Authorities in Honduras have captured the youngest brother from the vaunted Valle Valle drug trafficking clan, in an extensive operation that marks a significant turn in the battle against one of the largest criminal organizations in this country.
Honduran special forces, dubbed the "Tigres" (Tigers), arrested Jose Inocente Valle Valle in a house in El Porvenir, in the Copan province, along with his wife, Marlen Griselda Amaya Argueta. Authorities also found a gold-plated AK-47 automatic rifle, various pistols, cash in three currencies and 10 passports, reported El Heraldo.
Some of the passports were in the names of Jose Inocente's older brothers, Miguel Arnulfo and Luis Alonso, who are thought to command this family-based operation in western Honduras along with a third brother, Jose Reynerio. There was also identification belonging to Mario Urbina, the organization's accountant, reported La Prensa.
In addition, authorities found a belt inlaid with 12 pieces of gold with the word "Sinaloa" emblazoned on them, El Heraldo reported. The Valle Valle clan is thought to work closely with Mexico's Sinaloa Cartel.
SEE ALSO: Sinaloa Cartel News and Profile
The Honduran government also announced it had recovered a photograph of Jose Inocente with Neptaly Alexander Aguilar Rivera, the head of the Transit Police in the state of Copan, where the Valle Valle clan bases its operations.
Aguilar Rivera is also the former chief of police in El Paraiso, a municipality that serves as an important drug transit and operational hub for the Valle Valle clan.
Officials said they were continuing to search for the two older brothers, although at least one of them is thought to have fled to Guatemala, where authorities are also said to be on high alert. The operation in which Jose Inocente was captured is targeting the entire Valles structure, including the group's front men and political contacts, according to police.
US authorities have already requested the extradition of both Jose Inocente and his wife.
InSight Crime Analysis
The capture of a Valle Valle brother in Honduras is historic, representing the first arrest of a family member of this clan within the country.
Over the last decade the family has surged to the forefront of drug trafficking operations in that country, aided by their strategic geographic position and their penchant for paying off officials.
SEE ALSO: Valles Profile
Aguilar Rivera is just the tip of the iceberg. Former El Paraiso Mayor Alexander Ardon is thought to have strong connections to the clan. According to La Tribuna, police believe he fled to South America when he got wind of the operation to be carried out against the Valles. Ardon reportedly has a long history of criminal activity that began with cattle trafficking. During his time as mayor, Honduran intelligence sources said he worked with the Sinaloa Cartel.
In their coverage of Jose Inocente's capture, El Heraldo makes reference to security forces looking to dismantle the "Cartel de Alex." A reporter from El Heraldo told InSight Crime that police have just recently begun to use this term to describe the drug trafficking operation that Ardon is believed to lead.
Ardon's brother, Hugo Ardon, used to run the government's Highway Fund (Fondo Vial), which was responsible for the building of major roads in the country.
This latest move against the clan in Honduras is another strong sign that the Valles' high-level contacts may no longer be protecting them. It follows on a chain of actions against the group in both Honduras and the United States, which began with the July arrest of the Valles' sister, Digna, in Florida. She was accused of conspiring to illegally traffic cocaine to the United States along with her brothers.
Then, in mid-August, Honduran authorities seized 52 of the Valles' properties in the Copan and Cortes provinces.
On August 20, the US Treasury Department placed the Valles and its leadership -- Miguel Arnulfo, Jose Reynerio and Luis Alonso -- on its "Kingpin List" as significant foreign narcotics traffickers.
The press release detailing the action called the group "one of the most prolific Central American narcotics trafficking organizations" and claimed that the organization was moving more than 10 tons of US-bound cocaine each month using a "combination of brutal violence and public corruption."
The Treasury also blacklisted four businesses owned by the Valle Valle family for money laundering: three coffee producers and a cattle and milk company.
While the capture of Jose Inocente is notable, he was not considered among the top leadership of the clan. It still remains to be seen whether authorities will do what it takes to reach the brains behind the Valle Valle operation.