The inmates who escaped from a Nuevo Laredo prison this week are likely part of a plan to bolster the ranks of the Zetas cartel, Webb County Sheriff Martin Cuellar said Saturday.
Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, sits just across from Laredo, at the southern end of the I-35 corridor. It is the county seat of Webb County.
Cuellar said Saturday that intelligence gathered by Texas law enforcement indicates the break was orchestrated by Orlando Monsisvais Treviño, 28, the nephew of Miguel Treviño Morales, “El 40,” believed to be the Zetas’ second in command. The Tamaulipas state government said in a news release Friday that the inmates escaped from a service entrance and were likely aided by some of the prison’s personnel. There have been no indications of spillover violence from the escape into Texas, Cuellar added.
The Zetas have been entrenched since February in a bloody war with their former allies, the Gulf Cartel, for control of the lucrative smuggling routes that extend from Central and Northern Mexico to Texas and beyond. The split has caused a resurgence of commando-style ambushes in the Mexican state and an increase in murders and kidnappings after years of relative calm.
“They are trying to get more people to help them do what they are doing. We believe they are going to be hijacking more people and kidnapping more people in Mexico,” Cuellar said.
A statement issued by the state of Tamaulipas indicates the escape happened Thursday at approximately 7 p.m., though it went unreported until early Friday. The prison warden has disappeared, the statement said, and Mexican media outlet Proceso is reporting that state prison director Horacio Sepúlveda Acosta has been terminated.
Monsisvais Treviño was sentenced four months ago to a six-year sentence by Mexican law enforcement, though he is not wanted in the U.S., the sheriff said. The department is in the process of gathering the names and photographs of the escapees in case they decide to breach the border and enter Texas.
Cuellar said the number of escapees was confirmed at 139, down from reports Friday that indicated the number could have exceeded 190. The Tamaulipas state government said Friday the number was 141.
Intelligence gathered this year indicated the escape was in the works for months, the sheriff said, and Mexican authorities were made aware of the situation.
“We had information a few months ago that they were planning a prison break. That information was sent to our counterparts across,” Cuellar said. “They [the cartels] need reinforcements. That’s what the information tells us. These guys are hurting.”
Treviño Morales is a familiar name on this stretch of the Texas-Mexico border. He is wanted on numerous state charges in Texas and is believed by law enforcement to have ordered and supplied the resources for several murders carried out in Laredo during the middle part of the previous decade. Treviño Morales ordered the execution of members of the Sinaloa cartel when the two groups were waging a war for control of the plaza in Tamaulipas. One of Treviño Morales’ fiercest enemies is believed to be Edgar “La Barbie” Valdez Villarreal, the South Texas native and former high-ranking member of the Beltran Leyva cartel. Villarreal was arrested in Mexico in August and is awaiting extradition to the U.S.