A new riot between rival gangs in the dangerously overcrowded prison at Altamira, located in the Mexican border state Tamaulipas, left seven inmates dead October 26.
State authorities said the prisoners were killed with makeshift knives in a fight in one cell block at the facility, officially known as the Execution and Sanction Center (CEDES). Thirty-one inmates died in a riot in the same prison early last year, pointing to a crisis rooted in the confluence of teeming lock-ups and the bloody narco wars being waged in Tamaulipas both inside and outside the prisons. The state is currently Mexico's most violent. The CEDES was designed to hold 2,000 inmates, but now has a population of more than 3,000.
The intersection of the drug cartels and official authorities was made clear just two days before the Altamira riot, when Gilberto Lerma Plata, a former commander with the Tamaulipas state police, was sentenced to 12 years by a US judge in Washington, DC -- accused of being a high-ranking member of the Gulf Cartel. US District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly also ordered Lerma to forfeit $10 billion in drug proceeds. The US Justice Department maintains that during the time that Lerma was active in the Gulf Cartel, the organization distributed more than 1.4 million kilograms of cocaine and more than 8,000 metric tons of marijuana.
DEA agents arrested Lerma in McAllen, Tex., in April 2012, and he pleaded guilty this March to the conspiracy charges and the importation of several tons of drugs into the US. Prior to his arrest, Lerma was a Tamaulipas police commander in the border town of Miguel Alemán, and apparently used his position to facilitate Gulf Cartel cross-border trafficking. Lerma also procured firearms for the Cartel's foot soldiers, who routinely engage in shoot-outs with rival organizations across Tamaulipas. Recorded conversations between Lerma and Cartel bosses indiicate he obtained AK-47 and AR-15 assault rifles for the crime syndicate, US prosecutors said.
Anonymous US federal agents told McAllen's The Monitor newspaper that Lerma is a relative of former Tamaulipas Gov.Manuel Cavazos Lerma, who now serves as a federal senator with Mexico's ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). During his senatorial candidacy last year, Cavazos Lerma was investigated for cartel ties by Mexico's Prosecutor General of the Republic, CNN México reported at the time.
US prosecutors have confiscated assets from Cavazos' successor, former Tamaulipas Gov. Tomas Yarrington Ruvalcaba. In 2012, US authorities seized a luxury condominium on Texas' South Padre Island belonging to Yarrington, as well as two homes he bought for his mistress. US prosecutors said he paid for the properties with proceeds from protection rackets on behalf of both the Gulf Cartel and their bitter enemies Los Zetas.