The suspected founder of the powerful Cartel Jalisco Nuevo Generacion (CJNG) oddly walked free in 2018 despite having received a long sentence for drug-trafficking related offenses.
Martín Arzola (alias “El 53”) died in a targeted attack at the Carl’s Jr. restaurant in Zapopan on July 31. One of the gunmen (aged just 17) died and five innocent diners were injured during the shooting inside the eatery located in the popular Galerias Mall complex.
Arrested in Tlajomulco in July, 2011, Arzola was sentenced to 23 years in prison exactly four years later by a district judge in Estado de Mexico.
Arzola’s lawyers appealed the sentence and somehow managed to get the verdict overturned in September, 2018, despite much evidence that he had been up to his neck in narcotrafico for many years. After revisiting the case, an appellate judge strangely determined that the Estado de Mexico prosecutor’s office had not proved that Arzola had any links to drug trafficking activities, only that he was guilty of possessing illegal weapons found at the time of his arrest. His sentence was changed to four years in prison, plus a fine of 5,813 pesos, and he was released immediately, having already served that amount of time.
According to various reports, Arzola began his criminal career in 1998 as a cargo truck thief and eventually joined the Milenio Cartel. He was allegedly one of the founders of the CJNG – which evolved from Milenio – in 2009, along with Nemesio Oseguera “El Mencho” and Erick Valia “El 85.” (Both are named on the FBI’s list of Most Wanted Fugitives, with substantial rewards offered for their capture.) According to Mexican law enforcement, Arzola was responsible for leading a squad of assassins in multiple municipalities across Jalisco to fight off La Resistencia, a rival group of the CJNG.
In the wake of Arzola’s assassination last week, various voices in Jalisco speculated that corruption played a bigger role in his unexpected release than solid legal arguments. Among those expressing this opinion were former Jalisco Attorney General Eduardo Almaguer Ramírez and Augusto Chacón, the coordinador of Jalisco Cómo Vamos, a citizen’s watchdog NGO. Chacón said it was “incomprehensible” that authorities failed to keep close tabs on Arzola and his activities following his release from prison.