APATZINGAN, Mexico, April 16 (UPI) -- The mayor of Apatzingan, Mexico, a stronghold of the Knights Templar drug cartel, was arrested on suspicion of extorting money for the cartel.
Uriel Chavez attempted to coerce city councilors to give $1,500 of their salaries to the cartel, prosecutors said. The councilors allege Chavez took them to a rural area where armed men, claiming to be Knights Templar members, demanded money to buy weapons. Chavez denies the allegations.
The drug cartel is notorious for its engagement in extortion, ransoms for kidnappings, and the methamphetamine trade. It has a base of operations in Michoacán state, which includes Apatzingan.
In 2013, local farmers joined “self-defense” groups in Michoacán, taking control of a number of towns with the promise of ridding them of the cartel’s influence. The Mexican government initially tolerated the vigilante group, but later declared a May 10 deadline for members to either join a government-run Rural Defense Corps or risk arrest for illegally carrying weapons.
The government argues its security forces have recently killed or captured leading Knights Templar figures, thus eliminating the need for vigilante groups.