Mexico Ex-Defense Minister Charged by U.S. in Narcotics Plot

Mexico’s former defense minister was charged in the U.S. with participating in a wide-ranging heroin and cocaine smuggling plot and accused of using his position to help a notorious Mexican drug cartel in exchange for bribes.

The charges against General Salvador Cienfuegos, the secretary of national defense in Mexico from 2012 to 2018, were unsealed Friday after a U.S. grand jury in Brooklyn, New York, indicted him in August 2019.

Known as “El Padrino,” or the godfather, Cienfuegos was apprehended in Los Angeles after arriving at the airport on charges related to a drug-trafficking conspiracy and money-laundering. He is scheduled to appear in court there later on Friday.

Cienfuegos is Mexico’s most senior military official charged with drug-trafficking offenses in the U.S. His arrest and alleged deep ties to cartels could raise questions about other military officials in a country where the army’s role has expanded under the current president, from protecting oil facilities to undertaking public works such as airports and building government bank branches.

Prosecutors said they’ll ask that Cienfuegos be detained without bail. Three of the drug-trafficking charges carry mandatory 10-year prison terms. If Cienfuegos were to flee the U.S. after being granted bail it would be “extremely difficult” to apprehend him in Mexico, “if the H-2 Cartel and powerful former government officials shield him,” the U.S. said in a court filing.

Cienfuegos “prioritized his personal greed over his sworn duties as a public servant, and he assured the continued success and safety of one of Mexico’s most violent drug trafficking organizations,” prosecutor Michael Robotti said in a memo asking a judge to deny bail. “He has no respect for public authority or the rule of law.”

BlackBerry Messages

According to prosecutors, the U.S. intercepted thousands of BlackBerry Messenger communications that show Cienfuegos helped the H-2 Cartel in several ways: He ensured no military operations were conducted against the cartel; initiated military operations against its rivals; located maritime transport for its drug shipments and even introduced senior leaders of the cartel to other Mexican government officials willing to help the group in exchange for bribes.

Cienfuegos also warned the cartel about ongoing U.S. law enforcement investigations into the group and its use of cooperating witnesses and informants, which ultimately resulted in the murder of a member of the cartel because the group’s senior leadership incorrectly believed the individual was helping American law enforcement, prosecutors said.

As a result, The cartel was able to expand its reach to Mazatlan, Mexico, and across the Mexican state of Sinaloa, according to the U.S.. The cartel was also able to operate without significant interference from Mexican military and was able to import thousands of kilos of cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine and marijuana into the U.S., prosecutors said.

Mexico’s foreign affairs minister, Marcelo Ebrard, said on Twitter Friday that Cienfuegos will be flown to New York.

Cienfuegos faces three counts of drug trafficking and a money laundering conspiracy charge, according to the U.S.

Read More: Mexico Ex-Defense Minister Detained in U.S. on Drug Charges

— With assistance by Max De Haldevang

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