Mexico still holding Grammy winner on suspected drug gang links after raid on cartel partyBy Alexandra Olson, AP
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
Grammy winner detained on suspected cartel ties
MEXICO CITY — A Latin Grammy winner rounded up during a raid on a Mexican drug cartel’s Christmas party last week is being held on suspicion of organized crime ties, his attorney said Wednesday.
Ramon Ayala, a Texas-based norteno singer, could face charges of organized crime and money laundering, lawyer Adolfo Vega Elizondo said. Mexican authorities had said earlier this week that Ayala was released for lack of evidence.
Vega denied the singer or his band, Los Bravos del Norte, had any ties to drug gangs. He said they were hired to play at the party in a wealthy community south of Mexico City and didn’t know their clients were suspected members of the Beltran Leyva cartel.
“They have never in any moment belonged to organized crime. They were offering their services as singers, as artists,” Vega told The Associated Press.
Ayala, a Mexican accordionist and singer who lives in Hidalgo, Texas, has been detained in federal police headquarters in Mexico City since the raid Friday, Vega said.
Officials with the Attorney General’s Office, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak about the case, confirmed Ayala and his band members had been in custody since Friday. On Tuesday, agency officials had said Ayala was let go because there was no evidence tying him to the drug cartel.
Mexican norteno bands often sing about drug trafficking and violence and many have been rumored to perform at drug traffickers’ weddings and other parties, but few have been caught.
Ayala and his band were performing in a gated community of mansions outside the mountain town of Tepoztlan when sailors raided the house and a shootout broke out. Three gunmen were killed and 11 others suspected of working for the Beltran Leyva cartel were arrested.
Ayala, who sports a mustache and long sideburns and favors black cowboy hats, has a large following along the Mexico-U.S. border and has won two Latin Grammys for his romantic ballads of heartbreak and rural life in Mexico.
He had been scheduled to host a Christmas festival Wednesday in Hidalgo, a free event he puts on every year that includes music, food and the opportunity for impoverished children to line up at his home to receive a ticket for a gift.
The 10th annual “posada” went on Wednesday despite the singer’s absence, drawing about 5,000 people.
Cold weather forced the party into an arena instead of its usual venue across from Ayala’s home, city officials said. Instead of lining up at his home, hundreds of children filed toward a corner of the arena to get gifts of soccer balls, skateboards, beauty kits and other toys.
Jose Luis Avila, a resident of Reynosa, Mexico, called the event “magnificent” and was disappointed Ayala and his band didn’t perform.
“I thought he was going to be here. I thought they (Mexican authorities) already let him go,” the 50-year-old Avila said.
Over the years, several norteno musicians have been slain, including performers of the popular northern “Narcocorrido” songs that glorify drug trafficking.
Among the best known performers killed was Sergio Gomez, a singer with K-Paz de la Sierra, who went missing after a 2007 concert in the Michoacan state capital of Morelia. His tortured body was found the next day along a highway.
A year earlier, banda singer Valentin Elizalde was shot to death along with his manager and driver shortly after performing in Reynosa, across the border from McAllen, Texas. Police said his slaying was possibly linked to a grisly video posted online set to one of Elizalde’s songs, “A Mis Enemigos” (”To My Enemies”).
Associated Press writers E. Eduardo Castillo in Mexico City and Christopher Sherman in Hidalgo, Texas, contributed to this report.
On the Net:
Ramon Ayala: www.ramonayala.org
Hidalgo Festival of Lights: www.hidalgotexas.com/festivaloflights/posada.html
Tags: Central America, Christmas, Drug-related Crime, Latin America And Caribbean, Mexico, Mexico City, Municipal Governments, Music, North America, Organized Crime, Texas, United States, Violent Crime