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Feds apprehend alleged Mexican gang assassin in El Paso

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(The Center Square) – Federal agents have apprehended and deported an international fugitive in El Paso, Texas, wanted by Mexican authorities for her role in gang-affiliated assassinations.

FBI-El Paso Gang Task Force agents and Border Patrol agents arrested Michelle Angelica Pineda, known as “La Chely,” at a local motel in El Paso, according to an announcement by the FBI. Pineda, a Mexican national, was wanted by Mexican authorities for her role in in five homicides and her suspected involvement in multiple others in Cuidad de Juarez, located across the Rio Grande River from El Paso.

On Feb. 15, 2024, local and federal authorities learned that Pineda had illegally entered the U.S. in El Paso and “was operating a drug trafficking ring on behalf of the ‘Artistas Assessino’ gang located in Mexico,” the FBI said. Pineda is known “for her extreme brutality such as dismembering bodies, removing hearts, and placing the hearts in front of ‘Sante Muerte’ altars and statues.”

Texas ranchers living along the southern border are increasingly finding Santa Muerte shrines on their properties, as are law enforcement officers raiding stash houses, The Center Square has reported. The shrines have doll-sized skeletons depicting a “Grim Reapress” clothed in a hooded robe, carrying a scythe in one hand and a globe in the other.

“Santa Muerte,” or the “Saint of Death,” represents death. Those who worship her believe she brings “Santísima Muerte,” or the “holiest death.”

She’s known among law enforcement as the folk “patron saint” of cartels and gangs. Texas Department of Public Safety troopers and sheriffs have explained to The Center Square that cartel operatives pray to her for protection to successfully commit their crimes, including the trafficking and smuggling of weapons, people and drugs.

According to an FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, “Santa Muerte ideology has developed in Mexico for approximately a half century and has spread into the United States and Central America. The cult’s popularity has increased with its ties to illicit narcotics trafficking in Mexico in the late 1980s and early 1990s. As a ‘saint of last resort,’ Santa Muerte always has had a following among those who live in extreme circumstances.”

In the early morning hours on Feb. 15, FBI-El Paso agents, Border Patrol BORTAC operators, El Paso Police Department gang officers, and U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agents raided La Chely’s local motel room in El Paso. She was arrested, detained and later escorted to a port of entry in El Paso, where she was deported and transferred into the custody of the Chihuahua State Police and the State Attorney General of Chihuahua (FISCALÍA ).

Agents also found and seized several firearms, machetes, fentanyl pills, powdered fentanyl, heroin, cocaine, Xanax, and methamphetamine in her motel room.

Her deportation “highlights the swift action of our agents and our significant partnerships by successfully taking a violent assassin off our streets and putting her back into the hands of Mexican law enforcement to be tried for her crimes,” John Morales, FBI-El Paso special agent in charge, said.

Her arrest and deportation highlight the level of violent criminals illegally entering Texas from Mexico and multi-agency operations involved in apprehending them.

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