Mexican cartel’s best pal
Gen. charged with helping drug gang & attacking its rivals
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.