Federal police have arrested a lawyer who allegedly helped the Zetas drug cartel manage ransom and extortion payments, which were sometimes handed over in the form of property deeds, Mexican authorities said Thursday.
Suspect Marco Antonio Gomez was detained in the Caribbean coast resort of Cancun on Wednesday, the Public Safety Department said in a statement.
Gomez allegedly participated as a go-between in negotiating ransom payments from relatives of businessmen who had been kidnapped in the Cancun area.
In a sign of the gang's sophistication, the federal police said the Zetas had professionals who worked to legally transfer property titles handed over to the cartel.
Nine more suspected Zetas members were arrested in the border state of Tamaulipas on Wednesday as part of a general crackdown on the gang after is was implicated in the abduction and killing of at least 145 people whose bodies were exhumed from mass graves in the town of San Fernando earlier this month.
Also Thursday, a Mexican official confirmed that President Felipe Calderon's government has hired a U.S. law firm to investigate possible civil lawsuits against U.S. gun manufacturers or dealers, for what Mexican officials consider the companies' responsibility for guns that are smuggled to Mexico's drug war.
The government has long demanded the United States crack down on cross-border arms smuggling amid drug violence in Mexico that has killed more than 34,000 people over the last four years.
According to the official, who agreed to speak about the legal action only if granted anonymity, the government hired a New York-based law firm late last year to explore possible suits against U.S. gun manufacturers that may have knowingly or imprudently produced or distributed weapons that wound up in the hands of Mexican drug cartel gunmen.
Calls to the New York law firm seeking to confirm the contract went unanswered. The U.S. National Rifle Association did not immediately return calls seeking comment on Mexico's action.
Many guns used to kill in Mexico never have their origins traced. But U.S. officials say that of the weapons discovered at Mexican crime scenes that authorities do choose to trace, nearly 90 percent are eventually found to have been purchased in the U.S. Critics of that estimate contend Mexican authorities focus on U.S.-made guns to trace.
A November 2008 study by the Brookings Institution, a Washington-based think tank, estimated 2,000 U.S. guns are smuggled into Mexico each day. A new U.S. effort to increase inspections of travelers crossing the border has netted just 386 guns in two years.
In the northern state of Durango, prosecutors reported Thursday that further excavations at a vacant lot in the state capital yielded 11 more bodies _ 10 men and one woman _ in addition to 26 badly decomposed bodies found a day earlier.
The grisly Holy Week discovery came just days after police found 10 complete bodies, three headless bodies and four severed heads in a pit in Durango, a state that has become a battleground between the Zetas and Sinaloa drug cartels.
Prosecutors did not say whether the bodies were found in multiple-burial pits, like the 145 bodies that have been pulled from mass graves in the border state of Tamaulipas.
While Mexican drug cartels frequently use such pits to dispose of the remains of executed rivals, many of those buried in the Tamaulipas mass graves are believed to have been passengers kidnapped from passing buses.
In Tamaulipas on Wednesday, authorities reported they had rescued 68 people, including 12 Central American migrants, allegedly kidnapped by a drug cartel.