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Servando Gómez has been on the list of Mexico’s most wanted criminals.
Servando Gómez has been on the list of Mexico’s most wanted criminals.AFP/Getty Images

MEXICO CITY — The Mexican police said Friday that they had captured the leader of the Knights Templar drug gang, a former teacher who taunted authorities by giving interviews while in hiding and releasing videos in which he talked about his close relationships with his state’s political bosses.

Servando Gómez, known as La Tuta (the Teacher), was one of the most-wanted drug kingpins still at large in the country.

He had been thought to be hiding out in the remote western part of Michoacán, his home state. But he was captured in the state capital, Morelia, on Friday without a shot being fired, the police said. He was eating a hot dog at a street stand when he was arrested, local news reports said.

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Gómez, 49, who is also wanted in the United States for methamphetamine and cocaine trafficking, rose through the ranks of a gang known as La Familia, which terrorized Michoacán state with kidnapping and extortion. As its leaders were killed, the gang renamed itself the Knights Templar, and its violence prompted frustrated citizens to form vigilante groups.

The national government sent contingents of police officers and soldiers to Michoacán in January 2014 in an effort to restore calm in the state.

The effort succeeded in flushing out many of Gómez’s top lieutenants, but he remained at large and continued to release videos. He even granted an interview to Channel 4 of Britain, which filmed him handing out cash.

In one video, Gómez was shown drinking beer and chatting with the son of the former governor of Michoacán, Fausto Vallejo. The governor stepped down after a photograph of his son, Rodrigo Vallejo, and Gómez appeared in newspapers. Rodrigo Vallejo said he had been kidnapped and forced to meet with Gómez.

In other videos, Gómez denounced leaders of the vigilante movement and defended himself as an altruist. He vowed to die rather than be caught.

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In a recent audio post on YouTube, he said the recording would be his last. “Not because I’m scared,” he said, “but because I have to take my measures, and lay low.”

Although the government has managed to weaken the Knights Templar in Michoacán, the state remains unsettled, and several new violent criminal groups have appeared there, including one called Los Viagra. An attempt to bring the vigilante groups together into an officially sanctioned rural defense force has been resisted by several vigilante leaders.