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Mexican Casino Fire: Owner Received Extortion Threats, Didn't Pay

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MEXICAN CASINO FIRE
Police officers escort alleged members of the Zetas drug cartel during their presentation to the press in Monterrey, Mexico, Tuesday, Aug. 30 2011. Police arrested five alleged members of the Zetas drug cartel suspected of the arson fire at a casino in Monterrey last Thursday that killed 52 people. (AP Photo/Hans-Maximo Musielik) | AP

MEXICO CITY -- An owner of a northern Mexico casino where 52 people died in an arson attack had received extortion threats and didn't pay, a federal prosecutor said Thursday.

Casino Royale owner Raul Rocha Cantu received demands of $50,000, then $140,000, Jose Salinas of the Mexico Attorney General's Office told the Televisa network.

Salinas said "it wouldn't be appropriate" to say how the threats were carried out or by whom.

Rocha, who said he fled to the U.S. in fear of his safety after the Aug. 25 attack, gave his statement to the Mexican consulate in Miami. He and co-owner Jorge Rocha Cantu were ordered to appear by Mexican authorities.

Raul Rocha told authorities he arrived at the casino in the industrial city of Monterrey as smoke poured from the windows and doors.

"He started getting calls from acquaintances asking how he was doing," Salinas said. "He decided to leave the country for his protection."

Gunmen entered the Casino Royale in the industrial city of Monterrey, spread gasoline and set the building on fire, trapping and asphyxiating dozens of gamblers and employees. Most of the victims were women playing bingo and slots or lunching that afternoon.

A state police officer and five alleged members of the Zetas drug cartel have been arrested in the case.

Mexican authorities have identified another 18 suspects and are offering $1.3 million dollars for information leading to the arrest of each.

Officials also have launched a corruption probe after leaked videos showed the brother of Monterrey Mayor Fernando Larrazabal taking wads of cash inside the nearby Casino Red days before the attack on the Casino Royale.

Mexico's ruling party this week asked Nuevo Leon state Gov. Rodrigo Medina and Larrazabal to step down temporarily while police investigate the arson. Neither has so far, and Larrazabal is conducting polls to see what his constituents want him to do.

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