Servando Gómez could have served as a model for the AMC television show “Breaking Bad,” about a humble schoolteacher turned drug kingpin.
But unlike the fictional Walter White, who went down in a hail of bullets, Gómez, known as “La Tuta,” or “The Teacher,” fell into police hands before dawn Friday in the city of Morelia without firing a shot.
President Enrique Peña Nieto confirmed the arrest in a posting on Twitter at noon, declaring it the result of “intense intelligence work.”
A primary school teacher who became one of Mexico’s most-wanted and high-profile criminals, the 48-year-old Gómez headed the Knights Templar crime group, which wreaked havoc in the state of Michoacan, forcing a federal takeover of the state last year.
Authorities describe Gómez as a mastermind of meth dealing, extorting, corrupting regional politicians and promoting himself on social media.
He was a self-confessed criminal, wearing an ever-present baseball cap, who loved to post videos on social media offering homespun thoughts on his native Michoacan. He had a penchant for releasing secret videos of meetings with leaders of the political class in the state, keeping politicians there on edge.
Authorities offered little information on the arrest, saying only that Gómez had been seized in a private home in the Oviedo Mota district of Morelia, the capital of Michoacan state. A $2 million bounty had been on his head.
Gómez, who continued receiving a teacher’s salary until 2010, was frank about the profession he’d developed to supplant his schoolroom duties.
“I know I am a criminal and I will never be pardoned for this,” he told a radio station in 2009. “I had an honest job ... but I wasn’t satisfied.”
Gómez cut his chops as a midlevel mobster with La Familia Michoacana, a crime group that arose in the mid-2000s, cornering flows of cocaine through the Pacific coast state and taking over marijuana cultivation.
The group moved heavily into methamphetamine, using chemicals that arrived directly from China to manufacture the synthetic drug and establishing a presence in nearly half of Mexico’s 31 states.
As leaders were killed or captured, Gómez rose in the ranks. By the time the group changed its name to Knights Templar around 2011, maintaining a messianic streak as Robin Hood-style saviors of their state, Gómez was its undisputed leader.
Extortion demands by the Knights Templar affected everyone from lemon and avocado farmers to iron ore mining companies to owners of drugstores, cantinas and gas stations throughout the state.
By late 2013, a vigilante armed movement rose up to fight the depredations of the Knights Templar, leading the federal government to assume all security functions in the state early last year.
Federal forces were unable to flush Gómez out of the mountains of Michoacan, and from his hideouts he released a stream of videos of his meetings with Michoacan mayors, the son of a former governor and a reporter for the Televisa network, displaying the level of corruption in the state.
With Friday’s arrest, authorities say, they’ve largely dismantled the cartel, capturing or killing its four highest leaders, including Nazario “The Craziest One” Moreno, Enrique “Kike” Plancarte and Dionisio Plancarte.
But in recent months, new criminal groups have emerged in Michoacan with names such as Los Viagras and H3 (also known as Third Brotherhood). A crime group in an adjacent state, the Jalisco New Generation Cartel, is said to have grown into one of the strongest in Mexico.
The arrest marked a bright spot for President Peña Nieto, who faces public anger over modest economic growth and his handling of the disappearance, and presumed murder, of 43 student teachers in late September.
Attorney General Jesús Murillo Karam angered civic and human rights groups Jan. 27 when he ended the investigation into the Sept. 26 student disappearances in Guerrero state, sticking to a hypothesis that criminals working with police in the city of Iguala rounded up the students, then burned them in a huge pyre at a garbage dump. A motive was never firmly established.
Only one student’s remains were identified, from a bone fragment that authorities said was retrieved from a river.
Relatives of the missing students say they don’t believe the government account and demand to be allowed onto army bases to look for the students, or their remains, there.
Peña Nieto shuffled Murillo Karam out of his post Thursday night, and reportedly will place him in the Cabinet portfolio for rural development, an apparent demotion.