Exmilitary leader arrested in U. S. on drug, money charges
Mexico’s former defense secretary helped smuggle thousands of kilograms of cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine and marijuana into the United States in exchange for bribes, according to court documents unsealed Friday in New York City.
Gen. Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda, 72, acted on behalf of the H2 cartel while defense secretary from 2012 to 2018 under former President Enrique Peña Nieto, authorities said.
He was arrested Thursday upon arrival at Los Angeles International Airport. A senior Mexican official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said Cienfuegos was arrested with family members who were released and he was taken to the Metropolitan Detention Center.
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.
Cienfuegos, 72, was indicted by a grand jury in the Eastern District of New York on Aug. 14, 2019. He is expected to be transferred to New York, where his case is being handled.
Cienfuegos is the highestranking former Cabinet official arrested since top Mexican security official Genaro Garcia Luna was taken into custody in Texas in 2019. Garcia Luna, who served under former President Felipe Calderon, has pleaded not guilty to drug trafficking charges.
The arrest of Cienfuego is a tough blow for Mexico, where the army and navy are some of the few remaining respected public institutions.
Current President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has vowed to go after corruption and lawbreaking under past administrations.
Retired Gen. Salvador Cienfuegos ( left) joins former President Enrique Peña Nieto at a military parade in Mexico City in 2016.