Top Mexican of­fi­cial helped smug­glers, U. S. says

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette - - Internatio­nal -

LOS AN­GE­LES — Mex­ico’s for­mer de­fense 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.

Gen. Sal­vador Cien­fue­gos Zepeda, 72, acted on be­half of the H- 2 car­tel while act­ing as de­fense 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 oper­a­tions were ini­ti­ated against ri­vals, ac­cord­ing to prose­cu­tors. Gen. Cien­fue­gos al­legedly in­tro­duced car­tel lead­ers to other cor­rupt Mexican of­fi­cials.

Gen. Cien­fue­gos — also known as “El Padrino,” or “The God­fa­ther,” ac­cord­ing to the in­dict­ment — is ac­cused of alert­ing car­tel lead­ers to a U. S. 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 U. S. law en­force­ment au­thor­i­ties.

In­ter­cepted com­mu­ni­ca­tions be­tween Gen. Cien­fue­gos and a se­nior car­tel leader dis­cussed the gen­eral’s his­tor­i­cal as­sis­tance to an­other drug traf­fick­ing or­ga­ni­za­tion, as well as com­mu­ni­ca­tions in which the de­fen­dant is 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 U. S. 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.

U. S. au­thor­i­ties said in court doc­u­ments the car­tel had nu­mer­ous dis­tri­bu­tion cells in the U. S. when Gen. 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.”

Gen. Cien­fue­gos made an ini­tial court ap­pear­ance Fri­day by video from his Los An­ge­les de­ten­tion fa­cil­ity, wear­ing a dark- col­ored jacket and a face mask. He had an in­ter­preter but an­swered U. S. District Judge Alexan­der MacKinnon’s pro­ce­dural ques­tions in English, say­ing “yes” and “yes, your honor.”

The judge or­dered Gen. Cien­fue­gos held with­out bail un­til a hear­ing Tues­day in Los An­ge­les. His at­tor­ney, Duane Lyons, ap­peared by video and did not im­me­di­ately re­spond to re­quests for com­ment.

Gen. Cien­fue­gos was in­dicted by a grand jury in the East­ern District of New York on Aug. 14, 2019, on charges of money laun­der­ing and con­spir­acy to par­tic­i­pate in in­ter­na­tional dis­tri­bu­tion of heroin, co­caine, metham­phetamine. He could face a manda­tory sen­tence of at least 10 years in prison if con­victed on the con­spir­acy charges.

Fed­eral prose­cu­tors asked that Gen. 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 U. S. could take years.

Rebecca Black­well/ As­so­ci­ated Press

De­fense Sec­re­tary Gen. Sal­vador Cien­fue­gos, left, and Mex­ico’s Pres­i­dent En­rique Pena Ni­eto, sa­lute dur­ing the an­nual In­de­pen­dence Day mil­i­tary pa­rade in Mex­ico City’s main square on Sept. 16, 2016.

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