What happens in Mexico no longer stays in Mexico.

And that has authorities here concerned.

The beheading of an illegal immigrant in Chandler has alarmed everyone from police agencies to the governor’s office as the violence and mayhem now common in Mexico has spilled over onto this side of the border.

“This has to be taken very seriously,” said Phil Jordan, a retired Drug Enforcement Administration agent who is the former chief of the El Paso Intelligence Center. “If this beheading incident has drug ties to Mexico and is happening in Arizona, we have a problem. Anyone who tells you what happens in Mexico stays in Mexico is smoking hashish. What happens in Mexico definitely affects the United States.”

In a bloody, gruesome scene, Chandler police discovered the body of Martin Alejandro Cota-Monroy, a 38-year-old illegal immigrant from Mexico, who was stabbed to death inside an apartment at 300 W. Fairview St. and decapitated with a large knife, according to Detective Dave Ramer, a Chandler police spokesman. One man suspected in the killing has been arrested and the search is on for three others who are believed to have fled to Mexico.

Chandler police are investigating the crime as a possible “hit” related to a Mexican drug cartel, and do not consider this a ritualistic murder despite the presence of candles and other religious material at the scene. Detectives suspect Cota-Monroy’s killing was punishment for stealing drugs and that the beheading could have occurred as a warning to others within the drug cartel.

Chandler police Sgt. Joe Favazzo said it is likely that the suspects came to Arizona to find Cota-Monroy and try to collect what he had stolen from them.

Jordan and David Gonzales, the U.S. Marshal in Arizona, both said it is the first time they have heard of a beheading in the United States tied to a Mexican drug cartel.

“I don’t think there’s anyone in law enforcement along the southwest border surprised at this type of heinous crime, and that it might be cartel-related,” Gonzales said. “This has been going on a long time in Mexico, and federal agents are beginning to see a trend of cartel-related violence happening here.”

In March, Arizona rancher Robert Krenz was shot and killed while checking water lines on his property near the Mexican border. Authorities believe, but have never been able to verify, that an illegal immigrant (possibly a scout for drug smugglers) was responsible for his death.

In May 2009, a Mexican drug cartel lieutenant who became an informant for ICE was shot eight times outside his upscale home in El Paso. The lieutenant, Jose Daniel Gonzalez Galeana, was living in Texas on a visa that ICE gave him, and is believed to be the first ranking cartel member killed in the U.S.

Earlier this month, a Mexican police commander investigating the reported shooting of an American tourist on a border lake was decapitated and his head was found in a suitcase outside a Mexican Army base.

“Beheadings are a common practice in Mexico, but not in the U.S.,” Gonzales said. “It’s only a matter of time that more of the violence is going to bleed over into the United States, and I think we’ll see more of these types of crimes occur.”

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer was criticized four months ago for her statement in support of SB 1070 that beheadings had occurred in the Arizona desert. She later clarified the statement, saying the beheadings had occurred in Mexico but were an example of the violence occurring along the border.

Paul Senseman, a spokesman for Brewer, said Thursday that law enforcement already has taken some steps to be more prepared for such crimes and cartel violence and that it was only a matter of time before such a “heinous” crime happened in the Valley.

“What is perfectly clear is that there are narco-terrorist organizations operating in the United States, and that’s unacceptable,” Senseman said. “Many of the organizations are inter-related such as human smuggling rings and drug cartels. We have seen some improvement by the federal government. Washington is starting to wake up. The problem needs to stop, and it needs to stop now.”

All of the suspects in the Chandler beheading are illegal immigrants, according to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Cristantos Moroyoqui-Yocupicio, 36, an illegal immigrant from Mexico who lived at the apartment complex, was discovered with blood on his pants and shoes and arrested on suspicion of second-degree murder and hindering prosecution. He is not cooperating with authorities and ICE has placed a hold on him. Police believe that Moroyoqui-Yocupicio participated in the beheading and that he possibly was the sole participant in the barbaric act, according to a police report.

Authorities are still searching for Juan Jose Aguilar-Campos, 22, Jose David Castro-Reyes, 25, and a man only known to them as “El Joto,” a derogatory term for a gay man. The three suspects are believed to be traveling in a red Ford Expedition with California License Plate No. 6FWR784. They had lived in Perris, Calif., for a brief time before coming to Arizona. Traveling in separate vehicles, the men had checked into the Value Place Hotel, 8808 N. Black Canyon Highway in Phoenix, on Oct. 6, and paid to stay until Oct. 14. However, the men checked out on Oct. 13.

Jordan said if the Chandler case is drug-related, it likely was a “hit” carried out by a “sicario” (hit man) for the cartel against someone who betrayed them, stole or lost part of a shipment or stole money from a shipment of drugs, and that the sicario came to take care of business by killing Cota-Monroy to “send a message.”

“Too much is at stake for the drug cartels,” Jordan said. “They’ve never had a president until Felipe Calderon who declared a war on drugs in 2006. It is sometimes believed that the cartels are connected to the Taliban or to Al Qaida terrorist groups, but we are the cartels’ consumers. The Taliban and Al Qaida want to destroy America. The drug cartels don’t want to cut off the hand that feeds them.”

Jordan also provided some insight as to why Moroyoqui-Yocupicio is not cooperating with authorities.

“It is no surprise that Crisantos Moroyoqui isn’t cooperating,” Jordan said. “If he does, he likely has family back in Mexico and someone can have them killed. If he starts cooperating, they can easily wind up dead.”

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