Authorities: Prime Mexico official helped smuggle medication to US

Los Angeles, October 17

Mexico’s former defence secretary helped a cartel smuggle thousands of kilograms of cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine and marijuana into the United States in exchange for bribes, according to court documents unsealed Friday.

General Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda, 72, acted on behalf of the H-2 cartel while being the defence secretary from 2012 to 2018 under former president Enrique Pena Nieto, authorities said.

Thousands of intercepted BlackBerry messages show the general ensured military operations were not conducted against the cartel, and that the operations were initiated against rivals, according to prosecutors.

Cienfuegos allegedly introduced cartel leaders to other corrupt Mexican officials.

Cienfuegos — also known as “El Padrino,” or “The Godfather”, according to the indictment — is accused of alerting cartel leaders to a US law enforcement investigation into its operations and the use of cooperating witnesses and informants, which resulted in the murder of a member of the cartel that leaders incorrectly believed was assisting US law enforcement authorities.

Intercepted communications between Cienfuegos and a senior cartel leader discussed the general’s historical assistance to another drug trafficking organisation, as well as communications, in which the defendant was identified by name, title and photograph as the Mexican government official assisting the H-2 cartel, authorities said.

Mexico authorities don’t identify any drug cartel as H-2, which, according to US officials, was led by Juan Francisco Patrón Sánchez.

Instead, Mexican officials alleged Patrón Sánchez was a regional leader of the Beltrán Leyva drug cartel. He was killed in 2017 in a shootout with Mexican marines.

US authorities said in court documents that the cartel had numerous distribution cells in the US when Cienfuegos led the Mexican military, including Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Ohio, Minnesota, North Carolina and New York.

In Mexico, the cartel is accused of trafficking hundreds of firearms and committing “countless acts of horrific violence, including torture and murder, in order to protect against challenges from rival drug trafficking organizations, fight for territory and silence those who would cooperate with law enforcement”.

Cienfuegos was indicted by a grand jury in the Eastern District of New York on August 14, 2019, on charges of conspiracy to participate in the international distribution of heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine and marijuana and money laundering.

He could face a mandatory sentence of at least 10 years in prison if convicted on the conspiracy charges alone.

Federal prosecutors will ask that Cienfuegos be denied bail, saying he is a major flight risk. They say he last visited the United States in March 2019, and if he were captured in Mexico, extradition to the US could take years.

“While the United States and Mexico have an extradition treaty, it will be extremely difficult to apprehend the defendant in Mexico if the H-2 Cartel and powerful former government officials shield him,” Seth DuCharme, acting US attorney for the Eastern District of New York, wrote the court.

The Drug Enforcement Administration, which issued the arrest warrant, declined to comment. AP

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