Bloomberg — Genaro Garcia Luna, once in charge of Mexico’s war on drugs, was convicted for secretly providing years of protection to imprisoned former cartel chief Joaquín ‘El Chapo’ Guzmán and his organization.
Accused of helping cartel members import and distribute massive quantities of drugs into the US, García Luna was found guilty on Tuesday by a federal jury in Brooklyn, New York, after a four-week trial that uncovered how narco traffickers worked with the very Mexican government official appointed to go after them.
The 54-year-old former cabinet minister led Mexico’s Federal Investigation Agency (AFI) from 2001 to 2005. Later, while serving as head of public security from 2006 to 2012 for then Mexican president Felipe Calderon, he oversaw the nation’s efforts to combat the illicit narcotics trade.
Arrested in 2019, Garcia Luna is the highest-ranking Mexican official to have faced trial in the US on drug-trafficking charges.
García Luna faces a mandatory minimum of 20 years in prison and as long as life after being convicted of the most serious charge, engaging in a continuous criminal enterprise.
The trial was followed closely on both sides of the border. An acquittal would have been another failure of efforts to crack down on Mexico’s seemingly untouchable political class after former Defense Minister Salvador Cienfuegos was arrested in the US and expedited to Mexico, only for the charges to be dropped.
Cartel as cop
During the trial, the US called to the stand nine former cartel members as cooperating witnesses. They described how García Luna secretly placed Sinaloa members on the Mexican federal police payrolls, while providing them with official vehicles, uniforms and badges. The phony officers, and sometimes real federal police working for García Luna, helped cartel workers unload drugs on airport tarmacs and tipped the drug lords to imminent raids by US authorities.
They even got the satisfaction of having the police arrest rival traffickers — and sometimes got to keep the seized drugs.
In exchange for his help, the cartel rewarded García Luna with a fortune, the jury heard.
“He used his official position to make millions of dollars for himself from the people he was supposed to prosecute,” Assistant US Attorney Saritha Komatireddy told the jurors in her closing argument.
SUV stuffed With cash
Jesus ‘El Rey’ Zambada, who ran Sinaloa’s operations at Mexico City’s airport, testified that in late 2006 he stuffed bags with at least $5 million and spirited them to an intermediary for delivery to García Luna at a posh restaurant in the capital.
In turn, Zambada said, García Luna agreed to shield his brother, a cartel boss, and others from law enforcement.
One former Mexican federal police officer who went to work for the cartel, Sergio Villarreal Barragán, testified that García Luna was paid as much as $1.5 million a month for his services. After he was promoted to Mexico’s security chief, he and his associates were paid about $230 million more for the additional protection they were able to give the cartel, allowing it to expand across Mexico, Barragán told the jury.
García Luna once helped the notorious drug lord Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzmán intercept a rival gang’s two-ton cocaine shipment, arriving at a warehouse with other drug bosses and agreeing to divide the drug profits evenly, Barragán testified. Mexico’s former top cop was paid $14 million to $16 million from cash crammed in cardboard boxes, he said.
“There were so many boxes they didn’t fit in their SUV,” Barragán told the jurors. So the traffickers lent García Luna a car to help him lug away his take, Barragán said.
Best Market: New York
All told, the cartel sent an estimated 100 tons of cocaine a month into the US, worth $2.8 billion to $3 billion a year in pure profit, Zambada testified.
“The market that pays the best is here in New York,” he told the panel.
Jurors heard how the drugs were transported to the US on cargo planes, private jets, submarines and even in specially built freight trains disguised as oil transports but containing secret compartments of coke.
The cartel’s trains ran from Mexico directly to New York City, witnesses said, ferrying thousands of kilos of cocaine. As a result, one narco trafficker testified, the enhanced security that corrupt officials like García Luna provided helped him bring $700 million to $1 billion of cocaine into the US, Komatireddy told the jurors.
The Defense: Revenge
Defense lawyer César de Castro, arguing his client’s innocence, worked to persuade the jury that the the cartel members and former officials testifying against García Luna wanted payback for his tough stance on drugs.
“What better revenge against your common enemy but to bury the man who led the war against the cartel?” he said in his opening statement.
In his closing, De Castro told the jury that prosecutors “made a deal with the devil” by giving admitted traffickers who had killed and tortured their victims a “free pass,” offering them leniency at sentencing in exchange for their testimony against García Luna.
The case is US v. Garcia Luna, 19-cr-576, US District Court, Eastern District of New York (Brooklyn).
--With assistance from Maya Averbuch.
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