Four takeaways from the corruption trial of former Mexican lawyer Genaro Garcia Luna
The trial of Genaro García Luna, a former top Mexican security official who faces US charges of accepting bribes from drug lords, touched on a range of topics typical of cartel cases. Jurors heard of bloody murders, shipments of narcotics, and even a white cat named Cocaine.
They also heard, of course, of the central accusation against Mr. García Luna: that while he was the public face of Mexico’s drug war, he was secretly taking millions from the largest criminal group of the country, the Sinaloa drug cartel.
The trial, now entering its third week, is being held at the Eastern District of New York Courthouse in downtown Brooklyn. Prosecutors say that with the help of Mr. García Luna, the Sinaloa Cartel was able to ship large quantities of drugs to parts of the city, including Queens and Brooklyn, which fall under federal court supervision.
The trial is expected to last about another month, and the government case will continue to feature a parade of witnesses from the drug world. These could include Edgar Valdez Villarreal, a high school football star from Texas who rose to prominence as a trafficker in Mexico, and Edgar Veytia, a former state attorney general in Nayarit, on the Pacific coast of Mexico. Mexico.
The defense will most likely respond by asserting what it did at the start of the trial last month: that the prosecution witnesses are lying and that beyond their accounts, there is no hard evidence that Mr. García Luna has never accepted a bribe.
Here are the key takeaways from last week’s testimony.
A reward in a car wash
On Monday, the jury heard from Oscar Nava Valencia, the former head of the Milenio cartel, who claimed he personally paid Mr. García Luna. Mr. Nava Valencia testified that in 2008, while seeking protection from a violent rival, he gave Mr. García Luna $3 million in cash during a secret meeting at a car wash.
Known as El Lobo, or the Wolf, Mr. Nava Valencia explained the background to the win to the jury: his former ally in the Sinaloa Cartel, Arturo Beltrán Leyva, had turned on him after Mr. Nava Valencia chose to support a rival faction. of the organization during a bloody civil war, and he needed the help of Mr. García Luna.
So, he said, he hosted the meeting in a second-floor office of Estetic Carwash in Guadalajara, the capital of Jalisco state. Mr. García Luna, he continued, brought in one of his top lieutenants, Luis Cárdenas Palomino, who was also charged in the federal case but remains in custody in Mexico.
Mr. Nava Valencia’s testimony followed a similar account of the corruption of Sergio Villarreal Barragán, known as El Grande for his towering size and who was one of Mr. Beltrán Leyva’s top aides. Last month, Mr. Villarreal Barragán appeared in court and told the jury that he and Mr. Beltrán Leyva gave Mr. García Luna more than $14 million during an early drug smuggling operation in a warehouse. of the 2000s.
During cross-examination, Mr. Nava Valencia admitted that he was afraid to testify against Mr. García Luna, who once held an important position in the government of then Mexican President Felipe Calderón and had been the head of the national equivalent of the FBI
In fact, during an interview with prosecutors just two months ago, Mr. Nava Valencia said he had briefly recanted his claims that he knew Mr. García Luna.
The confusion, he told the jury, stemmed from the fact that he and his family had been threatened because he had cooperated with the authorities. He gave no details of the threat.
“I was worried about my family in Mexico,” Nava Valencia said. “I feel that I am in danger.”
A kidnapping, then an escape
On Tuesday, jurors heard from another cooperating witness, Israel Ávila, an accountant with the Sinaloa Cartel, who provided insight into the tumultuous relationship between Mr. García Luna and Mr. Beltrán Leyva.
Mr. Ávila told the jury that when the cartel erupted in civil war, Mr. Beltrán Leyva wanted to know whether Mr. García Luna would support his side or that of his main rival, Joaquín Guzmán Loera, the drug lord known as name of El Chapo, who was convicted four years ago in a trial at the same Brooklyn courthouse.
When Mr. García Luna failed to provide an answer, Mr. Ávila said, Mr. Beltrán Leyva had him kidnapped – a remarkably brazen move to take against a member of the presidential cabinet.
The kidnapping lasted a week, according to other witnesses, and ended without harm to Mr. García Luna. Shortly after his release, he and Mr. Beltrán Leyva were apparently friends and working together again. In late 2008, Mr. Ávila told the jury, Mr. García Luna helped his patron walk away from a raid by authorities on a house in Acapulco.
The escape was successful with a bit of law enforcement subterfuge. According to Mr. Ávila, subordinates of Mr. García Luna disguised Mr. Beltrán Leyva as a federal policeman and chased him out of the house.
The “Rabbit” takes a stand
The story of Mr. García Luna’s kidnapping was corroborated on Wednesday by another witness from the drug world: Harold Mauricio Poveda-Ortega, a Colombian trafficker who for years was Mr. Beltrán’s main cocaine supplier. Leiva.
Known as “the bunny” (and for branding his product with a bunny logo identical to that of Playboy Enterprises), Mr. Poveda-Ortega told the jury that Mr. Beltrán Leyva once confessed to kidnapping Mr. García Luna in a fit of rage after suspecting him of having chosen Mr. Guzmán’s side in the cartel’s civil war. Not content with simply restraining his victim, Mr. Poveda-Ortega testified, Mr. Beltrán Leyva said he wanted to decapitate her.
“He was going to stick his head out for people to see that no one could take him for a fool,” Mr Poveda-Ortega told the jury.
The deadly battle between Mr. Beltrán Leyva and Mr. Guzmán and his allies was extremely violent and often resulted in casualties among federal police and civil servants loyal to either faction.
As the trial began, the jury heard of one of those slain policemen, Edgar Millán Gómez, who had allied himself with Mr. Guzmán and was murdered by a professional commando in 2008 at the height of the civil war.
In his Wednesday testimony, Mr. Poveda-Ortega said he tried to dissuade Mr. Beltrán Leyva from killing Mr. García Luna, fearing the consequences would be serious.
“I said, ‘No, don’t,'” recalls Mr. Poveda-Ortega. “We are going to have problem after problem. The government is going to come after us with all their might. »
One thing the trial revealed is that there were warning signs of Mr. García Luna’s ties to the Sinaloa Cartel long before the federal indictment against him was handed down in Brooklyn in 2019.
As early as 2008, a Mexican policeman, Francisco Cañedo Zavaleta, filed a complaint with the Mexican authorities about an episode he allegedly witnessed and which led him to believe that Mr. García Luna had links with the cartel.
Mr. Cañedo Zavaleta, who is no longer a police officer, told the jury on Thursday that he filed the report after seeing Mr. García Luna get into a car with Mr. Beltrán Leyva and an assistant, Edgar Valdez, on a road outside. Cuernavaca, the capital of the state of Morelos. The former officer recalled that the meeting took place shortly after the announcement of the assassination of Mr. