MEXICO CITY — An alleged drug cartel leader appears on the Mexican government's 2010 teacher payroll as part of the staff of an elementary school in a rural town, according to the federal education department's website.
Payroll documents posted on the website show that checks totaling about $4,000 were issued to Servando Gomez, a reputed leader of the La Familia cartel, during the first three months of the year for teaching at Melchor Ocampo Elementary School in his hometown of Arteaga in Michoacan state.
Michoacan's education department said its files show that they began canceling payment checks to Gomez in June 2009, when the department conducted "a thorough review of its payroll," the department said in a statement.
"It is false that the person mentioned (in the article) received the gross income of 51,811 pesos in the first quarter of 2010," it said, adding that it had canceled the checks sent in Gomez's name and that the funds had been returned to the federal education department. The department made public a canceled check made out to Gomez and dated September 2010.
Mexico's Education Secretary Alonso Lujambio said Wednesday it is up to the local education department to explain Gomez's hiring because "the states are responsible for their teachers."
State officials said Gomez first entered Michoacan's school system in late 1985 but didn't say when he left. Jesus Adame, a spokesman for Michoacan's government, said there would be no further comment on the case.
La Familia, which officials say is Mexico's main trafficker of methamphetamine, captured nationwide attention in 2006 by rolling severed heads into a disco in the city of Uruapan. Shortly afterward President Felipe Calderon sent thousands of federal troops and police into Michoacan, his home state.
The Attorney General's office first mentioned Gomez as a leader of La Familia in March 2009, when it offered $2.4 million for information leading to his arrest.
Four months later, Gomez, who is known as "La Tuta" or "El Profe," called a live television program in Michoacan and admitted he is a member of La Familia, one of Mexico's largest and most brutal cartels.
Gomez faces trial in New York on charges that he conspired to import and distribute large quantities of methamphetamine and cocaine into the United States from Mexico.
Last month, a letter dropped on streets of several Michoacan mountain towns and e-mailed to journalists said La Familia would disband if the government negotiates with the cartel to protect Michoacan citizens.
A captured La Familia suspect later said under police interrogation that the letter was real, that the cartel was in decline and that Gomez has suggested it give up.
(This version CORRECTS day education secretary spoke to Wednesday instead of Tuesday)