US investigators are looking into the bank transactions and the origin of the finances of "Chepe Diablo," who was placed on the country's kingpin list earlier this year. He has important shares in grain importation businesses, hotels and a construction company in El Salvador, writes Salvadoran journalist Hector Silva. What might they dig up on the alleged Texis Cartel leader?
It was not the drugs that the Salvadoran police investigations linked to some of his associates -- it was the money that drew the attention of investigators from various federal law enforcement agencies in Washington and San Salvador. Jose Adan Salazar Umaña, alias "Chepe Diablo," was a man with too much money in an economy that, according to the US State Department (DOS), is very vulnerable to money laundering.
SEE ALSO: Chepe Diablo Profile
"There's still a lot of money that he [Salazar] is not able to justify. That is the most important thing in these investigations," said a US federal agent in Washington who is involved in the inquiries into Chepe Diablo.
A newspaper investigation found that Salazar Umaña had quintupled his earnings in six years: he went from reporting $2.7 million in 2004 to reporting $13.06 million in 2010.
"That is not by itself illegal, but there is a large portion of that money for which there is no explanation, and there is yet more money that has not been declared [by Salazar to Salvadoran tax authorities]," said a Salvadoran investigator who has studied the finances of Chepe Diablo since the beginning of the 2000s.
The US federal agent, who spoke on the condition of anonymity since he was discussing an investigation still underway, said that various US government agencies are participating in the investigations: the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), and the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). It was OFAC that informed the White House about Salazar Umaña and his money, and it was based on this report that President Barack Obama added the Salvadoran businessman to the list of international drug kingpins on May 31 this year.
Following this designation, according to the federal investigator and another two sources that have been involved in the case, OFAC sent letters to US providers that had sales agreements with Salazar Umaña, his companies or some of his associates, requesting that they terminate this relationship.
At least two companies, Chevron and ADM, have received communications from OFAC, according to US sources. The first of these, the petrol company, sold directly to Salazar Umaña, who at one point was the owner of at least eight gas stations. The second of these, the agricultural supply company, supplied Gumarsal, a company that Salazar Umaña was a founding member of, according to the Commerce Registry and Salvadoran police archives.
The US federal agent also confirmed that investigations now have been extended to more of Salazar Umaña's companies, including his hotel chain.
It's More about the Money than the Drugs
El Salvador is a country that, according to the US State Department (DOS), has caused concern among US authorities over its potential use as a base for the laundering of drug money and other illicit funds linked to organized crime in Central America. In 2014, the DOS included the country for the fourth consecutive year in a list of countries that do not meet certain regulations regarding the supervision of suspicious funds, such as those of Salazar Umaña.
In a 2014 report on the laundering of money and assets, the DOS wrote: "In El Salvador, criminal organizations employ the following mechanisms to launder money: the use of front companies, parking lots, travel agencies, remittances, importation and exportation of goods and cargo transportation."
The Texis Cartel, the criminal organization that Salvadoran authorities have linked Salazar Umaña to since at least 2008, has an economic portfolio that includes legal companies dedicated to importation and exportation, hotel management, cargo transport and agricultural production.
SEE ALSO: Texis Cartel Profile
According to a source from the Salvadoran Housing Ministry, which has collaborated with the US investigations into Salazar Umaña and the drug trafficking structure he is linked to, the Texis Cartel has specialized in money laundering since the middle of the last decade. This investigator, who also studied the finances of the Perrones -- a drug trafficking group from eastern El Salvador -- made the following comparison:
"The Perrones moved drugs more than anything -- their sentences show this -- and they had begun using some small companies to launder money, but the Texis people have a more complex scheme of companies and commercial relationships that are just like a lot of [other] companies in the country that don't report everything they make… in this country we don't know where a lot of the money in circulation comes from."
