Mexican authorities confirmed that Ernesto “El Neto” Pinon, the leader of a gang tied to El Chapo’s violent Sinaloa drug cartel, escaped prison this week after a dramatic attack on the facility near the U.S. border.
The 33-year-old El Neto was serving a 224-year sentence for kidnapping and murder and had been incarcerated already for 14 years. A previous attempt to free him in 2010 during a prison transfer failed and he was injured.
According to local media in Juarez, there was another attempt to free Pinon on Aug. 11. He is believed to have ordered multiple kidnappings and other crimes while serving time.
At least 24 others joined Pinon as he broke out of Juarez’s Cereso #3 state prison Sunday morning in Ciudad Juarez. The Mexican government has transferred roughly 200 other members of the Mexicles gang to federal prisons since the breakout.
Gunmen protected by armored vehicles stormed the prison Sunday morning and murdered 10 guards along with seven inmates. They reportedly took advantage of visiting hours as relatives of inmates came to wish their loved ones well in 2023.
After entering, officials report the attackers released at least 25 inmates from their cells and escaped. Several prisoners set their mattresses on fire to create confusion.
In #Mexico, militants of the El Neto drug cartel stormed a prison, took hostages and freed their boss
Unidentified men arrived in armored vehicles on the morning of January 1 and opened fire, killing 17 people: 10 guards and 7 prisoners.
At least 24 prisoners managed to escape. pic.twitter.com/8aWEyoxfEC
— NEXTA (@nexta_tv) January 3, 2023
Some of those released are said to be members of the notorious Los Mexicles gang, which is the armed wing of the Sinaloa Cartel formerly run by the infamous drug lord El Chapo. The Cartel is now run by El Chapo’s previous associate.
Investigators discovered what they described as 10 “VIP cells” for well-connected inmates along with cash, drugs, and cell phones.
El Neto’s cell featured a jacuzzi, plasma TV, and a safe with the equivalent of $87,000. Police reported finding 35 lbs of marijuana, four kg of crystal methamphetamine, and 1.5kg of heroin along with a stash of weapons.
The search for fugitives also turned deadly Sunday when state investigators attempted to take them back into custody. Two officials were killed, along with five gunmen in the shootout. It is unknown if any escapees were among the dead.