It's easy to forget that the cartel is a very real, very powerful force in Texas and its members walk amongst us.

The FBI El Paso office announced that on February 15, 2024 they had arrested a woman wanted by the Mexican government for her involvement in a string of gruesome murders in Cuidad Juarez.

Law enforcement had received information that Michelle Angelica Pinea, aka 'La Chely', had crossed the border into the States illegally and was "allegedly operating a drug trafficking ring for the "Artistas Asesinos" gang from Mexico.

U.S. Border Patrol
U.S. Border Patrol

Pineda was located in a motel room in east El Paso and taken into custody by a multiagency tactical operation. In the room, law enforcement identified a cache of "several firearms, machetes, fentanyl pills, powdered fentanyl, heroin, cocaine, Xanax, and methamphetamine".

Following her arrest, Pineda was turned over to the Mexican authorities and appeared before a Chihuahua State District Judge in Cuidad Juarez.

Accused in Three, Suspected in Over 20 Murders

The 22-year-old Mexican national is accused of carrying out the execution of three victims, a couple on November 24, and a man on December 5. Disturbingly, Pineda is also accused of "dismembering and cutting out the victims' hearts" as offerings for Santa Muerte--a protective deity favored by drug traffickers.

U.S. Border Patrol
U.S. Border Patrol

She is suspected of involvement in more than 20 additional homicides. Law enforcement describe Pineda as the leader of a cell of the Artistas Asesinos gang based out of Juarez. The gang reportedly follow directives from an imprisoned leader, "El Niko", according to the El Paso Times.

The judge deemed there was sufficient evidence to hold "La Chely" for trial and gave a deadline of May 21 to the involved legal parties to present their evidence and arguments.

In Mexico, a prisoner's guilt or innocence is decided by a judge, rather than a jury. And as the deadline of May 21 has come and gone, no information can be readily found as to the fate of La Chely.

Not an Isolated Arrest

Artistas Asesinos, also called Doble A Cartel is a dual operation of a drug trafficking organization as well as an enforcement of the Sinaloa Cartel in Cuidad Juarez. Its reach into the United States was previously limited to southern New Mexico.

Juarez Municipal Police
Juarez Municipal Police

But the February arrest of La Chely in El Paso was followed up closely with the arrest of six alleged AA gang members in April for their involvement in a triple murder.

Four of the six arrested gang members had strong ties to El Paso, suggesting that the Doble A Cartel has now established itself as a player in the network of organized crime found in Texas.

Dangerous Texas Gangs And Their Rivals

The rise of gang culture in Texas has been a steady one

The more prevalent gangs are, the more likely the average citizen is to cross paths with affiliated members. As the population of Texas has increased in size and diversity, so have the gangs of the Lone Star state.

If you're not mixed up in organized crime shenanigans, then you're probably safe. But as the old adage goes, the more you know the better prepared you are.

Gallery Credit: Sarah Clark

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