Standing before flashing cameras in a white Abercrombie & Fitch jogging suit with trendy glasses and a swish haircut, Vicente Carrillo Leyva doesn’t fit the classic image of a gun-toting drug kingpin. The 32-year-old was detained quietly enough: police nabbed him while he was exercising in a park in a plush Mexico City suburb. Carrillo Leyva, nicknamed “The Engineer”, grew up among a wealthy elite, was educated abroad and enjoyed frequent trips to Europe. He reportedly speaks English and French well and had invested in a high-end boutique selling Versace clothes. But Mexican federal agents claim that Carrillo Leyva and other so-called “narco juniors” are key figures in the cartels started by their fathers.
After his arrest, Carrillo Leyva was paraded before the press on April 2, the same day that U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano arrived for war talks with their Mexican counterparts near Mexico City. The smooth-looking detainee is the son of the late Amado Carillo Fuentes, the notorious head of the Juarez cartel who became known as the Lord of The Skies because of his fleet of 27 private 727 jet airliners authorities say were used to traffic cocaine.
Carillo Fuentes, a bearded roughneck from a ramshackle farming town, died in 1997 while undergoing plastic surgery to change his appearance. Since then, Mexican officials allege the young Carrillo Leyva has become No. 2 in the Juarez crime family. “Carrillo Leyva is considered an heir to the criminal organization known as the Juarez Cartel,” said Marisela Morales, Mexico’s Undersecretary for Organized Crime. “His main function was leadership and hiding illicit money for the organization.”
The sweat-suited suspect is the latest of several alleged narco juniors to be nabbed in recent weeks. On Mar. 19, police arrested Vicente Zambada, the 33-year-old son of Ismael “The Mayo Indian” Zambada, a hard-faced character from cattle-ranching territory who rose to the top of the Sinaloa cartel. Ismael Zambada is at large with a $5 million dollar FBI reward for his capture.
Shunning the gem-studded pistols and gold chains flaunted by their fathers, a savvy new generation of drug smugglers is moving up the ranks of Mexico’s cartels wielding college degrees and keeping low profiles to outsmart police.
The fashionably-dressed sons of two prominent drug bosses were recently arrested in smart Mexico City neighborhoods, suspected of laundering money for the Juarez and Sinaloa cartels while moving seamlessly among the country’s elite.
They typify a new wave of leaders of Mexico’s warring drug cartels, whose turf wars killed 6,300 people last year. Often the urbane offspring of cartel founders, they bring a clean-cut management style to the murky multibillion dollar enterprise.
“These people are usually better prepared, better educated and very useful for the cartels because they’re professionals,” said political analyst Jorge Chabat.
“They’re harder to identify because they don’t look like typical drug traffickers,” he said. “You can’t detect them by saying ‘Oh look, he has a big truck with wide tires and automatic weapons, gold chains, snakeskin boots and a big belt buckle and dark glasses.”‘
The new style does not mean the young drug barons are less ruthless. While they may not kill rivals themselves, they will order hits to stay ahead and are respected within the organizations, analysts say.