Two former high-ranking Mexican law enforcement officials have been accused of taking millions of dollars in bribes to protect Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán’s notorious Sinaloa cartel, federal prosecutors said Thursday.
Luis Cárdenas Palomino and Ramón Pequeño García allegedly worked for Genaro García Luna, Mexico’s former top security official, who is also facing drug trafficking charges. According to prosecutors, the three men “permitted the Sinaloa Cartel to operate with impunity in Mexico.”
García Luna is pending trial in New York on charges he conspired to traffic cocaine and made false statements. On Thursday, a superseding indictment charged him with continuing criminal enterprise. Cárdenas Palomino and Pequeño García have not been arrested, prosecutors said.
“Through today’s superseding indictment, García Luna and his co-conspirators will face justice for offenses involving the importation and the distribution of massive quantities of dangerous drugs into the United States,” said Seth D. DuCharme, Acting United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York.
From 2001 to 2005, García Luna led Mexico’s federal investigation agency, and from 2006 to 2012, he served as Mexico’s Secretary of Public Security.
García Luna denies the charges and says he intends to fight them at his New York City trial. His defense attorney, César de Castro, has said the case is built upon the discredited — and self-serving — accounts of drug traffickers.
García Luna is accused of accepting tens of millions of dollars in bribes — often stuffed in briefcases full of cash — to shield the Sinaloa cartel from law enforcement.
Before convicting Guzmán last year, jurors in his New York trial heard former cartel member Jesús Zambada testify that he personally made at least $6 million in hidden payments to García Luna, on behalf of his older brother, cartel boss Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada.
Guzmán was sentenced to life in prison last year after a jury convicted him in a massive drug conspiracy involving murder and mayhem.
ProPublica reporter, Ginger Thompson wrote, “the grand jury found that instead of fighting cartels, there is evidence that these men were collaborating with (cartel) and accepted bribes from them.”
Regarding Ramón Pequeño, the report mentioned that “he supervised the anti-drugs units that were specially examined by the U.S. Drugs Control Administration and that were related to two massacres in Mexico that left tens, and possibly hundreds of dead and missing people.”
Pequeño García, who was the chief of intelligence at the Federal Police, and Cárdenas Palomino, former chief of the Regional Security Division of the same institution, and both of whom belonged to García Luna’s closest circle, has been previously praised by U.S. authorities on their fight against Mexican drug cartels.
Although the accusations do not directly link Pequeño and Cárdenas Palomino to those cases, they mention leakage of information and suggest both of them were related to drug cartels
Last May, Mexicos’ Financial Intelligence Unit (UIF) informed it presented a complaint against Cárdenas Palomina over money laundering and his bank accounts were frozen.
According to the ProPublica report, Pequeño García, Cárdenas Palomino, and García Luna had a high level of cooperation with the Sinaloa cartel. The Mexican officials agreed not to interfere with the cartel’s operation, most of which was based in the U.S. Moreover, they provided the cartel leaders with information about legal operations against them and focused on arrests involving other cartels. In addition, they put the most corrupt officials to monitor security agencies in the areas where the Sinaloa cartel operated.
The accusations are part of an investigation on corruption at the Mexican government that began after Joaquín “El Chapo Guzmán” was declared guilty of 10 crimes related to drug trafficking and for which he was sentenced to life in prison.
In his morninig news briefing, President López Obrador asserted there are extradition requests against Luis Cárdenas Palomino and Ramón Eduardo Pequeño.
“I have information from the prosecutors carrying out and investigation on the García Luna case, there is an investigation, even an extradition request, also for his team.
“So it is likely that there are investigation, mainly at the UIF, regarding these people who were indicted yesterday in the U.S., and I’m certain the prosecutors will act on it,” asserted the president at the National Palace.
Ramón Eduardo Pequeño García
Ramón Eduardo Pequeño García was always loyal to his friend and former boss, to whom he reported when he was in front of the Intelligence Division of the Federal Police during the Enrique Peña Nieto administration.
His police career faded after “El Chapo” escaped from the El Altiplano máximum security prison; he was in charge of monitoring Guzmán Loera’s cell, who escaped from the prison in 2015 through a tunnel build by his operators in the prison.
In front of the Intelligence Division, Pequeño García was in charge of monitoring the El Altiplano prison.
After the escape, Pequeño García was moved to the Scientific Division of the Federal Police, from where he was dismissed by then-Interior Minister Miguel Ángel Osorio.
When García Luna was the Public Security Minister, Pequeño García was appointed chief of the Anti-Drugs Division, so he was in charge of fighting the Sinaloa Cartel and tracking “El Chapo,” whom he was never able to arrest.
In that Division, he was the boss of the former Federal Police commander Iván Reyes Arzate, who declared himself guilty in the U.S. of selling confidential information to the Beltrán Leyva cartel for $3 million.
During the beginning of the Peña Nieto administration, Pequeño García continued as chief of the Anti-Drugs Division and after the departure of the National Security commissioner Manuel Mondragón, he earned the trust of Monte Alejandro Rubido, who put him in front of the Investigation Division in 2014.
Luis Cárdenas Palomino
Luis Cárdenas Palomino was in front of the Regional Security Division and was considered García Luna’s operative arm.
He was pointed out by Edgar Valdez Villareal, “La Barbie,” of receiving bribes from the Beltrán Leyva brothers.
In 2012, Cárdenas Palomino announced his leave from the Federal Police to join the private sector. “The main motives to begin this new stage are the satisfaction of fulfilling my duty and my wish to give back with time the support of my family at all times and circumstances that stemmed from my work,” he wrote in his Facebook account.
“As every public officer, I’ve been exposed to criticism, many of which are sterile and lack arguments, which in addition to suggesting criminal behaviors from me, have the objective of discrediting the police function,” he said.
If they are found guilty, García Luna faces from 20 years to life in prison for organized crime; Cárdenas Palomino and Pequeño García face from 10 years to life in prison over conspiracy for cocaine trafficking.
Since Wednesday, July 29, the UIF blocked the assets of Pequeño García’s bank accounts due to his alleged participation in a money-laundering scheme through shell companies that also involved García Luna and Luis Cárdenas Palomino.
Since April 2020, the UIF filed a complaint against Cárdenas Palomino at the FGR and ordered to freeze his accounts since it detected a shell company with which he laundered funds whose origin is allegedly illicit.
Cárdenas Palomino has sought to unfreeze his bank accounts in Mexico but the COVID-19 pandemic has prevented him from doing so.
According to the court, the Fifth Collegiate Court in Administrative Matters has suspended the procedure of a legal recourse presented by Cárdenas Palomino in which he seeks to undo a federal judge’s decision that prevented him from unfreezing his bank accounts.
This is because the recourse was admitted on March 12, 2020, but the Federal Judicial Council (CJF) suspended its in-person labors and judicial resolutions due to the COVID-19 pandemic and is currently exclusively attending urgent matters.
The suspension denial disputed by Cárdenas Palomino was issued by the Fifteenth District Judge in Administrative Matters in the writ of amparo he presented in December 2019 after the UIF, led by Santiago Nieto, ordered to freeze his bank accounts.
Mexico’s government is investigating the former chief of Regional Security of the Federal Police and other four public officers close to García Luna over alleged links to organized crime.