“He is said to love the ladies, fast horses and dissolving enemies in lye.”
Teodoro Garcia Simental seems to be the most well known, but completely unidentifiable villain in Mexico’s drug war, blamed for a horrific trail of terror, mutilation, and death across Baja California.
He and his heavily armed hit men, authorities say, have been leaving the gruesome displays of charred and decapitated bodies across the city, signed with the moniker “Tres Letras,” for the three letters in “Teo.” Authorities also believe he runs a network of hide-outs where kidnap victims are held in cages.
Billboards showing Baja California’s most wanted kidnappers don’t include Garcia’s image, even though he is believed to be behind most of the gang war that has claimed more than 500 lives here since late September. Thousands of police officers, soldiers, state and federal agents can’t seem to find him. A US law enforcement source who spoke on condition of anonymity stated:
“That tells you that you don’t want to be the one responsible for putting Teo’s picture in public. There’s no future in it.”
The alleged crime boss is said to be in his mid-thirties, but his birthdate is unknown. He appears in his only published photograph, labeled as No. 27 on the FBI’s narctip web site. His photo bears no name, and he is listed as one of several dozen people sought for allegedly using false Mexican police identification in connection with slayings, kidnappings and other crimes.
Many police officers, prosecutors and ordinary citizens go silent when Teo’s name is mentioned in not only Tijuana, but across the nation. What is known about him comes from confidential confessions of captured gunmen, narco-messages left with victims and anonymously written “narcocorrido” ballads. “Pay attention, President (Felipe Calderon). … In Tijuana, I rule, We’ll show you what a real war is like.”, one song brazenly boasts.
A police official, who requested anonymity for reasons of security stated:
“Criminals earn respect and credibility with creative killing methods. Your status is based on your capacity to commit the most sadistic acts. Burning corpses, using acid, beheading victims … This generation is setting a new standard for savagery.”
Garcia’s bid for power is said to have began shortly after President Felipe Calderon launched his offensive against organized crime groups in December 2006, aiming to destroy Mexico’s drug cartels by shattering their leadership ranks.
David Shirk, director of the Trans-Border Institute at the University of San Diego stated:
“The government’s strategy was to break the cartels into smaller, more manageable pieces, but smaller doesn’t mean more manageable. … It’s begetting more violence … and more dangerous organizations, and people like this guy.”
Garcia, who is said to be from Sinaloa, grew up in Tijuana and started out in the Arellano Felix organization as a trusted enforcer, probably in the 1990s, and grew powerful as a lieutenant who helped transform kidnapping into a multimillion-dollar industry.
This year, the head of the cartel, Fernando Sanchez Arellano, a nephew of the founding brothers, tried unsuccessfully to halt the abductions of doctors, businessmen and politically influential figures. Sanchez Arellano apparently was worried that the crime wave, increased by Garcia, was hampering the organization’s drug-trafficking business, according to both U.S. and Mexican authorities.
In April, the renegade, Garcia, and the cartel leader, Sanchez Arellano, split in bloody way; their gangs shot it out on an expressway in eastern Tijuana, leaving 15 dead. Garcia fled to Sinaloa but returned in September to launch all-out war. He is believed to be allied with the Sinaloa cartel, which is led by Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman.
Since then, Tijuana has seen an average of six killings per day, many of them carrying messages that they were the work of Garcia. One victim was found with his face sliced off. Three headless bodies were dumped near a baseball diamond. Two corpses were hung from an overpass. Others have been doused with gasoline and set on fire.
After Sanchez Arellano apparently tried to kill one of Garcia’s top gunmen outside a Rosarito Beach taco stand, Garcia’s squad retaliated by killing five of Sanchez Arellano’s associates and leaving their dismembered bodies in cars outside the same taco stand, law enforcement officials said.
The government seems completely unable or unwilling to intervene. Garcia is said to possess a list with every cop’s address and phone number. More than one police officer has answered his phone to threats from a man identifying himself as Garcia.
More ofton than not, warnings are never given, as in January, when gunmen surrounded the home of Deputy Police Chief Margarito Saldana Rivera and opened fire, killing him, his wife and two daughters. Garcia has been blamed for the gruesome slaying.
Authorities and reports claim officers stationed in Garcia’s stronghold of eastern Tijuana put tape over the numbers on their cars and patrol in groups of two or three cruisers. If they see a convoy of Ford F-250s and Cadillac Escalades, the drug gangs’ vehicles of choice, they go the other way.
“We’re scared. There’s no way U.S. cops would work under these conditions.”
Garcia, who is said to move constantly, and always with armed guards, seems to mock police efforts. One of his lieutenants, Raydel Lopez Uriarte, nicknamed Muletas, or crutches, gave his squadron uniforms inscribed with the letters FEM: the Spanish initials for Special Forces of Muletas. The uniform patches feature a skull and crossed crutches, for the death and crippling injuries they deliver to anyone who crosses them.
Lopez Uriate, Muletas, was supposedly arrested in San Diego, California for driving while intoxicated and is now is being held in San Diego, apparently while discussions are under way for either extradition back to Mexico, or keeping him under a witness protection program.