An Ongoing Investigation
Jose Adan Salazar Umaña's name, personal details, alias and companies appear in Appendix 16 of a report that the Police Intelligence Center drew up between 2008 and 2010 about drug trafficking groups and money laundering in western El Salvador. At first, the report was called "Limits."
"It was a big organization, that worked particularly in the border region, which is why we called it that," said one of the police who participated in the investigation.
On page 60 of that document -- which is 128 pages long -- there is a chart that summarizes the economic and commercial activities of Chepe Diablo up until 2009.
The report says that beginning in that year, Salazar Umaña was given authorization as an importer of lubricants and fuel and that he participated directly in four companies: Hoteles Salvadoreños S.A. De C.V., with a 60 percent share; Servicios Logísticos S.A. De C.V., dedicated to the transport of cargo and humans and to customs procedures, with a 34 percent share; Inversiones Salazar S.A. De C.V., dedicated to the purchase of investment portfolios, with a 70 percent share; and Servicios Turisticos S.A. De C.V., dedicated to the administration of hotels, with a 70 percent share.
The report also states that, in 2009, Salazar Umaña was the owner of 2,448,078 square meters of land, divided into six rural properties and two urban ones.
Additionally, in 2009 his son, Jose Adan Salazar Martinez, was the owner of 25 percent of the shares in Agroindustrias Gumarsal S.A. De C.V., the agricultural import company that Chepe Diablo had founded a decade earlier together with one of his most important business partners: Juan Umaña Samayoa, the mayor of Metapan, who has also been pointed to by Salvadoran authorities as belonging to the Texis Cartel.
On the Trail of Two Other Texis Associates
Jose Misael Cisneros, alias "Medio Millon," a high level criminal linked to the Fulton Locos Salvatruchos (FLS) clique of the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) street gang, is about to get out of prison. The Salvadoran Attorney General's Office never constructed a strong case against this man, who is associated with the Texis Cartel and accused of taking part in various murders in Nueva Concepcion, Chalatenango. When the police captured him in 2010, then-President Mauricio Funes said he was one of the most important drug traffickers in El Salvador. Now he is about to walk free.
Cisneros lived for some time in the cities of Boston and Nantucket in the US state of Massachusetts in the 1990s, where local police investigated him for participating in the local sale of narcotics and for real estate fraud. The FBI, according to one agent, continued to follow his trail even in 2009, when Medio Millon was traveling frequently to the US from El Salvador.
Medio Millon was, according to Salvadoran police investigations, part of the muscle of the Texis Cartel: he arranged homicides and provided arms to the FLS and drug traffickers.
Roberto Antonio Herrera Hernandez also served as muscle, but he also managed some of the Texis Cartel's public relations. Herrera, whose associates and authorities know him as "El Burro," had his own mini-drug markets in Santa Ana, according to preliminary investigations into the Texis Cartel published in the "Limits" report.
In 2011, the US DEA and the FBI already had El Burro on their radar. On February 17 that year, the Police Intelligence Center detained Herrera for several hours while the national police (PNC) laboratory workers compared his fingerprints to determine if he was the same person that the US wanted for crimes related to vehicle theft. In the end, the DEA told the Salvadoran police that the US arrest warrants for Herrera had expired. That time, El Burro got away free.
The Attorney General's Office newly ordered Herrera's capture in July 2013. They accused him of leading an international group dedicated to car theft. The US also participated in the operation, above all through the telephone call monitoring center that Washington had invested $5 million in.
According to the Limits report and sources with ties to the office of the Attorney General, El Burro was also in charge of bribing prominent police chiefs in western El Salvador between 2004 and 2009.
Now that Obama has designated Chepe Diablo as an international drug kingpin, US law enforcement agencies have again turned their attention to the associates of the Texis Cartel, particularly those that, according to investigations, have been pulling the financial strings, managing the companies and performing the money laundering.
*Hector Silva is an investigator associated with the Center of Latin American and Latino Studies (CLALS) at American University in Washington, D.C.