One of the main leaders of the civilian armed movement that formed to drive a drug cartel out of Mexico’s Michoacán state was charged Thursday with the murder of two members of a rival vigilante group.
State prosecutor José Martín Godoy said investigators had found enough evidence to link Hipólito Mora to the killings of two men whose bodies were discovered in the back of a burned pickup truck over the weekend.
The self-defense groups had a falling out and fractured into two factions in the town of La Ruana when Mora had a dispute over leadership with Luis Antonio Torres González, another vigilante leader known by the nicknames of “El Simón” or “El Americano” because he grew up in the United States.
The two dead men were allies of Torres González. Prosecutors said witnesses testified that Mora had threatened to kill one of the men for opposing the way Mora wanted to collect money to run the vigilante uprising.
Mora’s lawyer, Eduardo Quintero, said prosecutors were building a case with suppositions by the victims’ relatives.
Mora was one of the founders of the vigilante movement that began in February 2013 after he and fellow farmers and ranchers grew tired of the Knights Templar cartel’s reign of kidnapping, murder and extortion.
Vigilantes are now the de facto authorities in many of Michoacan’s townships, and they have served as a means to keep the government accountable.
They have demanded the arrest of the main leaders of the Knights Templar, and they have often pointed out ties between public officials and drug traffickers. On Sunday, Mora applauded one of the biggest takedowns of President Enrique Peña Nieto's administration — the killing of the gang’s capo, Nazario Moreno, who was wrongly reported dead by authorities in 2010.
A judge ordered the arrest of nine other suspects in the killings of the two vigilantes.
Godoy said his office has gathered 35 complaints from the community accusing Mora of stealing and kidnapping. The easygoing Mora has been accused of abusing his position by allegedly holding on to lime orchards and farm fields taken over from the Knights Templar, which had seized them from their rightful owners.
Mora has denied the accusations, saying he returns properties to their rightful owners.
The Associated Press