and Australia’s DFAT, as well as the Australian and US embassies. 

And keep in mind that the Australian Prime Minister  was making public statements of concern on May 3, long before the bodies of the surfers were found, so the pressure on Baja law enforcement to keep the investigation on the up-and-up was likely bearing down on them – lest they cause an international incident.

So, let’s ask ourselves. Is it likely that Baja law enforcement chose not to track the cellphone number of Carter Rhoad, which was provided by the US, and they instead relied on the Sinaloa Cartel to find the perpetrators – all while knowing that their investigation would be scrutinized by US and Australian law enforcement, along with the press from both countries?


Or is it more likely that the Sinaloa Cartel is spreading propaganda meant to make them look like “good guys” and the Daily Beast irresponsibly repeated their propaganda because it created an enticing headline which would draw in views to the ads placed on the story?


Sinaloa Cartel’s Recent Push of the Good Guy Propaganda

The Sinaloa Cartel was pushing similar propaganda just last month when the Chapitos faction claimed that they had handed over a fugitive white supremacist named David DeWayne Young to authorities after discovering him hiding out in the Mexican state of Sonora. 

Óscar Balmen, the reporter who repeated the cartel’s claim about DeWayne Young, neglected to offer any further details nor any evidence to support his claim. Balmen did not even state if information came from a source, such as citing “a cartel member” or “the local town gossip”. 

The government press release states that two Mexican agencies (INM and AMIC) found David DeWayne Young through their own surveillance and field work. 

Óscar Balmen also claimed that the Chapito brothers were not “pleased” with DeWayne Young and detested his views. Balmen failed to mention that the leader of the Chapitos, Ivan Guzman Salazar had openly flaunted his love for German Nazis. 

For anyone confused by the idea of a Mexican person loving a white supremacist group like the Nazis, please note that some Mexicans engage in a type of colorism which classifies other Mexicans as either white or non-white, depending on their skin tone and features. 

Ivan Guzman Salazar had one of his guns customized to depict a Nazi eagle through gemstones and precious metals. 

Ivan then showed off his Nazi gun, along with a number of his cars, by having them featured in the music video “Ivan El Mayor”, which he personally commissioned. The gun can be seen here within the video. 

So what are we left with? A claim made citing no source, with no supporting evidence, which directly conflicts with statements by officials and it also runs counter to aspects of Ivan’s personality that he has chosen to shamelessly flaunt before the world. 

The Stories That Go Untold

The most frustrating part of articles like the one from the Daily Beast or the story claimed by Oscar Balmen, is that these paid journalists are giving attention to unsupported theories of “maybe the narcos are the good guys sometimes” instead of covering the cases which cartel propaganda is seeking to counteract.

The cases in which cartel members attack civilians. 

The Daily Beast article quotes a cartel member saying that the Sinaloa Cartel turned in the perpetrators because they didn’t need “unwanted attention” in the area.

But it does not bother explaining what it is that the Sinaloa Cartel is hiding in the area – all of the incidents where Sinaloa Cartel members exerted this exact kind of brutality not onto tourists, but onto local Mexicans. The stories which are routinely ignored by the national media. 

Take, for example, when, in December 2023, Sinaloa Cartel hitmen arrived at a house in Maneadero. The hitmen shot two men, who were involved in drug trafficking, to death inside the home and then proceeded to abduct the deceased men’s girlfriends. These women are named Claudia Isabel Rojas Beltrán and Alondra Peres. 

Arrest warrants were issued for the CDS hitmen who were believed to be involved in the homicides and kidnapping. The hitmen were identified before the judge as: 

Cristian Ricardo Méndez Bravo, alias “El Tecato”

Jorge Eduardo Castaneyra Varrita, alias “El Varita”

Miguel Ángel Morales Gaytán, alias “El Vaquero”

Leonel Torres Alcázar, alias “El Pecas”

Zeta Tijuana alleges that these hitmen work under Sinaloa Cartel’s El Pantera – who, as mentioned earlier, works under El Aquiles and La Rana. 

If the cartel figures were the “good guys” that they pretend to be, then surely the girlfriends of the deceased would have been left unharmed. 

But they weren’t. They weren’t even given a quick death and killed on the spot like their boyfriends.

No. The women were kidnapped by the Sinaloa Cartel hitmen for a purpose.

At best, the women were interrogated for information – at worst, they were tortured and sexually assaulted. Their remains have not yet been found.  

This is the brutality that the Sinaloa Cartel, and all Mexican cartel groups, are afraid will be unearthed if their region garners “unwanted attention.”

These are the stories they try to bury with their “good guy” propaganda.

Sources: Zeta Tijuana, Australian Broadcasting Company, BajaDock, El Manana, San Diego Union Tribune, CBS News, The Daily Beast, Aristegui Noticias, SkyNews, News.com.au, Surfer.com, Patrulla646, BajaNomad, Reuters, Keyt.com, Australian Broadcasting Company, Zeta Tijuana, 7News, CBS, BBC

Ensenada Drug Dealing Sources: Zeta Tijuana Article 1, Article 2, Article 3, Article 4