Authorities in the United States charged a Honduras congressman and several members of a powerful political family with drug trafficking and related weapons crimes, illustrating yet again how the Cachiros criminal organization integrated politicians into its modus operandi.
On July 17, US authorities in New York filed criminal charges against Honduran Congressman Midence Oquelí Martínez Turcios. Criminal charges were also filed against family members Arnaldo, Carlos Fernando, and Miguel Angel Urbina Soto in a separate criminal indictment. The four individuals face charges of conspiring to import cocaine into the United States and related weapons charges.
According to the indictments, the notorious Cachiros criminal organization allegedly worked with Martínez Turcios and the Urbina Soto family from at least 2004 until 2014, to receive cocaine shipments sent to Honduras using air and maritime routes from Venezuela and Colombia. The shipments were then transported west -- often under the custody of these very officials -- to the Honduras-Guatemala border before being sent to the United States in coordination with Mexico’s Sinaloa Cartel.
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The Urbina Soto family, the indictment adds, "capitalized on their power" in northern Yoro department and worked with the Cachiros to receive "cocaine-laden aircraft" at "clandestine airstrips" and "public roads" in Yoro. The three family members also coordinated and at times joined security details overseeing the unloading and transportation of drug shipments, the accusation says.
For his part, Martínez Turcios was an active member of the Cachiros criminal organization, US prosecutors say. The indictment alleges he “personally escorted” cocaine shipments through Honduras, “managed heavily armed security teams” designed to protect drug shipments and “participated in weapons training” given to hired assassins recruited from the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) gang, in addition to acting at one point as a part-owner of a front company the Cachiros used to launder their criminal proceeds.
The latest charges come after a person described by local media as a Cachiros' successor, Hernán Natarén, was murdered along with his wife July 16, in the city of La Ceiba in Honduras’ northern Caribbean department of Atlántida. The following day, Honduran authorities arrested Hernán’s brother Saúl in the city of El Progreso in Yoro department on drug trafficking charges. Authorities in Honduras arrested both brothers in September 2016, for coordinating the landing of drug planes, according to La Tribuna.
Martínez Turcios has denied these accusations. He is the second Honduran congressman to be charged by US authorities this year for drug trafficking and weapons crimes. The United States is seeking the extradition of all five individuals charged in the indictments from Honduras. Only Arnaldo Urbina Soto is in jail, after being sentenced to 36 years in jail for money laundering in 2017.
InSight Crime Analysis
The criminal charges filed against another Honduran congressman and a former mayor and his family illustrates what was a clear part of the Cachiros' modus operandi: using politicians -- who have immunity, armed guards and won't get stopped at checkpoints -- to move drug shipments.
This method also came up in the case against former Honduran President Porfirio Lobo Sosa's son, who had links to the Cachiros and pleaded guilty to US drug charges in 2016.
However, politicians offer more than just safe transport. They are also conduits to the halls of power, helping criminals get government contracts for their companies, steering judicial investigations away from them, and keeping regulatory agencies at bay.
As InSight Crime detailed in one part of a three-part investigation on mayors and organized crime in Central America’s Northern Triangle, the Urbina Soto family’s “political tentacles reached to the highest levels,” and they “held a tight rein on local police and judicial matters,” which allowed them to consolidate their “hold on political and underworld power” in and around the Yoro department.
SEE ALSO: A Honduras Political Clan and Its Criminal Fiefdom
The Urbina Soto clan also controlled the local notaries, so they could legalize land they stole from others, and the office that regulated the wood industry. When InSight Crime visited Yoro, locals said they exerted some indirect control over the police as well.
It is in this context that the family struck a deal with the Cachiros. Government investigators told InSight Crime that the criminal group paid the Urbina Soto family “to receive planes loaded with cocaine in their area of influence, store the drugs, and transport them to their next drop-point.”
The Cachiros also allegedly used their lucrative criminal proceeds to pay Martínez Turcios for his services. According to the indictment, the criminal group paid him more than $1 million in bribes, which he used to fund political campaigns and enrich himself, among other things. Authorities allege his political position helped provide an "appearance of legitimacy" to the Cachiros who eventually made contact with the then-President of Honduras, Porfirio Lobo. (See photo below)
Fabio Lobo (far left), Porfirio Lobo (fourth from left), Javier Rivera Maradiaga (fifth from left), Juan Gómez (sixth from left). (Source: US Courts)
Cachiros leaders Javier Eriberto Rivera Maradiaga, alias “Javier Cachiro,” and his brother Devis Leonel Rivera Maradiaga both turned themselves in to US authorities in 2015. Rivera Maradiaga’s testimony has since implicated a number of Honduran elites, including current Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández and his brother.
The Cachiros' testimony was clearly the driver behind these latest indictments. Porfirio Lobo and his brother, Ramón, have also come under scrutiny for their contacts with the brothers, as has Diana Urbina Soto -- the sister of Arnaldo, Carlos and Mario -- who is currently the mayor of Yoro.