Rio Arriba County Sheriff suspects cartels in slayings

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By Associated Press

ESPAÑOLA (AP) — The Rio Arriba County Sheriff said he believes the recent execution-style slayings of two men and the case of two other men found dead in a burned out trailer are linked to Mexican drug cartels.

Sheriff Tommy Rodella said one of two men found dead in the burned trailer in Medanales on Dec. 21 was a suspect in the double murder 11 days earlier in Hernandez. Those bodies were also found in a mobile home that had been set on fire.

Rodella said the slayings have all the earmarks of a Mexican cartel hit.

“There was drugs involved,” he said. “And I think because of the level of drug dealing that has been going on now for some time I think that is indicative that the (cartels) are here. The thing is, that this isn’t the first case where someone has been murdered and burned. That sends a hell of a message.”

Rodella said 20-year-old Tomas J. Sanchez was one of two people found dead inside the burned trailer.

He said he was the top suspect in the Dec. 10 deaths of 53-year-old Matthew Maestas and 47-year-old Joseph Eugene Valdez, both of whom has been shot five times before their trailer was set on fire.

The men, who were friends, were found dead in Maestas’ trailer home and appeared to have been targeted by someone they knew.

The bodies were discovered when deputies on patrol spotted smoke coming from the trailer.

Rodella said deputies identified Sanchez as a suspect through tips and confidential sources.

State police and federal and local authorities are helping with the investigation, Rodella said.