Drug lords in Mexico normally try to stay out of the limelight, amassing an army to help hide them and employing plastic surgeons to alter their features.
Not Servando Gómez, one of the most sought-after kingpins and a leader of a brutal gang that gave rise to vigilante groups in Michoacán State, who in recent months has made regular appearances on television, news media websites and YouTube.
In his latest online video, Mr. Gómez, known as “La Tuta,” or the teacher, is shown in a video posted this week drinking beer and chatting with the son of a former governor of Michoacán, suggesting his gang’s deep infiltration of the political class. The two men laugh and joke about several public officials.
The Mexican authorities said Wednesday that they are investigating the circumstances of the video, which was leaked to the news website Quadrantin, and will seek to question Rodrigo Vallejo, the son of the former governor, Fausto Vallejo, who stepped down in June. His resignation occurred days after a picture of his son with Mr. Gómez was leaked to newspapers.
Rodrigo Vallejo said in a Facebook post that he was forced to attend the meeting and that the video was edited in a manner that made him look guilty. His father said in a letter posted to Facebook and Twitter that Rodrigo was forced to attend the meeting because he had been kidnapped.
Michoacán is one of Mexico’s most violent states, in large part because of the killings, kidnappings and extortion by the criminal group Mr. Gómez leads, the Knights Templar.
Vigilante groups, fed up that local and state police had done little to stop the gang, sprang up over the past year to protect the people from the gang violence, leading the federal authorities to swoop in and restore state control. They allowed several members of the vigilantes to join a “rural defense force” to work alongside the federal police, though questions have been raised if the vigilantes themselves are turning into yet another menace.
Several leaders of the Knights Templar have been arrested or killed — Mr. Gómez’s son was arrested in June — and security experts said the gang has been weakened.
But Mr. Gómez’s ability to remain at large, and his defiance in the media, has left some in Mexico wondering if he has eluded capture for so long because local officials are protecting him.
“He has political authorities on his side and, even more importantly so, the protection and support from local communities as well,” said Eduardo Guerrero, a security analyst at a Mexico City consulting firm. “It is very difficult to break down a network like that.”
The YouTube videos featuring Mr. Gómez, posted anonymously, show him denouncing leaders of the vigilante movement as criminals themselves, defending himself as an “altruist,” handing out money to women and children in town squares, and vowing to die before getting caught.
In January, when the Mexican federal police and the army began an offensive in the western state of Michoacán to restore order and hunt for Mr. Gómez, a crew from Channel 4 News in Britain managed to track him down and broadcast an interview with him from an undisclosed location. He talked about his difficult childhood, his transition from schoolteacher to crime boss and details of his gang’s operations, such as the ingredients used to make methamphetamine.
Michoacán’s chief security official was arrested on organized crime charges after another video surfaced a few months ago, showing him meeting with Mr. Gómez.
Security experts said criminal gangs often corrupt local and federal officials, but the Knights Templar has taken it to extremes in the absence of government authority in Michoacán.
“It is a crime group that highly values a fluid communication and close relation with local politicians, and that is where a big part of their success derives from,” said Mr. Guerrero, who studies organized crime in Mexico.
Still, Mexican officials keep promising they will capture Mr. Gómez.
“He is cornered and with his hands tied,” said the federal security commissioner for Michoacán, Alfredo Castillo.
Mr. Castillo made the statement in March…
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