Former Mexican Security Official Guilty of Taking Bribes from Cartels, El Chapo
A Brooklyn jury convicted former Secretary of Public Secretary Genaro García Luna on all five of the charges leveled against him. The high-profile trial saw García Luna accused of taking bribes from El Chapo and the Sinaloa Cartel over the course of many years. Additionally, he facilitated the distribution of roughly 58 tons of cocaine in that time.
Mexico’s top cop used law enforcement as the cartel’s security detail
As the country’s “top cop,” prosecutors accused García Luna of abusing his position to essentially coordinate a team of bodyguards and security forces for the Sinaloa Cartel in exchange for millions of dollars monthly. The 54-year-old served under President Felipe Calderón from 2006 to 2012.
Initially, García Luna joined the equivalent of the CIA. Later, he became something comparable to the director of the FBI in 2001, under President Vicente Fox. The witnesses, most of whom are cartel leaders seeking reduced sentences, said García Luna began accepting their bribes around this time.
García Luna, according to those witnesses, took $1.5 million in bribes starting in 2001. That number continued to grow over time as his positions in the Mexican government carried more influence. By the time he became Secretary of Public Security, he compromised law enforcement at all levels.
Cartel members who participated in the trial said García Luna even equipped them with police uniforms and weaponry. The bosses of each Sinaloa faction were able to handpick the commanders surveying their territory. Eventually, Mexican police even helped the cartel unload cocaine shipments from the airport in Mexico City.
The jury convicts the former Secretary of Public Security on all charges
According to a press release from the United States Department of Justice, the jury convicted García Luna of “engaging in a continuing criminal enterprise that includes six drug-related violations, international cocaine distribution conspiracy, conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute cocaine, conspiracy to import cocaine, and making false statements.”
The jury deliberated for nearly three days before reaching a verdict. Coincidentally, the DOJ held García Luna’s trial in the same courtroom where El Chapo was convicted.
Additionally, there was an odd moment during García Luna’s sentencing. After submitting their verdict sheet, the presiding judge, Brian Cogan, noted they’d forgotten to check Guilty or Not Guilty. The jury then left the courtroom to fix their mistake before returning the verdict sheet to Cogan.
Cogan then thanked the jury for their service, saying, “The way you observed all the witnesses and testimony… you did a remarkable job. When you determine the fate of someone at a trial, that’s probably the most important thing you’ll do for a long while.”
However, the cartel’s involvement in the trial made things uncomfortable
García Luna’s trial was a particularly interesting one for multiple reasons. First, there was the fact that many of the witnesses were members of the cartel, which prosecutors attempted to contextualize.
“I’m not asking you like them,” said Prosecutor Saritha Komatireddy, as reported by the New York Times. “These people have done horrible things. They’re criminals. But it takes one to know one.” The jury, however, seemed to believe them, especially considering how much of the trial rested on firsthand testimony instead of hard evidence.
Prosecutors were not able to uncover any texts, emails, or recorded conversations to back up the claims made by witnesses. There was also little to no evidence confirming García Luna lived an extravagant lifestyle as a result of the bribes.
García Luna’s defense attorney Cesar de Castro made no attempt to mask his disappointment with the verdict.
“We are extremely disappointed in today’s verdict,” he said. “After many years of trying to build a case against Mr. García Luna with credible and reliable evidence, the government was forced to settle for a case built on the backs of some of the most notorious and ruthless criminals who have testified in this courthouse. The government had no reliable evidence to corroborate their witnesses.”
García Luna played all sides of the conflict
The once-celebrated Secretary of Public Security was a high-profile figure in Mexican law enforcement. Throughout his career, García Luna met with everyone from Hillary Clinton to President Barack Obama. However, the cartel says he was one of their most valuable assets.
Sergio “El Grande” Villarreal Barragán said García Luna was “the best investment [the cartel] had of their money. We had absolutely no problems.” As a high-ranking official in the Beltrán Leyva Organization faction of the Sinaloa Cartel, El Grande testified that García Luna made their jobs very easy.
Similarly, brothers Jesús “El Rey” Reynaldo Zambada García and Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada, the current Sinaloa boss, said García Luna was invaluable to their operations. “You could work a lot,” said El Rey. “There was a lot of security, there was support given with the fighting and the hitmen, it was very important.”
Additionally, because cartel operations increased during Calderón’s tenure as president, some witnesses claimed there was involvement at the highest levels of the Mexican government. Another report from the New York Times focused on one witness’ testimony about hearing Calderón discussing cartel activity with García Luna.
Despite Calderón himself denying these claims on Twitter, many protestors waited outside the courtroom with signs calling for his arrest.
The United States celebrates the Public Security Secretary’s conviction
Although there is currently a mixed reaction in Mexico to García Luna’s conviction, US officials are happy to have him behind bars.
There’s US Attorney Breon Peace, who said, “Garcia Luna, who once stood at the pinnacle of law enforcement in Mexico, will now live the rest of his days having been revealed as a traitor to his country and to the honest members of law enforcement who risked their lives to dismantle drug cartels.”
He added, “Today’s verdict is a shining light for the rule of law, right over wrong, and justice over injustice for all those who have suffered as a result of the defendant’s deplorable crimes.”
Additionally, DEA Administrator Anne Milgram weighed in, saying, “It should send a clear message — to all political leaders around the world that trade on positions of influence to further transnational organized crime – that DEA will relentlessly pursue drug trafficking organizations that threaten the safety and health of the American people.”
García Luna’s sentencing will take place on June 27. Most expect him to spend the rest of his life in prison. However, he will have an opportunity to appeal his case. García Luna’s legal team insists that the statute of limitations for his crimes passed in 2019. The lack of hard evidence may also be a driving factor behind any potential appeal.
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