“MX” Note: This post includes excerpts from the Wikipedia article of Omar Lorméndez Pitalúa (“El Pita”), which I published on 21 January 2020.
The stunning incidents occurring in Mexico’s drug war sometimes seem right out of a movie script. The plot is often centered in violence-ridden towns or cities, where Mexican drug cartel bosses rule as regional warlords. The main players include police officers, politicians, cartel leaders and their lovers. It is a plot still being played out in the life of Omar Lorméndez Pitalúa (“El Pita”), a fugitive and founding member of Los Zetas.
Kidnapping and marriage
Lorméndez Pitalúa fell in love and married his kidnapping victim Angélica Lagunas Jaramillo after the Gulf Cartel ordered him to abduct her. The two first met on 16 August 2001, when Lorméndez Pitalúa and other Zetas members abducted Lagunas Jaramillo and her daughter Ana Bertha González Lagunas for running a contraband business in Matamoros without the cartel’s authorization. The Gulf Cartel required independent smugglers to pay a taxation (commonly referred to as derecho de piso in Mexico) for smuggling drugs and other illegal merchandise in their corridor. However, Lagunas Jaramillo was running a contraband business of alcohol, perfumes, cocaine and marijuana without paying fees to the cartel. She had a restaurant from where she operated. According to the testimony of Agustín Hernández Martínez, a former Gulf Cartel operator and protected witness under the code name “Rafael”, the cartel summoned about eighteen Zetas gunmen to abduct Lagunas Jaramillo and her daugther from their home in Matamoros.
The night the incident occurred, Los Zetas went to her property and rang the door’s bell. When Lagunas Jaramillo opened, the gunmen stormed in and submitted her. Among the gunmen was Lorméndez Pitalúa. Lagunas Jaramillo was dragged from her hairs around the house while the gunmen searched for contraband merchandise. She was then forced into a vehicle.
Lagunas Jaramillo was taken by Los Zetas to a secret location known as “Punto Óscar” to meet Osiel Cárdenas Guillén, the leader of the Gulf Cartel. In the meeting, she was forced to hand over the drugs in her possession, give the cartel the money she had in her bank accounts to pay for the outstanding fees, and work for them. If she refused, the Gulf Cartel promised to kill her. Cárdenas Guillén also threatened Lagunas Jaramillo with death if she did not buy houses for the cartel under her name. The Gulf Cartel intended to use these properties as safehouses. Cárdenas Guillén told her he would pay her US$100 for each transaction, and that she was exempted from any taxation for her drug operations. She was also forced to pay MXN$20,000 for each of the gunmen who raided her property. Both Lagunas Jaramillo and her daughter agreed to the Gulf Cartel’s measures.
Approximately three months after her abduction, however, her relationship with Los Zetas strengthened. Her restaurant became a popular location for Zetas members, and she became involved in drug trafficking activities with drugs provided by Los Zetas. While working in Los Zetas, Lorméndez Pitalúa and Lagunas Jaramillo became romantically involved; Lorméndez Pitalúa asked Cárdenas Guillén for 15 days off to organize his wedding. Both married in 2002. Guzmán Decena also became romantically involved with Lagunas Jaramillo’s daughter and both had a child out of wedlock.
Early life and background
Lorméndez Pitalúa was born on 18 January 1972 in Tultitlán, State of Mexico, Mexico. When he was 19, he left his home and joined the Mexican Army on 21 July 1991. No public records exist of Lorméndez Pitalúa’s position(s) while in the Army, but a protected witness stated that he served as a member of the elite Grupo Aeromóvil de Fuerzas Especiales (GAFE). During the late 1990s, he was contacted by someone in the Gulf Cartel and offered a higher salary if he agreed to work for them. Enticed by what the underworld had to offer, he deserted from the military on 26 November 1999 and joined the cartel. He became a member of the cartel’s newly-created paramilitary group, known as Los Zetas, which was largely composed of ex-commandos. Lorméndez Pitalúa is often cited as one of the founding members of Los Zetas who was reportedly part of the Grupo de los 14 (English: Group of 14), a named used to describe the first fourteen Zetas members.
