- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 12, 2014

McALLEN, Texas (AP) - A Mexican drug cartel is suspected of burning down the house of a South Texas narcotics investigator in retaliation for drug seizures along the border, a local district attorney said Wednesday.

Starr County District Attorney Omar Escobar said the fire that destroyed the home of one of his narcotics investigators just west of Rio Grande City was deliberately set early Tuesday using an accelerant.

The narcotics investigator was detailed to the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area task force, a collaboration of local and federal agencies, Escobar said.

Escobar’s office had received an unspecified threat late last year from elements of the Gulf Cartel operating across the Rio Grande in Camargo, Mexico, he said. The message conveyed through informants was to ease up on drug seizures.

“As far as the order, we’re pretty sure it came from the Camargo plaza of the Gulf cartel,” Escobar said. His staff is being extra vigilant, but “we’re going to be more aggressive rather than less aggressive.”

But an official at the Starr County Sheriff’s Office, which is investigating the case, said it was too early to know who was responsible.

Lt. Carlos Delgado confirmed it was arson, but said that so far there was no confirmed link to a drug cartel. He said that based on the homeowner’s occupation it’s possible it was retaliation, but was unaware of any evidence of that.

Starr County is a sparsely populated stretch of border about 250 miles south of San Antonio. The Mexican side of the Rio Grande is dotted with small towns like Camargo that have long smuggling traditions and have remained a stronghold of the Gulf cartel.

The volume of drugs seized in Starr County makes it impossible to pinpoint a particular case that could have triggered the alleged retaliation, Escobar said.

The home, which was still under construction and was about three-quarters complete, was located in a residential neighborhood. Investigators believe the blaze started around 4 a.m., Escobar said. Authorities have not found any witnesses. No one was at the home at the time of the fire.

Escobar said other state and federal agencies have also offered to assist.

“It’s very rare to retaliate on officers doing their job,” Escobar said.

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