Case of 2 Canadian Mob Suspects Murdered in Mexico Just Keeps Getting Weirder
MEXICO CITY — Two Canadians were gunned down at a resort on Mexico’s famed Yucatan Peninsula last week in what seemed like another instance of rising violence affecting tourists along the Caribbean beaches of the state of Quintana Roo.
But the case quickly took an odd turn when local authorities claimed the victims were actually connected to organized crime, and then arrested an alleged Mexican kidnapper and a Canadian woman on Tuesday who they said set the two men up to be murdered.
The attack took place at the Hotel Xcaret south of Playa del Carmen on January 21. A group of ten Canadians were vacationing at the resort, including Robert James Dinh, also known as Cong Dinh, and Thomas Cheruka, both aged 34. While at the expansive seaside hotel, the two men were approached by a man in a jumpsuit who unloaded his handgun. Dinh and Cheruka were both rushed to the hospital, where they were pronounced dead. A third woman who was with the group of Canadians was also injured, but survived.
“The investigations indicate that this attack was motivated by debts that arose from transnational illegal activities that the victims participated in,” said Quintana Roo State Prosecutor Óscar Montes de Oca at a news conference. “The information is that they were involved in weapons and drug trafficking, among other crimes.”
Little is known about Dinh and Cheruka, but Canadian media reported that both may have been connected to Vietnamese organized crime groups operating in Canada. In 2019, Canadian authorities offered a $50,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of Dinh and alleged that he had helped launder millions of drug dollars. Cheruka was charged in Toronto in June 2015 as part of a police operation that targeted cocaine, marijuana and MDMA sales.
Montes de Oca also announced the arrest of two people related to the murders, a Mexican man who reportedly had a history of kidnapping and had been hired to carry out the murder, and a Canadian woman who had been traveling with Dinh and Cheruka. Only their first names were released. The prosecutor said that while the woman “cared for the children” of the victims, she'd also provided information to the killers on the group’s activities.
The kidnapper had planned the hit, according to Montes de Oca, but not without problems. The official claimed that a first group of hitmen contracted to murder the Canadians in January decided to bail on the murders because of the security presence at the hotel. He then allegedly contracted a second assassin who flew from Mexico City to carry out the hit.
The alleged gunman has been identified by Mexican media as a known criminal who goes by the pseudonym “El Sureño”—The Southerner. El Sureño remains on the lam, along with an alleged accomplice who provided him with the murder weapon.
The murders of the two Canadians came after a series of violent incidents affecting tourists in the popular travel destination known as the Riviera Maya, a ribbon of beaches unfurling from Cancun south to Tulum. A travel blogger from California and a German citizen were killed during a shootout at a restaurant in Tulum in October. Two weeks later, 15 gunmen wearing ski masks rolled up via boat to a Cancun beach to confront rival drug dealers, causing hundreds of vacationers to flee indoors to the nearby hotel.
On Tuesday, the Argentine manager of a beach club in Playa del Carmen was killed by two men who entered the club and shot him in the bathroom. Montes de Oca told local media that a local gang, Los Pelones, was suspected in the murder.
The same day, the U.S. Embassy in Mexico warned visitors to the region to “exercise increased caution” in Quintana Roo. “Criminal activity and violence may occur throughout the state, including areas frequented” by U.S. tourists, the alert read.