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Police: Beltran Leyva cartel operative, wanted in US, captured in Mexico City

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MEXICO CITY — One of the leaders of the once-powerful Beltran Leyva drug cartel was arrested Friday in a trendy neighborhood in Mexico City, authorities said.

Martin Villegas Navarrete, 38, was captured without a shot being fired while celebrating his birthday in the Roma Norte district of Mexico's capital, Mexico's Federal Police said in its official twitter account. He allegedly used warehouses in Mexico City's main wholesale market as cover for his drug trafficking activities.

Villegas is accused of smuggling cocaine to Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Texas. In 2011, a U.S. federal court issued an extradition request for Villegas for conspiracy and criminal association, money laundering and possessing and distributing cocaine.

The family-run Beltran Leyva cartel was once a leading player in Mexican drug trafficking. But Alfredo Beltran Leyva was arrested in 2008 and later extradited to the United States. The cartel started to split apart in late 2009, when one brother, Arturo, who took over for Alfredo, was shot dead by Mexican marines and another brother, Carlos, was detained two weeks later. Another brother, Hector, was arrested in San Miguel de Allende last October.

With the takedown of the Beltran Leyva leadership, the cartel splintered into smaller gangs that operated in central and southern Mexico, including the states of Morelos and Guerrero south of Mexico City.

Authorities in Mexico say Villegas controlled the Guerrero-Morelos-Mexico City corridor.

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