Matriarch accused of leading drug clan captured

Police officers escort cartel leader Herlinda Bobadilla following an extradition request for her and her sons by the United States, in Tegucigalpa, Honduras May 15, 2022.
Herlinda Bobadilla, 61, was arrested after a shoot-out in the mountains of Honduras

Police in Honduras have captured a woman accused of leading a drug trafficking clan with four of her sons.

Herlinda Bobadilla, 61, was arrested in the mountains of Honduras after a shoot-out in which her 32-year-old son, Tito Montes, was killed.

US authorities had requested that she and her sons Tito and Juan Carlos Montes be extradited to the US and had offered a $5m-reward (£4.1m) for each.

Thirty-five-year-old Juan Carlos Montes remains on the run.

Police in Honduras say they received many tip-offs after the US State Department offered the multi-million dollar reward for the three two weeks ago. They say they tracked down Herlinda Bobadilla and her sons Tito and Juan Carlos in the mountains of Colón province using aerial surveillance.

Special forces were deployed to the area and following an “intense confrontation”, they arrested Herlinda Bobadilla. In a a statement, Honduran police said one member of the clan had been killed “when he opened fire on special ops agents”. The police chief later confirmed that the killed clan member was Tito Montes.

The Montes clan is accused of being one of the largest drug trafficking cartels in Honduras.

It has its powerbase on the northern coast of the Central American nation, where it receives large shipments of cocaine from South America via sea and air. According to US prosecutors, it used submarines, illegal aircraft and boats to transport the drugs from Colombia and other cocaine-producing nations.

The Montes clan then smuggled the illicit substances north through Central America and Mexico to the United States, prosecutors allege. It was reportedly founded as far back as the the 1980s by Pedro García Montes, a Honduran with close links to Colombia’s Cali drugs cartel.

After García Montes was shot dead on a beach in Colombia by two hit men in 2004, his trafficking business was taken over by his cousin, Alex Adán Montes, one of Herlinda Bobadilla’s sons. Alex Adán Montes was twice arrested on drugs charges. The first time, gunmen sprang him from house arrest, killing two of the officers guarding him and allowing him to flee to Colombia.

The second time, he was released into house arrest on medical grounds. He died of a heart attack in November 2014. His brother Noe Montes took over leadership of the clan until 2017, when he was arrested and extradited to the US. With Noe Montes sentenced to life in prison, control of the Montes cartel passed over to Tito, Juan Carlos, and their mother, Herlinda Bobadilla, police say.

According to prosecutors, Ms Bobadilla had over the years become ever more involved in the family’s illicit business, from first assisting her sons in the importation, transportation and distribution of cocaine to finally becoming a joint leader of the clan. Her arrest comes at a time when the role of Honduras in international drug-trafficking is being highlighted in a number of high-profile cases.

On Tuesday, Juan Orlando Hernández – who was president of Honduras for eight years until January of 2022 – pleaded not guilty to drugs charges. He is accused of working “with some of the world’s most prolific narcotics traffickers to build a corrupt and brutally violent empire”.

A day later, the former head of the Honduran police, Juan Carlos Bonilla, made his first court appearance in New York after also being extradited on drugs charges.

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