2 lives of Nazario Moreno: Capo claimed dead by Mexican government, only to be killed again

The Associated Press

FILE - In this Dec. 12, 2010 file photo, a man holds a sign that reads in Spanish "Nazario will always live in our hearts," referring to La Familia drug cartel leader Nazario Moreno Gonzalez during a demonstration after the government announced he was killed in Apatzingan, Mexico. Years later on Sunday, March 9, 2014, officials say they are trying to determine if a man killed in an early morning shootout is Moreno. Some residents of Michoacan have reported seeing Moreno as his former cartel, La Familia Michoacana, was morphing into the more vicious and powerful Knights Templar. (AP Photo/Primera Plana, File)

Associated Press + More

"They didn't see La Familia as a criminal group, rather just young men recruited to expel the Zetas in the face of a lack of support from the federal and local authorities," Castillo recently told MVS radio.

But once the Zetas left, La Familia took over the criminal activity. The state government proved impotent in stopping La Familia, which many people claimed had either bought off, co-opted or threatened officials into submission.

La Familia reportedly took its inspiration from an odd source: the book "Wild at Heart," by American evangelical author John Eldredge of the Colorado Springs, Colorado-based Ransomed Heart Ministries. A Mexican government profile said Moreno "erected himself as the 'Messiah,' using the Bible to profess to poor people and obtain their loyalty."

He set a code of conduct that prohibited using hard drugs or dealing them within Mexican territory.

"They believe they are doing God's work, and pass out Bibles and money to the poor," a DEA profile said. "La Familia Michoacana also gives money to school and local officials."

Moreno reportedly wrote his own religiously tinted book of values for the cartel, sometimes known as "The Sayings of the Craziest One."

He lived up to his nickname in many ways.

Moreno announced the emergence of his La Familia cartel by having his gang roll five severed heads into a Michoacan nightclub.

After the 2010 battle in which Moreno was supposedly killed as the first leader from La Familia to fall, other top leaders of the gang were killed or captured in Calderon's assault severely weakened the cartel. Some of the surviving leaders joined their old enemy, the Zetas, for help in fighting government forces and hanging on to their domain.

Moreno's closest ally, Servando "La Tuta" Gomez, covered for Moreno by publicly mourning his death, and the two broke from La Familia, which fell apart and the remnants were driven out of Michoacan. They created the Knights Templar, which grew into an even greater terror to the community.

The cartel went so far as to charge extortion to lime growers, cutters and packers to work, and stole minerals from the state's mines and sold them on the black market to China through the Michoacan port city of Lazaro Cardenas, which the Knights Templar also came to control.

Only when the vigilante groups took up arms in February 2013 and began driving the Knights Templar from much of the state's Tierra Caliente region did the federal government assign a commissioner to take over the state.

In the weeks leading up to Moreno's death, authorities had captured another Templars' leader, Dionisio Plancarte, then Moreno's half-brother and then the son of Gomez, who remains at large.

The U.S. Embassy said it had no information on whether U.S. agencies were involved. The Drug Enforcement Administration did not respond to calls and emails Sunday. DEA agents worked closely with Mexican marines on the Guzman capture as well as the high-profile takedown of Zetas cartel leader Miguel Angel Trevino near the border town of Nuevo Laredo last summer.

Moreno is not the first drug lord rumored to have survived his own reported death.

The body of Zetas leader Heriberto Lazcano Lazcano was stolen about 12 hours after he was shot by Mexican marines on Oct. 7, 2012, causing public skepticism that he was killed. Authorities said fingerprints and DNA taken before the theft proved he was slain.

In 1997, Amado Carrillo Fuentes, known as the "Lord of the Skies" for the amounts of cocaine he moved in large airplanes, died while having plastic surgery to change his appearance, though many still doubt his death.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.