Wild Video Shows Brazen Prison Break In Mexico

Fuel theft gangsters drove a truck through the prison gates and then distracted authorities with car bombs.

MEXICO CITY — A gang sprung nine prisoners during a daring escape using a jerry-rigged truck as a battering ram and car bombs in the central Mexican state of Hidalgo on Wednesday. The ensuing manhunt has led to the recapture of three escapees.

The highly coordinated prison break allegedly focused on freeing José Artemio Maldonado, the leader of a violent kidnapping and fuel theft ring, who remains on the lam. 


Maldonado—known as “El Michoacano” after the state of Michoacan, where he is believed to have once lived—is alleged to be the boss of the Pueblos Unidos gang in Hidalgo.

Security footage quickly spread on social media of the truck, fitted with a makeshift metal plow of some sort, crashing through a garage door into a prison in the city of Tula around 4 a.m. Wednesday. Once inside, several armed individuals threatened the guards, who proceeded to release the inmates. Nine prisoners then fled, reportedly all members of the Pueblos Unidos gang, in six separate waiting vehicles. As they sped off, two car bombs went off in different parts of the city—apparently to function as a distraction while the escapees and their accomplices engaged in firefights with the cops.

A third car was later discovered with explosives that possibly malfunctioned in another part of the city, and tire spikes were found on roads leading to the prison aimed at impeding police from arriving at the scene of escape. Two agents were injured in the ensuing chaos, according to authorities.


The state attorney general of Hidalgo, Alejandro Habib, gave a press conference to confirm several details of the escape and tried to put the local population at ease after the brazen prison break.

“Citizens can be calm, since it was a very focused event that was not a direct attack on the population,” said Habib.

But locals have reason to be concerned about gangs involved in fuel theft in Hidalgo. 

In January 2019, 137 people died after a botched fuel robbery caused a horrific explosion about 10 miles outside of Tula, the site of Wednesday's prison break. The tragedy took place after fuel thieves, known as huachicoleros, illegally tapped one of Mexico's most prominent oil pipelines that connects Tula's large refinery with the gulf coast of Mexico. Oil spilled out for hours near the town of Tlahuelilpan, causing locals to scrounge for the seemingly free gasoline, which turned deadly when it ignited in a raging fireball.

It's unclear if members of Pueblos Unidos, another gang of huachicoleros, or larger Mexican drug cartels who also dabble in fuel theft were behind the 2019 robbery that led to the incident. Nearly three years later, no arrests have ever been made in relation to the catastrophe.


Prior to the prison break, Maldonado was arrested on Nov. 26 in neighboring Mexico State on murder and kidnapping charges, and returned to Hidalgo, where he was held in the Tula prison.

Little is known about Pueblos Unidos, who first appeared in June when they announced themselves in a video claiming that they were a citizen self defense group and would be “hunting” huachicoleros.

“We all have something in common: the loss of a child, a cousin, a brother, a father, a friend, because of these huachicoleros,” said a masked man flanked by numerous other people holding large weapons. The group also accused members of the local authorities of being complicit with huachicoleros. Authorities denied the claim, and said that the group were connected to a migrant kidnapping ring that had previously worked out of the border city of Mexicali, and had gone by the name Los Emes—the Spanish written version of the pronunciation for the letter M, presumably to represent the Maldonados.


Los Emes were reportedly headed by Maldonado, aka el Michoacano, along with his two brothers: Lucio Maldonado and Mariano Maldonado. Local media quoted anonymous police sources that another of the inmates to escape on Wednesday was Mariano Maldonado. It’s unclear when Mariano Maldonado had been initially arrested.

Escaping prison appears to be a family tradition. Lucio Maldonado also escaped prison in the Hidalgo state capital of Pachuca in 2012 while serving a sentence for kidnapping when armed men freed him as he was being transported to take medical exams on the outside, according to local media. Lucio Maldonado was rearrested in Mexicali in 2015.

It's believed that the Maldonado brothers began their criminal career in Michoacan working for now defunct cells connected to the Familia Michoacana and Los Caballeros Templarios. After the groups fractured, and other cartels moved into the region, the Maldonado's were forced to flee and pursue other criminal opportunities elsewhere.

Hidalgo authorities said they are working with federal forces to capture the escaped fugitives. They said that at least eight people were arrested in relation to aiding the prison break, and that three of the nine escapees have since been recaptured too. Maldonado, however, is believed to have fled the state after a photo spread of him paying a highway toll booth heading west less than an hour after the escape.