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Gunrunners

Investigating the saga of the WASR-10, an AK-47 knockoff and weapon of choice for Mexico's cartels. A Web-exclusive report.

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Mexico The Takedown of "The Boss of Bosses"

By Steven Dudley, co-director, InSight, and Rick Young, producer for FRONTLINE/Investigative Reporting Workshop

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United States and Mexican authorities were on the heels of Arturo Beltrán Leyva, alias "The Boss of Bosses," for nearly 10 months before they finally surrounded and killed him and several of his bodyguards in a massive four-hour shootout in one of Beltrán Leyva's safe houses in Cuernavaca on Dec. 16, 2009.

The hunt unveiled a plethora of information about how deeply the drug kingpin had penetrated the Mexican security forces, as well as additional clues about where the cartels have been getting their guns.

Soldiers escort Emilio Guzmán Montejo, a police supervisor of the Public Safety Secretary, in Cuernavaca, Dec. 20, 2009. Guzmán Montejo was detained by the police for his links to drug lord Arturo Beltrán Leyva. [Reuters]

Beltrán Leyva's demise can be traced back to a violent break between Mexico's largest drug trafficking organizations, including that of Beltrán Leyva, who ran the so-called Beltrán Leyva Organization [BLO], and his longtime partner, JoaquĆ­n Guzmán Loera, alias "El Chapo," who heads up the Sinaloa Cartel. The two men split in early 2008, after Beltrán Leyva's younger brother, Alfredo, was arrested as he and his entourage drove through Culiacán, Sinaloa. 

At the time of his arrest, Alfredo was carrying a Colt .38 Super that had been purchased from X Caliber Guns in Phoenix, Ariz., just three months earlier, according to government authorities. One U.S. law enforcement source believes that weapons trafficked from this one U.S. gun store accounted for nearly half of the Beltrán Leyva Organization's supplies at any one time.  

The Beltrán Leyvas blamed Guzmán for their brother's arrest and the war was on. The fighting eventually spread to several more Mexican states, and, as operatives from both sides took cover, they became vulnerable, communicating and shifting from place to place more often.

Arrests soon followed, including that of "Maria Fernanda," the name authorities gave to a Beltrán Leyva operative and protected witness who, according to a report in El Universal newspaper, told authorities where safehouses were located and the modus operandi of the criminal syndicates. Her information led to the arrests of nearly 50 Beltrán Leyva operatives, including numerous police and hitmen on the Beltrán Leyva payroll.

By December 2009, not even Beltrán Leyva's closest confidants wanted his company, and for good reason. On Dec. 11, authorities raided a Christmas party in Cuernavaca, but Beltrán Leyva and his brother, Hector, escaped. The Mexican authorities recovered 16 assault rifles at the scene. Ten of the guns were Romanian-made WASR-10s originally bought at X Caliber.

Weapons and drugs seized at a Cuernavaca safe house

In the days following, the United States intelligence agencies discovered Arturo was hiding at an upscale apartment building in Cuernavaca. The U.S. notified the Mexican government, and on Dec. 16, in an operation that included secretly evacuating all the residents in the multi-story residential building, Mexican Marines, with the army backing them up, moved in, leaving Arturo and four of his bodyguards dead.

Information gleaned from the scene led authorities to a Cuernavaca weapons safe house two days later where they seized 41 assault rifles, 4 handguns, 6,722 rounds of ammunition, 233 magazines, 7 silencers, 2 telescopes, one bullet-proof pickup, a laptop, 18 radios, a GPS and some illegal drugs.

Eighteen of the assault rifles were later traced back to X Caliber.

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Posted February 3, 2011

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