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Ex-official said to help get drugs to U.S.
The ex-governor of the Mexican state of Quintana Roo took “millions of dollars” in bribes to order his state police to serve as armed guards for smugglers as they off-loaded and transported more than 200 tons of cocaine from Colombian speedboats that eventually found their way to the U.S., court records show.
Mario Villanueva Madrid, extradited to this country late Sunday to stand trial on charges of accepting bribes from the infamous Juarez drug cartel, also is accused of laundering nearly $19 million in illicit drug profits through accounts at Lehman Brothers in New York and elsewhere.
Two separate indictments in the case say Villanueva was paid $400,000 to $500,000 for each cocaine shipment transported through his state over a five-year period ending in 1998. The indictments say state police provided armed protection for cartel boat crews as they off-loaded the cocaine and then escorted the shipments hidden inside tanker trucks as they traveled through the state.
Quintana Roo is located in southeastern Mexico, bordering Belize and Guatemala on the Yucatan Peninsula.
“Villanueva allegedly abused the trust placed in him by the citizens of Quintana Roo when he facilitated drug trafficking and money laundering across international borders,” said Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Special Agent in Charge John P. Gilbride, who heads the agency’s New York field office.
Villanueva was turned over by Mexican authorities to the DEA and the U.S. Marshals Service at the airport in White Plains, N.Y., late Sunday.
Also indicted was Consuelo Marquez, 39, a former Lehman Brothers account representative in New York, accused of participating in the laundering of millions of dollars of illicit drug profits for the cartel. She pleaded guilty in 2005 to conspiring to launder $11 million in drug proceeds for the former governor and later was sentenced to three years’ probation.
The indictments say Villanueva and his son, Luis Ernesto Villanueva Tenorio, deposited large amounts of drug proceeds into foreign and U.S. bank and brokerage accounts. They said the two men had enlisted Marquez’s assistance to conceal their ownership and avoid the detection by law enforcement.
Marquez used her positions at Serfin Securities, a Mexican investment firm with offices in New York, and later with Lehman Brothers to establish offshore corporations structured to conceal the drug profits and their ownership, the indictments say.
According to the indictments, Villanueva, in an effort to hide the illicit funds, began transferring cash to bank and brokerage accounts in the United States, Switzerland, the Bahamas, Panama and Mexico, many of which were held in the names of British Virgin Islands shell corporations. Several of the accounts were established at Lehman Brothers with Marquez’s assistance.
The indictments say the Juarez cartel established operations in 1994 in Quintana Roo, where it used speedboats with armed crews to rendezvous off the Atlantic coast of Central America with Colombian drug smugglers. They say the Colombian boats were laden with shipments of cocaine ranging from 1 ton to 3 tons, which was off-loaded onto Juarez cartel boats that brought the drugs into Mexico at night to avoid detection by U.S. Coast Guard and Mexican naval patrol vessels.
The ton-quantity shipments of cocaine, according to the indictments, were transported to Quintana Roo port cities, including Cancun and Calderitas, as well as the state capital, Chetumal. The shipments were also transported to Quintana Roo by small planes leaving from clandestine airstrips in Belize, the indictments say. They say some of the drugs were stored in facilities owned by the Office of the Governor until they could be shipped to the U.S.
In March 1999, Villanueva’s term as governor expired, and with it his immunity from prosecution under the Mexican constitution. That month, he fled and remained a fugitive for more than two years, during which he deposited more than $11 million in the Lehman accounts through a series of wire transfers.
In May 2001, Villanueva was located by Mexican authorities and the DEA in remote areas in the Yucatan Peninsula. Following his arrest, he was prosecuted by Mexican authorities and convicted in a Mexican court on organized crime and corruption offenses.
He was released in June 2007 but immediately taken into custody to face the extradition request by the U.S.
About the Author
Jerry Seper is the investigative editor for The Washington Times.
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