A notorious cartel enforcer, who led a bloody New Year’s Day jailbreak in a Mexican frontier city, was killed in a standoff with police Thursday — as security experts worried that his two dozen-plus accomplices could take advantage of the chaos at the southern border to slip into the US.
Ernest Alfredo Piñon de La Cruz, known by his underworld moniker “El Neto,” was tracked by Mexican intelligence officers in Ciudad Juarez four days after his daring and bloody escape from Cereso #3 State Prison. He and 29 other inmates had broken out in a mass shooting that left 19 dead, including 10 guards.
“He was located, chased. He was injured, but on the way [to the state attorney general’s offices] he died,” Chihuahua state governor Maru Campos said on Twitter Thursday of Piñon de La Cruz.
Police and security forces in Mexico launched the manhunt for the escapees earlier this week. At least seven people, including police officers, were killed in another confrontation on Monday, according to Mexican news reports.
“They have to be worried that the other escaped prisoners are going to take advantage of the chaos at the border to cross into the US, through the holes in the border fence,” Robert Almonte, a security consultant and former El Paso cop and narcotics investigator, told The Post. “They’re going to make their way to other cells in other cities in the US.”
In the last several weeks, tens of thousands of migrants have crossed the southern border from Ciudad Juarez to El Paso, overwhelming the Texas city of more than 600,000 residents where the mayor declared a state of emergency last month. US Customs and Border Protection reported more than 2.4 million “encounters” with migrants — a record high —along the nearly 2,000-mile length of the southern border in fiscal year 2022.
Piñon de La Cruz, 32, headed up Los Mexicles, a brutal gang that worked with the Sinaloa Cartel once headed by Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, who is currently serving a life sentence in a maximum security Colorado prison. Piñon de La Cruz was serving a 224-year sentence for murder, kidnapping and drug-trafficking at the state prison on the Mexican border where he continued to organize kidnappings of rival drug members, according to reports.
He also recruited members for his Los Mexicles gang from jailed Mexican and Central American migrants who had been deported to Mexico after trying to cross the border multiple times, according to reports.
“It’s a good place to recruit them,” Almonte told The Post of the prison. “Migrants have no choice when they are confronted with traffickers. If they don’t work with them, they die.”
Considered “extremely dangerous” by Mexican authorities, Piñon de La Cruz lived in a VIP cell at the prison. “It was well stocked with television and with very different conditions from other cells,” said General Secretary Luis Cresencio Sandoval, Mexico’s Secretary of National Defense in a press conference earlier this week. After the escape, authorities found the equivalent of tens of thousands of dollars in pesos in a strong box as well as 84 cell phones and drugs, including marijuana, cocaine, heroine, fentanyl and methamphetamines.
As still a teenager, Piñon de La Cruz developed a brutal signature in the Mexican underworld: He regularly ordered the decapitation of his enemies, placing their heads in coolers marked with “FEM” — the Spanish-language acronym of the Special Forces of Los Mexicles, his brutal gang of cartel enforcers.
Last August, Pinon de la Cruz led a riot at his prison along with coordinated attacks across Ciudad Juarez in order to protest his transfer to a high-security federal prison. Known as “Black Thursday,’ the Aug. 11 riot resulted in 11 deaths and was successful in blocking El Neto’s transfer.