HomeNewsAnalysisUS Overlooked Rogue Drug War Officials in Mexico
ANALYSIS

US Overlooked Rogue Drug War Officials in Mexico

ELITES AND CRIME / 3 AUG 2020 BY PARKER ASMANN EN

Explosive accusations by US prosecutors that three former top Mexican security officials accepted millions of dollars in bribes from the Sinaloa Cartel serve as damning evidence that the US-backed drug war relies on proxies with dangerous ties.

Genaro García Luna, Mexico’s Secretary of Public Security from 2006 to 2012, is charged with “engaging in a continuing criminal enterprise” and drug trafficking, according to a superseding indictment filed on July 30.

The former top security official “betrayed those he was sworn to protect by accepting bribes from members of the Sinaloa Cartel,” prosecutor Seth DuCharme said in a July 30 Justice Department press release. On at least two occasions, Sinaloa Cartel members “personally delivered bribe payments” to García Luna in briefcases containing millions of dollars, according to the news release.

Two high-ranking officers who served under García Luna — Luis Cárdenas Palomino and Ramón Pequeño García — were also indicted on drug trafficking charges.

SEE ALSO: The Never-Ending List of Allegations Against Mexico’s Former Top Cop

Between 2001 and 2012, the three officials served the cartel by “agreeing not to interfere” with its multi-ton drug shipments. They also gave the group access to “sensitive law enforcement information” and put “other corrupt officials in positions of power” in areas the group controlled, according to the indictment.

In addition to the criminal enterprise charge — the same one former Sinaloa Cartel capo Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán was sentenced to life in prison for — García Luna is accused of aiding the Sinaloa Cartel’s trafficking of six cocaine shipments totaling about 50,000 kilograms into the United States between 2002 and 2007, according to the indictment.

García Luna was arrested in December 2019 in the state of Texas, but Cárdenas Palomino and Pequeño García have not yet been apprehended. If convicted, the former security secretary faces a sentence of between 20 years and life in prison. The other two officers face between 10 years and life in prison.

InSight Crime Analysis

The charges against three top security officials during the administration of former President Felipe Calderón put them on the payroll of the Sinaloa Cartel at the same time they were meant to lead US-backed anti-drug efforts.

Under García Luna, Cárdenas Palomino acted as the federal police’s director of regional operations between 2006 and 2012. Pequeño García headed the federal police’s anti-narcotics division that oversaw the Sensitive Investigative Unit (SIU), which had been specially vetted by the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), according to a ProPublica report.

However, the vetting did not apply to the top leadership of the unit, which long had a reputation for leaking privileged information to Mexico’s criminal groups. Two groundbreaking investigations from ProPublica journalist Ginger Thompson in 2017 uncovered how the murderous Zetas had access to such information.

SEE ALSO: The DEA Academy: The Double Agent Factory

In April 2010, the Zetas kidnapped and later presumably killed four individuals at a Holiday Inn in the northern business hub of Monterrey. ProPublica reported that an undercover surveillance operation the DEA and SIU had been running out of the hotel to track the regional Zetas boss at that time, Héctor Raúl Luna, alias “El Tori,” had been compromised.

When El Tori learned of the sting, he sent gunmen to the hotel. The agents quickly evacuated the area, and four hotel guests — along with a receptionist — were kidnapped. US officials did not assist in the subsequent investigation into the disappearances, according to ProPublica.

Less than a year later, in March 2011, Zetas gunmen stormed the city of Allende near the US-Mexico border. They kidnapped and massacred dozens of men, women and children as they searched for the informants cooperating with the DEA, according to ProPublica’s investigation.

It’s unclear how, but information sent from the DEA to the SIU was leaked to the Zetas, sparking the violent manhunt. Cárdenas Palomino and Pequeño García have not been linked to these massacres, but the charges against them highlight a worrying lack of oversight for such officers.

One former SIU commander, Iván Reyes Arzate, turned himself in to US authorities in 2017 after he was accused of filtering information to criminal groups the DEA was investigating. He was later also charged in connection to a drug trafficking conspiracy.

“Clearly the United States had to have known that something was profoundly rotten or really suspicious when the top leadership of the SIU was not willing to be vetted,” Vanda Felbab-Brown, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, told InSight Crime. “There must have been an awareness of the potentially huge risk for problems, but a decision was made that whatever intelligence was coming through was worth it.”

Compartir icon icon icon

What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America's largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

Related Content

ELITES AND CRIME / 10 SEP 2019

On a December morning in 2018, Javier Erazo, known as “El Huita,” took to his hammock after a horseback ride…

MEXICO / 8 DEC 2014

As Mexico's president struggles to claw back approval ratings through new security measures announced in the epicenter of his current…

KIDNAPPING / 3 AUG 2011

All nine of the political pollsters reported missing this week in a gang-dominated zone of the west Mexico department of…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

We Have Updated Our Website

4 FEB 2021

Welcome to our new home page. We have revamped the site to create a better display and reader experience.

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime Events – Border Crime: The Northern Triangle and Tri-Border Area

ARGENTINA / 25 JAN 2021

Through several rounds of extensive field investigations, our researchers have analyzed and mapped out the main illicit economies and criminal groups present in 39 border departments spread across the six countries of study – the Northern Triangle trio of Guatemala, Honduras, and El…

BRIEF

InSight Crime’s ‘Memo Fantasma’ Investigation Wins Simón Bolívar National Journalism Prize

COLOMBIA / 20 NOV 2020

The staff at InSight Crime was awarded the prestigious Simón Bolívar national journalism prize in Colombia for its two-year investigation into the drug trafficker known as “Memo Fantasma,” which was…

ANALYSIS

InSight Crime – From Uncovering Organized Crime to Finding What Works

COLOMBIA / 12 NOV 2020

This project began 10 years ago as an effort to address a problem: the lack of daily coverage, investigative stories and analysis of organized crime in the Americas. …

ANALYSIS

InSight Crime – Ten Years of Investigating Organized Crime in the Americas

FEATURED / 2 NOV 2020

In early 2009, Steven Dudley was in Medellín, Colombia. His assignment: speak to a jailed paramilitary leader in the Itagui prison, just south of the city. Following his interview inside…