Mexican judge orders Latin Grammy winner held pending probe into alleged drug gang ties

By E. Eduardo Castillo, AP
Thursday, December 17, 2009

Latin Grammy winner ordered jailed in drug probe

MEXICO CITY — A judge ordered Latin Grammy winner Ramon Ayala jailed for up to 40 days pending investigation on Thursday after he was detained at a drug cartel’s Christmas party.

Prosecutors will decide during that period whether to charge Ayala, a Mexican accordionist who lives in Hidalgo, Texas, with organized crime and taking illicit money, according to a statement from the Attorney General’s Office.

Ayala has been in custody in federal police headquarters in Mexico City since the Dec. 11 military raid at a mansion outside the mountain town of Tepoztlan where three gunmen were killed and 11 other suspected members of the Beltran Leyva cartel were detained.

“In the course of their (the musicians’) statements, there were a series of indications and a series of contradictions that made us change their status from that of witnesses to that of subjects of investigation,” Attorney General Arturo Chavez told reporters.

Adolfo Vega Elizondo, a lawyer for the Latin Grammy winner, denied that the singer or his band, the Bravos del Norte, had any ties to drug gangs, saying they were hired to play at the party but did not know their clients were suspected cartel members.

“They have never in any moment belonged to organized crime,” Vega said. “They were offering their services as singers, as artists.”

The rest of the Bravos del Norte were released, according to Vega. Seven musicians from two other groups were ordered jailed for 40 days.

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.

On Wednesday, seven members of the Beltran Leyva cartel — including the reputed leader Arturo Beltran Leyva — were killed in a shootout with Mexican navy marines in the nearby city of Cuernavaca.

Chavez said his office asked for Ayala to be held under a form of house arrest to be served at a guarded government facility.

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