He was notorious for an assassination method known as “the cookout” – stuffing his victim into a barrel, dousing him with gasoline and roasting him alive.
Miguel Angel Treviño Morales, the Zeta drug cartel commander arrested Monday by the Mexican navy, also burnished his reputation for cruelty with massacres of migrants, 72 in one incident three years ago in Tamaulipas state and 192 more a year later.
In his 2011 book “The Takedown,” about atrocities committed by drug lords and organized crime captains, author Jeffrey Robinson quotes witnesses as recalling how Treviño enjoyed driving around his Nuevo Laredo turf and deploying his hit men with orders to "kill this one and kill that one." He once had his driver veer from the roadway to run over a dog, Robinson wrote.
Treviño, AKA “Z-40," was transported to Mexico City after capture in Nuevo Laredo, reportedly on U.S.-supplied intelligence. He was sought on a 2007 arrest warrant from Laredo, Texas, in a double homicide, and U.S. officials had offered a $5-million reward for his capture.Treviño stood out for his brutality, even in the legendary cruel ranks of drug traffickers, kidnappers and human smugglers who run Mexico’s feared cartels. Authorities say his henchmen killed on demand anyone who dared cross him or failed to pay debts.
“Los Zetas” was formed about a decade ago from the Gulf cartel’s core of Mexican army deserters and special forces troops to provide the enforcement muscle for the group, from which it eventually split.
Treviño, said by Mexican authorities to be 40, grew up in a family of a dozen children in Nuevo Laredo, the volatile border town across from Laredo, Texas, and as a teen was involved with local gangs on both sides of the U.S.-Mexican divide, according to authorities.
His English fluency and criminal contacts in the Dallas and Laredo gang scenes brought him to the attention of Gulf cartel leader Osiel Cardenas Guillen, who took him into the syndicate despite his lack of service in the military, from which the cartel commonly recruited. By 2005, he was in charge of the lucrative Nuevo Laredo cartel business and fighting off intrusions by the rival Sinaloa cartel.
Under Treviño’s command, the local Zetas expanded into kidnapping for ransom, extortion and migrant smuggling, authorities say. Treviño remained allied with the Gulf cartel until a faction in 2010 kidnapped his friend and Zetas leader Víctor Peña Mendoza, who was beaten and executed for refusing to defect from the breakaway Zetas and swear allegiance to the Gulf cartel.
Treviño is believed to have ordered the retaliatory kidnapping and killing of 16 Gulf cartel figures, igniting a cartel war in Tamaulipas, Nuevo Leon and Veracruz that authorities say has taken thousands of lives.
Authorities believe the Zetas are also responsible for many of the 70,000-plus people killed in a six-year military offensive against the cartels.