Mayor, police chief, others in NM village arrested

AP News
Posted: Mar 10, 2011 3:03 PM
Mayor, police chief, others in NM village arrested

The mayor, police chief and a trustee of a tiny border community known for its attack by Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa nearly a century ago were arrested by federal agents Thursday.

Luna County sheriff's Capt. Arturo Baeza told Deming radio station KOTS the officials from the village of Columbus were being held on drug and weapons charges. No details of the charges have been released.

Eleven people were arrested Thursday in the community 70 miles west of El Paso, Texas, according to Albuquerque television station KRQE. They include Mayor Eddie Espinoza, Police Chief Angelo Vega and council member Blas Gutierrez.

The raid in the community of about 1,800 people included agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and the Drug Enforcement Administration, KRQE reported.

An ATF official referred The Associated Press to the U.S. attorney's office in Albuquerque, which had no immediate comment.

Columbus' four-man police force has turned over several times in recent years, and Vega is the village's seventh police chief since Espinoza was elected mayor in March 2006.

Vega initially came to Columbus as interim chief in April 2009 after resigning as marshal in the community of Mesilla a few months earlier.

Espinoza placed him on leave last November for reasons that were never specified. Trustees reinstated Vega in January, saying he'd been on leave for months with no action taken against him.

In 1996, when Vega was a Lincoln County deputy sheriff, he was indicted on charges of extortion and intimidating a witness. A plea agreement reduced those charges to a misdemeanor, and Vega was placed on probation.

Columbus, which lies just a few miles across the border from Palomas, Mexico, sees tourists attracted by Villa's raid on March 9, 1916 _ 95 years ago Wednesday. The isolated town is the site of Pancho Villa State Park, which houses exhibits about the raid and the U.S. Army's subsequent unsuccessful 11-month expedition into Mexico to chase down Villa.

An estimated 500 to 600 revolutionaries had attacked Columbus before dawn, setting buildings in the business district on fire. Soldiers with the 13th Calvary at Camp Furlong, on the outskirts of Columbus, set up machine guns in the town to fight Villa's forces.

The raid lasted until dawn and left 18 Americans dead, most of them civilians. Some 70 to 75 revolutionaries also died.