PHOTO: Jesus Malverde, the so-called Narco saint from Sinaloa, is becoming popular among illegal beaners in New York.
A “NARCO SAINT” revered by Mexican drug traffickers has become a hot seller in city botanicas, sharing shelf space with the Virgin of Guadalupe and St. Michael the Archangel.
Shop owners in Brooklyn and Queens say they’re selling out of prayer cards and candles featuring Jesus Malverde, a 19th-century folk hero who supposedly wards off law enforcement.
The icon is so closely associated with the drug trade across the border that U.S. prosecutors have been using it as evidence in narcotics cases.
“People come here to buy him for an altar for their home,” said Carlos Horiuchi, 31, who runs the La Guadalupana gift shop in Elmhurst, Queens.
“I think they sell marijuana, or maybe they just smoke it. I never ask people why. I just sell him to them.”
The mythical Robin Hood-type figure obviously isn’t recognized as a saint by the Catholic Church, but that hasn’t stopped his popularity from spreading from Mexico to New York.
Horiuchi sells an array of items, from $1 prayer cards to $160 statues of Malverde in his signature white shirt and red necktie, a pile of pesos under his left arm and a stack of bills in his right hand.
He has sold hundreds of two-foot statues and scores of beaded necklaces, scapulars and even baseball caps. Sales have picked up over the past six months, he said.
Said to be a 19th-century bandit hanged or shot by the authorities for his crimes, Malverde has been gaining traction in pop culture on both sides of the border.
A Mexican brewery named a beer after him, and his Sinaloa shrine was featured in a popular Telemundo soap opera.
In AMC’s methamphetamine drama “Breaking Bad,” a narcotics agent makes fun of a co-worker for putting a bust of Malverde on his desk.
A federal judge in New Mexico ruled this spring that prosecutors could include a Malverde prayer card as evidence in drug cases.
Several other states have also used Malverde items to make cases, but an NYPD spokeswoman said he isn’t yet on the radar in New York.
Praying to the saint who helps the worst of sinners isn’t necessarily nefarious.
Some believers say Malverde and other narco-saints like the skeletal La Santa Muerte are the only ones powerful enough to protect them from the violent drug war ripping through Mexico.
Several devotees told El Diario last month they pray to Malverde using two candles, three flowers and three stones wrapped in a handkerchief because they believe he brought them over the border safely and will help them get a job.
“It depends on what you believe,” said Amanda Ortiz, 74, owner of La Girasol in Sunset Park, who sells about a dozen Malverde candles a week.
She said many simply turn to Malverde in times of great danger.
“I stock the candles because they are popular among Mexicans here. . . . It just started growing, little by little,” she said.