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October 1, 2014

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Las Vegas man behind cartel-style billboard threats in Texas, police say

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AP Photo/El Paso Times, Victor Calzada

An El Paso, Texas, police officer checks a makeshift mannequin Thursday, May 22, 2014, which was left hanging on a billboard along with the message, “silver or lead” in Spanish, a threat heard in Mexico signifying pay up or get shot.

Click to enlarge photo

This May 26, 2014 booking photo provided by the El Paso County Sheriff's Office shows Ryan Jean in El Paso, Texas. Jean was arrested for painting threatening graffiti on two billboards in El Paso with messages very similar to those used by Mexican drug cartels.

EL PASO, Texas — A Las Vegas man admitted to police that he painted drug cartel-style threats and hung two mannequins from El Paso billboards in an effort to show that people die because of the drug trade into the United States, according to arrest affidavits.

Police arrested Ryan Jean on May 25 at the El Paso International Airport as he tried to board a plane back to Las Vegas. Arrest affidavits say that three days earlier, he climbed the posts of two billboards to paint messages that read "Dying for Drugs" and "Plata o Plomo," which translates to "Silver or Lead" — an expression commonly used by drug cartels to intimidate people to either pay money, such as silver, or be killed with a lead bullet.

He also hung two mannequins from the billboards, something that prompted panicked calls to 911 lines. Mexican drug cartels are known to hang their victims from bridges as a way to convey messages and the signs painted in huge white letters on black background caused many to speculate whether businesses were being extorted in El Paso, a city located across the border from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.

Jean faces two charges of graffiti, two charges of criminal trespassing and one charge of criminal mischief. He was booked into the El Paso County jail on May 26 and released after posting $21,800 in surety bonds the next day.

The affidavits say investigators found a fingerprint on a hardware store plastic bag used to line the head of one of the mannequins and an FBI search matched it with Jean. Also, Jean's fingerprints were found at the second billboard location.

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