Lorméndez Pitalúa reported directly to cartel boss Osiel Cárdenas Guillén and Zetas leader Arturo Guzmán Decena (“Z-1”). In Los Zetas, Lorméndez Pitalúa used the code names “Z-10” and/or “Z8-HK37”. He has several other known aliases, including: “Comandante Pita”; “El Chavita”, “El Mono Tonto” and “El Mono Zonzo”.
Lorméndez Pitalúa and other members of Los Zetas were placed in-charge of collecting fees for the Gulf Cartel from people who worked in contraband merchandise, human smuggling, and drug trafficking in Matamoros. They also guarded prostitution zones and beaches to prevent smugglers from moving illegal merchandise through Matamoros without paying taxes.
Career in Tamaulipas and Michoacán
While in Los Zetas, Lorméndez Pitalúa worked on several assignments directed by Guzmán Decena. On 20 June 2001, he was part of an assault team of twenty-five Zetas members that raided the Tamaulipas State Police headquarters in Matamoros to release José Ramón Dávila López (“El Cholo”), a high-ranking Zetas member. According to eye-witnesses, Lorméndez Pitalúa and his associates stormed the police installations wearing black uniforms and sporting AK-47s and AR-15s, and used a tear-gas grenade launcher to rescue their comrade. Although Los Zetas were successful at rescuing Dávila López, they suffered a few losses: Zetas member Hugo Ponce Salazar (“Z-4”) was arrested alongside former Matamoros Municipal Police officer José Octavio Garza Garza and José Guadalupe Vidaña Triana. In retaliation for the losses suffered by security forces and the increased police activity in their turf, Los Zetas responded less than three weeks later by murdering state police chief Jaime Yañez Cantú and his driver Gerardo Gascón Soltero in a drive-by shooting on 9 July 2001 in Matamoros. Dávila López began working under Lorméndez Pitalúa and Lazcano Lazcano as one of the cartel’s lead assassins.
In early 2003, Lorméndez Pitalúa was based out of Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, and was in charge of taking control of the turf from other gangs that operated in the area: Los Cachos, Los Texas and Flores Soto. His main objective, however, was to help the Gulf Cartel and Los Zetas in their turf war against the Sinaloa Cartel; rival gangsters Eloy Treviño García and Edgar Valdez Villarreal (“La Barbie”) opposed Lorméndez Pitalúa’s expansionist plans and ordered their associates to wage a war against them. Lorméndez Pitalúa’s campaign against the Sinaloa Cartel also extended to other parts of Tamaulipas, Guerrero, Michoacán, Nuevo León and Mexico City. He had the support of cartel members like Mateo Díaz López, Raúl Lucio Hernández Lechuga (“El Lucky”), Héctor Manuel Sauceda Gamboa (“El Karis”), Iván Velázquez Caballero (“El Talibán”) and Miguel Treviño Morales (“Z-40”).
In late 2003, Zetas member Flavio Méndez Santiago (“El Amarillo”) and Lorméndez Pitalúa were sent to Michoacán to combat the rival forces of the Milenio Cartel and attempt to take over their turf. Lorméndez Pitalúa was appointed as the head of Los Zetas in the area. He was a close ally of Carlos Rosales Mendoza (“El Tisico”) and Servando Gómez Martínez (“La Tuta”), who headed the Michoacán-based La Familia Michoacana criminal group.
Aside from working against the Milenio Cartel, Lorméndez Pitalúa was also responsible for establishing connections with authorities to help Los Zetas gain information from officials working against them. He had local authorities from Michoacán and Guerrero providing him with this information and protection from the local police. Public officials were paid by Los Zetas to allow them to operate freely in the area without being arrested. According to “Karen”, a protected witness that worked for Los Zetas in Michoacán, Lormendez Pitalúa paid officials in U.S. dollars and in payments from US$50,000 and higher. He also bought uniforms and weapons for the police. In Michoacán, Lorméndez Pitalúa had two former Kaibiles (special forces soldiers from the Guatemalan Armed Forces) under his command.
