Who is Ernesto Alfredo Piñón de la Cruz, AKA “El Neto,” the leader of Los Mexicles who escaped Ciudad Juárez prison?

The attack on the State Social Reinsertion Center (Cereso) No. 3 in Ciudad Juarez by an armed commando on January 1 resulted in the escape of two high-ranking figures of Los Mexicles, Ernesto Alfredo Piñón de la Cruz ('El Neto') and Cesar Vega Muñoz ('El Chilin').
  1. On January 1, an armed commando attacked the State Social Reinsertion Center (Cereso) No. 3 in Ciudad Juarez, resulting in the escape of two high-ranking figures of the Los Mexicles gang, Ernesto Alfredo Piñón de la Cruz (‘El Neto’) and Cesar Vega Muñoz (‘El Chilin’).
  2. The attack, which took place during visiting hours and caused panic among families visiting loved ones, resulted in 14 deaths and at least 10 inmate injuries, with 24 inmates also managing to escape.
  3. El Neto, facing a sentence of more than 200 years for crimes including kidnapping and homicide, has been linked to at least 30 kidnappings and multiple murders. He was previously the leader of the Sinaloa Cartel’s armed wing, the Los Mexicles.

Thanks to an attack by an armed commando on the State Social Reinsertion Center (Cereso) No. 3 in Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, two high-ranking figures of Los Mexicles were released early.

Ernesto Alfredo Piñón de la Cruz, El Neto, was facing a sentence of more than 200 years for the crimes of kidnapping and homicide. He was arrested in 2009 and imprisoned in Ciudad Juarez, where his colleagues rescued him on January 1.

Initial reports show that the penitentiary attack occurred around 7:00 a.m. Heavily armed men arrived at the prison at about 10:00 a.m. The attack was reported to have taken place on January 1. A group of heavily armed individuals arrived at the place aboard armored vehicles and shot at the security officers.

The commando took advantage of the visiting hours at the prison to unleash panic among the families visiting their loved ones. As a result, 24 inmates managed to blend in with the crowd and escape.

On the morning of January 1, an armed commando attacked the Ciudad Juárez Prison and sowed terror among the families during visiting hours. (DARKROOM)
On the morning of January 1, an armed commando attacked the Ciudad Juárez Prison and sowed terror among the families during visiting hours. (DARKROOM)

The result of this aggression was 14 people dead and at least 10 inmates wounded by firearms -six of them were treated at the Cereso, while the other four had to be transferred to a hospital-. In addition, authorities reported the arrest of five alleged criminals.

However, among those who escaped was El Neto, whom former governor Javier Corral considered “the toughest and most heartless narco” of Los Mexicles.

Of the total number of deceased, ten were security and custody officers, while four were persons deprived of liberty.

Who is El Neto?

Ernesto Piñon de la Cruz began his criminal life very young. Newspaper reports identified him as the leader of a gang in Ciudad Juarez dedicated to kidnapping since 2007 when he was only 18 years old.

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He became the leader of the Special Forces group Los Mexicles, the armed wing of the Sinaloa Cartel, replacing his predecessor, Jesus Eduardo Soto Rodriguez, El Lalo, who was taken to the Federal Center for Social Readaptation (Cefereso) number 15, located in Villa Comaltitlan, Chiapas, in February 2020.

Before El Neto was sentenced to 224 years in prison in 2010, there had already been an attempt to free him from Cereso No. 3 in Juarez. However, because he was injured during the riot, his escape was unsuccessful.

Local authorities linked him to at least 30 kidnappings, and he was also convicted of murder.

The criminal leader who returned to the streets on January 1 is the one who was allegedly behind the wave of violence that flooded the border city in August 2022. According to reports by Milenio, El Neto ordered the execution of violent acts in the city to prevent his transfer to federal prison.

The bloody day of that August 11 ended with the lives of 11 people and left at least 20 wounded since, in addition to the attacks in the city streets, there was a confrontation inside the penitentiary. Members of Los Mexicles attacked members of the Los Chapos cell, which unleashed a fatal brawl. All of this was apparently at the instruction of Piñon de la Cruz.

This event was seen as a clear sign that Los Mexicles had ended their alliance with the Sinaloa Cartel and had instead joined forces with the Los Aztecas (or Barrio Azteca) gang, which emerged as armed support for the Juarez Cartel.

In addition to El Neto, it was reported that Cesar Vega Muñoz, alias El Chilin, Piñon de la Cruz’s main subordinate within Los Mexicles, also escaped from Cereso No. 3 in Ciudad Juarez on January 1.