Mexico’s former prime cop on trial in New York on drug expenses

Only a few days into the trial of drug lord Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, a witness dropped a bombshell allegation: A Sinaloa cartel affiliate testified that he had personally given Mexico’s prime drug cop briefcases full of money — tens of millions in bribes to let the cartel function with impunity.

Now, the person who had been thought of an architect of Mexico’s anti-drug battle and a key accomplice of U.S. regulation enforcement is happening trial Tuesday in the identical New York federal courtroom. Genaro García Luna — head of Mexico’s model of the FBI from 2001 to 2006 and public safety minister from 2006 to 2012 — is accused of conspiring with the criminals he was ostensibly aiming to take down.

García Luna, 54, who was arrested in December 2019, is the very best rating Mexican official to face trial within the U.S. on drug-trafficking expenses — 4 counts of conspiracy to visitors cocaine. It’s as if the pinnacle of the FBI or Drug Enforcement Company was accused of taking tens of millions in drug cash.

García Luna regularly met with prime U.S. safety officers whereas in workplace and was typically portrayed as the general public face of Mexico’s drug warfare. However prosecutors say they plan to point out that the previous Mexican prime cop offered the cartel with secure passage for its drug shipments and with delicate details about investigations into the cartel or rival gangs.

That is an important nationwide safety and drug-trafficking trial of this century, much more so than El Chapo’s, stated Rodolfo Soriano Núñez, a sociologist and former professor who has lengthy studied the usage of army power in Mexico.

“We knew Chapo was dirty,” Soriano stated, “but Chapo is nothing but a peasant from rural Sinaloa.” García Luna, against this, was a robust public official who held the belief of Mexico’s president from 2006 to 2012, Felipe Calderón, who mobilized the army and federal police in what grew to become a bloody and greater than decadelong battle in opposition to drug cartels.

“It has the potential to unveil one of the key aspects of the so-called war on drugs here in Mexico,” Soriano stated, “which is that of the ties, the links, the connection between political power and the so-called drug gangs.”

A jury is anticipated to be chosen early this week, with opening statements within the Brooklyn courtroom quickly to comply with.

Mexico’s President Felipe Calderón speaks to the press in 2010 as Genaro García Luna, then safety minister, stands behind him.

(Alexandre Meneghini / Related Press)

The stakes of the trial

The testimony and proof that might come out on the trial may have far-reaching penalties on either side of the border.

With a profession spanning three many years, García Luna has intimate data of the drug warfare in Mexico and ties to the nation’s administrations going again to the early 2000s. And he had a very shut relationship with the DEA and FBI from the latter a part of President George W. Bush‘s second administration through President Obama’s first, stated Guadalupe Correa-Cabrera, a professor at George Mason College.

Revelations from the trial may very well be a serious stain on previous administrations in Mexico. To critics of the drug warfare, a conviction would verify the failure of the joint U.S.-Mexico effort, which obtained billions of {dollars} in U.S. support and was blamed for tens of hundreds of deaths — however did little to scale back cartel violence or smuggling.

“The collaboration has not resulted in the dismantling of drug-trafficking networks,” stated Correa-Cabrera. “Today, the United States consumes more drugs than ever before, and through the border more drugs than ever before enter the United States.”

The trial may put extra pressure on declining safety cooperation between the 2 international locations. Through the Calderón years, U.S. safety businesses had primarily a free cross to go wherever they needed in Mexico, Correa-Cabrera stated.

Las agencias entraban hasta la cocina,” stated Correa-Cabrera, utilizing a Mexican expression that interprets as “The agencies made it all the way into the kitchen.” She famous that Mexico’s present administration has shifted towards extra restricted cooperation with U.S. safety businesses on Mexican territory.

And with the 2024 U.S. presidential election in sight, consultants say america doesn’t maintain lots of leverage to stress Mexican authorities to alter that, contemplating how a lot Washington depends on Mexico Metropolis to regulate U.S.-bound migration by means of Mexico.

Who’s García Luna?

As minister of public safety from 2006 to 2012, García Luna is broadly thought to be the architect of Calderón’s controversial warfare on the drug cartels.

García Luna began his profession on the Nationwide Intelligence Heart, Mexico’s CIA equal, in 1989 and joined a particular counterterrorism unit. After almost a decade, he joined the federal police, and in 2001, then-President Vicente Fox named him head of the brand new Federal Investigation Company.

At the company, often known as the AFI, which has since been dissolved, García Luna led what was hailed as a metamorphosis of Mexico’s police forces.

In a collection of interviews that Correa-Cabrera had with García Luna in 2017 and 2018, he stated that the federal judicial police had ties to drug trafficking and that he had been given the accountability to wash it up.

