- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 26, 2010

CANCUN, Mexico | Mexican federal police have arrested the mayor of the resort city of Cancun on drug trafficking, money laundering and organized crime charges, the latest blow to 2010 state and local elections already marred by violence and allegations of drug cartel involvement.

Gregorio Sanchez, who took a leave of absence from the Cancun mayoral post to run for governor of the Caribbean coastal state of Quintana Roo, was taken into custody Tuesday at Cancun’s international airport after arriving on a flight from Mexico City.

The federal Attorney General’s Office said Mr. Sanchez is suspected of offering information and protection to the Zetas drug gang and the Beltran Leyva cartel, which are active in Quintana Roo.

Officials said they could not immediately recall another case in which a gubernatorial candidate had been arrested on drug charges.

“This takes us all by surprise, it is unprecedented,” said current Quintana Roo Gov. Felix Gonzalez Cantu.



Ricardo Najera, a spokesman for the federal Attorney General’s Office, said the charges say Mr. Sanchez played a role in fomenting or aiding drug trafficking, engaged in organized crime and made transactions with illicitly obtained funds.

Mr. Sanchez’s website carried an article in which the candidate for the leftist Democratic Revolution Party and two smaller parties said he was being persecuted for political reasons.

The site quoted Mr. Sanchez as saying he had been threatened. “Resign from the race, or we are going to put you in jail or kill you,” Mr. Sanchez said in describing one of the threats.

A Twitter account linked to the site vowed to continue Mr. Sanchez’s campaign and asked people to protest his arrest and vote for him.

Observers have voiced fears that Mexico’s drug cartels could seek to infiltrate politics and control the July 4 local elections in 10 states by supporting candidates who cooperate with organized crime and killing or intimidating those who don’t.

On May 13, gunmen killed Jose Guajardo Varela, a candidate for mayor of Valle Hermosa, a town in the border state of Tamaulipas that has been ravaged by drug-gang violence. The leader of Guajardo Varela’s conservative National Action Party said the candidate had received threats telling him to quit the race.

And in December, the newspaper Reforma published a photograph of Jesus Vizcarra, a candidate for governor of the northern state of Sinaloa, attending a party many years ago with a man identified as Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada, the No. 2 leader of the powerful Sinaloa cartel.

However, until now, no candidate has been firmly linked to drug cartels.

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