Mexico authorities have arrested an MS13 leader in Tijuana, disrupting another attempt by the gang to create a small international drug trafficking pipeline into the United States.

No official announcement has been made, and details are still trickling in, but the arrest of Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) leader Nelson Alexander Flores, alias “Mula,” took place in the last few days, a US law enforcement official who requested anonymity because he did not have authorization to speak to the media, told InSight Crime.

Two other law enforcement officials from two separate US agencies confirmed the arrest. All three sources said the United States and Mexico are now working out a deal to send Flores to Ohio, where he is part of a multi-party racketeering indictment filed February 15.

SEE ALSO: MS13 News and Profile

The indictment chronicles the MS13’s myriad criminal acts — including murder with both firearms and machetes, money laundering and interstate commerce violations, threatening a law enforcement officer and his family in El Salvador, and drug possession and sales of heroin, cocaine and marijuana — in the Southern District of Ohio, specifically the city of Columbus, where the gang’s activity is on the rise.

For his part, Flores is only mentioned by name in various extortion charges dating back to 2011.

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The indictment belies Flores’ stature in the gang. The enterprising gang member has eluded law enforcement for years while establishing a multi-pronged, albeit small, drug trafficking enterprise.

In addition to the Ohio indictment, federal authorities tracked Mula as he spoke regularly on the telephone with Larry Navarete (also spelled Navarrete in various federal filings), an MS13 leader who was jailed in California at the time.

SEE ALSO: Investigation on MS13 in the Americas

The two coordinated the movement of small consignments of methamphetamine that Navarete obtained from Mula’s contacts in Tijuana and moved to markets in Arkansas and Oklahoma, among others.

Drug enforcement agents told InSight Crime that Flores had contacts in a Mexican cartel, but did not specify which. Remnants of the Tijuana Cartel, Sinaloa Cartel and the Jalisco Cartel New Generation (Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generación – CJNG) all operate in and around Tijuana.

SEE ALSO: Mexico News and Profiles

Flores also had high levels contacts with the Mexican Mafia, the prison gang based in Southern California that serves as the overlord of the MS13 in that region. The Mexican Mafia has operated as the key go-between in past drug operations MS13 leaders have tried to implement.

Naverete and Flores’ scheme was busted up in 2015, and Navarete was sentenced and moved to a federal prison in 2017, but Flores remained operational.

Still, it’s not yet clear what role Flores was playing with Columbus-based MS13. That part of the gang is part of what is known as the East Coast Program, an umbrella of gang cliques that operates from North Carolina to Massachusetts.

El Salvador-based gang leaders have spent the last few years trying to reestablish command and control over the East Coast, in order to create more lucrative and regular revenue streams that would be used to fund them in Central America. As we chronicled in a recent report on the MS13, these efforts have not always worked.

Flores’ arrest is also evidence of the latest failed effort by the gang to move closer towards becoming an international drug trafficking organization. Over the years, gang leaders like Flores have tried to create a distribution chain using parts of the gang infrastructure around the region. For numerous reasons — most notably the gang’s adherence to its more social roots and its diffuse structure — these efforts have failed.

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Steven Dudley is the co-founder and co-director of InSight Crime and a senior research fellow at American University’s Center for Latin American and Latino Studies in Washington, DC. In 2020, Dudley...