According to reports from the SIEDO, Mexico’s organized crime investigation agency, Lorméndez Pitalúa worked closely with Julio César Godoy Toscano, former Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) deputy in Michoacán. Godoy reportedly joined La Familia Michoacana in 2004 during a meeting with Lorméndez Pitalúa and Lázaro Cárdenas mayor aspirant Gustavo Torres Camacho. The meeting took place at the home of Rosales Mendoza’s sibling Lorenzo. Federal authorities suspect that Godoy reportedly received US$350,000 to support Torres Camacho’s political election and to provide the cartel with information from the police about law enforcement operations against them. The money came directly from cartel boss Nazario Moreno González (“El Chayo”).
Money laundering activities
From 2004 to 2009, Lorméndez Pitalúa laundered his money by using businessman Carlos Sotelo Luviano (pictured) as his main strawperson. Sotelo reportedly worked for Los Zetas and managed 37 bank accounts owned by Lorméndez Pitalúa. He underwent plastic surgery multiple times to hide his identity and used the aliases Francisco Chaire Huerta and Jorge Lagunas Jaramillo to purchase assets on Lorméndez Pitalúa’s behalf. Among the assets purchased included Pemex gas stations, houses, vehicles, and multiple commercial establishments in Morelos, Guerrero and Mexico City.
Los Zetas preferred to launder money by purchasing gas stations because they viewed it as a discreet way of investing their money in the economy. Lazcano Lazcano oversaw the overall strategic initiative for Los Zetas in this market space, and used Lorméndez Pitalúa and his cousin Humberto Canales Lazcano (“Comandante Chivo”) as his trusted business partners. Some Pemex officials and third-party contractors worked in complicity with Los Zetas; others who opposed their initiatives were extorted, had family members kidnapped, or were killed by the cartel.
Sotelo was arrested in 2009 with his business partner Jaime Macedo Salgado after a judge issued an arrest warrant for their captures. At the moment of his arrest, Sotelo was planning to open another gas station for Los Zetas in Guerrero.
Arrest and release
On 21 September 2005, Mexican authorities received an anonymous tip on Lorméndez Pitalúa’s whereabouts and proceeded to apprehend him in Lázaro Cárdenas, Michoacán. He was carrying a fake identification card from the Federal Investigative Agency (AFI) with the alias Martín Hinojosa García. After his arrest, Los Zetas placed Efraín Teodoro Torres (“El Efra”) and Gustavo González Castro (“El Erótico”) as heads of the group in Michoacán.
In 2013, Lorméndez Pitalúa was released from prison and resumed his organized crime activities. He is part of a faction of Los Zetas known as the Zetas Vieja Escuela (English: Old School Zetas). They are rivals to the Cártel del Noreste (CDN), another Zetas faction. He operates primarily out of Tamaulipas, with presence in Mexican states of Tabasco, Quintana Roo and Oaxaca. Lorméndez Pitalúa had original Zetas member Luis Reyes Enríquez (“El Rex”) under his command. He was responsible for helping Lorméndez Pitalúa build a network of corrupt local authorities to help in their criminal operations prior to his murder.
Mexico’s Attorney General’s Office (FGR), Secretariat of National Defense (SEDENA) and Secretariat of the Navy (SEMAR), with the help of U.S. authorities, have identified Lorméndez Pitalúa as a leading player in the Zetas Vieja Escuela faction. He is accused of driving drug-related violence in Tamaulipas since 2016. His wife Lagunas Jaramillo is behind bars, serving a 20-year sentence for her drug trafficking activities. Her daughter Ana Martha suffered a different fate: she was killed in Matamoros in 2007. Lorméndez Pitalúa and his wife were unable to attend her funeral.