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Mexico's oldest drug lord just left prison

Ernesto Fonseca Carrillo, aka Don Neto, was transferred to house arrest. He helped found Mexico's first drug trafficking cartel and is serving a sentence for killing a DEA agent.

by Nathaniel Janowitz
Jul 28 2016, 6:02pm

Archivo Agencia EL UNIVERSAL/JMA (GDA via AP Images)

As Mexico's drug trafficking landscape adapts to the slow demise of its most legendary capos, one of the men who helped start it all is being released from prison.

Ernesto Fonseca Carrillo was moved to house arrest on Thursday after his family obtained a judge's order based on his old age and ill health. His exact age is unknown, with reports ranging from 73 to 86 years old.

Commonly known as 'Don Neto,' Fonseca has served 31 years of a 40 year sentence for his involvement in the 1985 kidnapping, torture, and murder of DEA agent Enrique "Kiki" Camarena.

A Don Corleone-esque figure, Don Neto helped pave the way for modern Mexican drug trafficking cartels.

He founded a group of traffickers known as the Guadalajara cartel in the late 70s along with his partner, the younger Miguel Ángel Félix Gallardo. Initially they focused on Mexican heroin and marijuana, before forging connections with Pablo Escobar and other Colombian traffickers to move cocaine into the United States markets.

The illicit routes into the US they established still serve as popular transit points today.

The Mexican authorities dismantled the organization after the 1985 murder of DEA agent Camarena sparked major US pressure. Don Neto, Félix Gallardo, and another key member of the group, Rafael Caro Quintero, were all arrested and convicted for his death within a few years.

Caro Quintero, who was released three years ago on a technicality but is now on the run from new arrest warrants, gave an interview from hiding published last weekend in which he denied killing the American official. He also claimed that the murderers are now dead or in jail, and that he'll eventually reveal everything in a tell-all book.

Related: Fugitive Mexican drug lord Rafael Caro Quintero pleads for a 'second chance'

Don Neto's legacy is evident in the various cartels that spawned out of the wreckage of the Guadalajara cartel.

His nephew, Amado Carrillo Fuentes, went on to form the once powerful Juárez cartel, which during the 90s controlled much of Mexico's drug trade. Carrillo Fuentes earned the nickname El Señor de los Cielos — The Lord of the Skies — due to his use of large planes to traffic drugs.

Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán, whose 2015 prison escape and rearrest in January turned the already well known gangster into a kind of international celebrity, worked as a hitman in the Guadalajara cartel before going on to lead the Sinaloa cartel.

The nephews of Don Neto's former partner — the still-imprisoned Miguel Ángel Félix Gallardo — went on to create the Arellano Félix organization, also known as the Tijuana cartel.

The originators of these three spin-off cartels are mostly now dead or in jail.

Related: After El Chapo: The World's 10 Most Wanted Drug Lords

Follow Nathaniel Janowitz on Twitter: @ngjanowitz