updated 8/13/2009 9:15:12 PM ET 2009-08-14T01:15:12

Members of a group of Mexican drug traffickers have been indicted in the murders of nine people in the San Diego area — including two victims whose bodies were dissolved in acid, authorities announced Thursday.

The group of 17 men also collected hundreds of thousands in dollars in ransom payments for kidnappings, the indictment alleged. Victims were abducted by men dressed in police uniforms and wearing badges while walking down the streets or in their driveways, then held in rented homes and sometimes killed, authorities said.

"Los Palillos" gang — "The Toothpicks," in English — operated in the late 1990s and early 2000s in Tijuana, Mexico, as a cell of the Arellano Felix cartel, named for one of Mexico's most notorious drug trafficking families, said Mark Amador, a deputy district attorney. The gang of U.S. and Mexican citizens moved to the San Diego area around 2002 to deal in marijuana and methamphetamine after a leader was killed in a feud inside the Tijuana-based cartel.

Three tied to the ring killed in Tijuana
Nine of the 17 men indicted by a San Diego County grand jury on charges including murder, kidnapping and robbery were in custody, and the others were at large. Authorities said three other men tied to the ring were recently killed in Tijuana.

The murders and abductions allegedly occurred between 2004 and 2007. District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis said the organization is "essentially dismantled."

Five men named in the 22-count indictment already have been convicted of other crimes, including alleged ringleader Jorge Rojas Lopez, 30, who was sentenced in January to life in prison without parole for a 2007 kidnapping in Chula Vista that sparked the investigation.

Rojas, whose brother's murder in Tijuana allegedly prompted the gang to flee to San Diego, is charged with all nine murders, starting with a triple homicide in 2004. Residents found seven corpses dumped in San Diego and suburban Chula Vista and Bonita. Two bodies were allegedly dissolved in acid at a rented San Diego house in May 2007.

Two men are accused of trying to kill a Chula Vista police officer during a chase in 2005.

There is no evidence that any of the victims were linked to drug trafficking or other crimes, Amador said.

Some Tijuana residents moving
The crimes described in the indictment are common a few miles away, south of the U.S.-Mexico border in Tijuana, where warring drug gangs are largely responsible for more than 800 murders in the city last year. The Arellano Felix cartel, which rose to power in the late 1980s and weakened considerably in recent years, is known for dissolving bodies of their victims in vats of acid.

Mexico's drug-fueled violence has prompted some wealthier Tijuana residents to move to spacious new homes in the gated communities and quiet streets of Chula Vista, a city of 230,000 people where some of the crimes in the indictment allegedly occurred.

The grand jury received testimony from more than 120 witnesses who said the assailants used handguns and tasers to rob, kidnap and kill victims, authorities said.

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