“AFI was the promise of a better police, one not connected to drug trafficking,” she stated.

The Mexican authorities on the time likened the brand new company to the FBI. When Calderón took the presidency in 2006, he elevated García Luna to his Cupboard.

A man speaks at a podium in front of an image of a helicopter.

Genaro García Luna speaks throughout a 2011 ceremony in Mexico Metropolis.

(Alexandre Meneghini / Related Press)

Rumors and chilly trails

Quickly after Fox took workplace in 2000, the federal government captured a number of Sinaloa cartel members. However after that preliminary dash, issues quieted down. Opposition politicians and safety consultants began to query why the federal government’s hunt for the elusive cartel chief El Chapo appeared to have gone chilly.

Calderón’s declared warfare on the drug cartels shattered previous alliances and drove drug lords to combat over the territory. There have been high-profile arrests, however they have been largely from rival organizations such because the Zetas or the Beltrán Leyva group. Rumors of authorities favoritism towards the Sinaloa cartel grew louder.

Through the warmth of the drug wars in 2008, Mexicans in a number of states woke as much as banners or narcomantas hanging from bridges or unfold throughout the doorway to a cathedral that accused García Luna of defending drug sellers.

One of the crucial controversial claims appeared in a letter revealed in November 2012 within the pages of the well-regarded nationwide newspaper Reforma. Writing from jail, Édgar “La Barbie” Valdez Villareal, a drug kingpin from the Beltrán Leyva cartel, accused García Luna and his closest associates of receiving narco cash since 2002.

“I can attest that he has received money from me, from drug-trafficking groups and organized crime,” stated Valdez, earlier than including, “I may be guilty of a lot, but they, the officials, are part of the criminal structure of this country.”

Officers stated the accusations have been an try by Valdez to achieve privileges whereas in jail; García Luna remained untouched. (Valdez was sentenced in 2018 by a U.S. choose to 49 years in jail.)

García Luna’s life in Miami

When Calderón’s time period resulted in 2012, García Luna fell out of the general public eye. Married with two youngsters, he was granted everlasting residency in america and was quickly a routine visitor at conferences hosted by American universities.

He began a non-public safety consulting and danger administration agency with places of work in Miami and Mexico Metropolis. His clientele included overseas governments and corporations, and his major shopper was the Mexican authorities, his protection stated in pretrial filings.

In 2018, he utilized to change into a naturalized U.S. citizen. Earlier than his arrest in Miami, he was dwelling in a waterside mansion “with a dock and boat for his use,” all given to him by his enterprise companions as a result of “he had no wealth to speak of at the time,” García Luna’s protection wrote in a courtroom submitting.

“Because his business partners wanted to ensure Mr. García Luna’s continued involvement with their business, they provided him a place to live in Miami,” the protection wrote.

On to Brooklyn

It appears unlikely that García Luna’s trial — which is anticipated to final two months — shall be as theatrical as that of Guzmán, who was well-known worldwide as an escape artist who had lengthy eluded arrest.

However prosecutors have telegraphed in courtroom filings that they anticipate to current quite a few witnesses — together with former high-ranking members of the Sinaloa cartel — to testify concerning the bribes García Luna is accused of accepting.

The choose granted prosecutors’ requests for an nameless and partially sequestered jury, the identical protections that have been used throughout Guzmán’s trial.

The paperwork within the case are voluminous. García Luna’s public defender, assigned by the courtroom after the defendant’s belongings have been seized, has complained in preliminary courtroom appearances about having to undergo “millions of pages” of proof with little help.

If discovered responsible, García Luna may face a minimal of about 20 years in jail and a most of life.

One other arrest, at LAX

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has referred to as the case in opposition to García Luna emblematic of the institutional corruption of his predecessors, particularly Calderón, a longtime political adversary.

Nevertheless, López Obrador was livid when, the yr after García Luna’s arrest in Dallas, U.S. authorities detained a former Mexican protection secretary, Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda, moments after he landed together with his household at Los Angeles Worldwide Airport.

Like García Luna, Cienfuegos was charged with collaborating with Mexican drug cartels whereas in workplace.

López Obrador, going through fierce backlash from the highly effective army, denounced the fees in opposition to Cienfuegos and demanded that Washington launch the retired normal. The Trump administration finally dropped the fees and returned Cienfuegos to Mexico, the place he went free.

In Mexico, López Obrador — who as soon as assailed the deployment of the army in opposition to drug cartels — has been harshly criticized for vastly increasing the army’s function in inner safety.

“He is repeating the same mistakes [as Calderón],” Soriano stated.

Corona is a particular correspondent. Instances Mexico Metropolis bureau chief Patrick J. McDonnell contributed to this report.