Mex­i­can car­tel’s best pal

Gen. charged with help­ing drug gang & at­tack­ing its ri­vals

New York Daily News - - NEWS - BY NOAH GOLD­BERG

Mex­ico’s former top mil­i­tary of­fi­cial used his coun­try’s mil­i­tary might to pro­tect a vi­o­lent drug car­tel and go af­ter its op­po­nents, Brook­lyn fed­eral prose­cu­tors said Fri­day.

Gen. Sal­vador Cien­fue­gos Zepeda — who as sec­re­tary of na­tional de­fense, ran Mex­ico’s air force and mil­i­tary un­der Pres­i­dent En­rique Peña Ni­eto from 2012 to 2018 — was nabbed Thurs­day at Los An­ge­les Air­port with his fam­ily af­ter ar­riv­ing from Mex­ico.

Thou­sands of in­ter­cepted mes­sages from the gen­eral’s Black­Berry show that he used his power to en­sure that the Mex­i­can mil­i­tary did not chal­lenge Mex­ico’s vi­o­lent H-2 drug car­tel, prose­cu­tors said.

Zepeda, who re­ported di­rectly to Ni­eto, also con­ducted “mil­i­tary op­er­a­tions against its ri­val drug traf­fick­ing or­ga­ni­za­tions,” ac­cord­ing to prose­cu­tors.

“The de­fen­dant pri­or­i­tized his per­sonal greed over his sworn du­ties as a pub­lic ser­vant, and he as­sured the con­tin­ued suc­cess and safety of one of Mex­ico’s most vi­o­lent drug traf­fick­ing or­ga­ni­za­tions,” wrote As­sis­tant U.S. At­tor­ney Michael Robotti in court pa­pers Fri­day. “He has no re­spect for pub­lic au­thor­ity or the rule of law.”

The H-2 car­tel op­er­ates out of Na­yarit and Si­naloa on Mex­ico’s west coast, north­west of Mex­ico City.

It has dis­tri­bu­tion cells in many states in Amer­ica and pours thou­sands of pounds of co­caine, meth, heroin and mar­i­juana into the U.S., ac­cord­ing to the feds. The car­tel uses vi­o­lence, in­clud­ing tor­ture and mur­der, the feds said.

Zepeda was in di­rect con­ver­sa­tion with a se­nior leader within the car­tel and men­tioned his past aid to an­other car­tel, ac­cord­ing to the in­ter­cepted mes­sages.

There are also mes­sages be­tween Zepeda and other cor­rupt pub­lic of­fi­cials.

Prose­cu­tors asked a Brook­lyn judge to or­der Zepeda jailed without bail pend­ing his trial, ar­gu­ing he is a flight risk and that he could face life in prison if con­victed.

“The de­fen­dant would likely seek to lever­age his con­nec­tions to high-level H-2 Car­tel mem­bers in Mex­ico, as well as former high-level cor­rupt govern­ment of­fi­cials, to as­sist him in flee­ing from U.S. law en­force­ment and shel­ter him in Mex­ico,” Robotti wrote.

Zepeda was due in Los An­ge­les

Fed­eral Court Fri­day for his ini­tial ap­pear­ance.

The top gen­eral, known as “El Padrino,” faces four counts re­lated to nar­cotics dis­tri­bu­tion and money laun­der­ing, ac­cord­ing to the in­dict­ment un­sealed in Brook­lyn Fri­day af­ter­noon.

The in­dict­ment, filed un­der seal in Au­gust 2019, charged

Zepeda with tak­ing part in a con­spir­acy to man­u­fac­ture co­caine, meth, heroin and mar­i­juana and dis­trib­ute it in the United States. He’s also ac­cused of laun­der­ing the money he made from the drug busi­ness.

Zepeda is the lat­est in a line of cor­rupt Mex­i­can of­fi­cials and car­tel lead­ers pros­e­cuted by Brook­lyn fed­eral au­thor­i­ties.

Ge­naro Gar­cia Luna, the former Mex­i­can sec­re­tary of pub­lic se­cu­rity, was charged ear­lier this year with tak­ing mil­lions of dol­lars in bribes from the Si­naloa Car­tel — led by Joaquin “El Chapo” Guz­man — in ex­change for al­low­ing the drug traf­fick­ers to op­er­ate with im­punity, ac­cord­ing to the feds.

Guz­man him­self was charged with drug traf­fick­ing, money laun­der­ing and con­spir­acy in a highly-pub­li­cized trial in Brook­lyn last year, and was sen­tenced to life in prison.

Ivan Reyes Arzate, a former Mex­i­can fed­eral po­lice com­man­der, was charged in Jan­uary with pro­vid­ing pro­tec­tion and con­fi­den­tial DEA in­for­ma­tion to the car­tel in 2016, the feds al­lege.

Former De­fense Sec­re­tary Gen. Sal­vador Cien­fue­gos (left) re­ported di­rectly to Mex­i­can Pres­i­dent En­rique Pena Ni­eto (right). Cien­fue­gos is charged with help­ing a nor­to­ri­ous drug car­tel.

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