Mexico arrests leader of "Saint Death" cult

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Mexican police have arrested the leader of Mexico's "Saint Death" cult and accused him of kidnapping and posing as a member of the feared Zetas drug cartel.

David Romo, considered the high priest of a cult with millions of followers across the Americas, was presented to the media on Tuesday in the Mexican capital after being arrested in late December along with eight others including a minor.

Romo, 42, is accused of helping to kidnap two elderly people and depositing the ransom payment in his bank account, Mexico City's attorney general's office said.

"The nine captured ... passed themselves off as members of the Zetas," Prosecutor Miguel Angel Mancera told a news conference.

The Zetas are one of Mexico's most violent drug gangs that are fighting rivals and security forces across the country in a four-year-long battle that has killed more than 30,000 people.

Romo has denied any wrongdoing and said his church condemns violence and has no links to drug traffickers, but that he leaves the door open to everyone.

Known as "Santa Muerte" in Spanish, the saint is often depicted as a skeletal "grim reaper" draped in white satin robes, beaded necklaces and carrying a scythe. Followers leave offerings of tequila, rum, beer, cigarettes, cash, flowers and candy at altars adorned with rosaries and candles.

The Catholic Church frowns on the cult, whose origins may trace back to Aztec and Mayan death-gods or to ancient European traditions, but many devotees call themselves Catholics.

The lure of the death saint is that she is said to honor requests without judging them.

President Felipe Calderon launched an army assault on Mexico's drug gangs on taking office in December 2006, but his crackdown has sparked shocking violence across the country, worrying Washington and foreign investors. ... xico_drugs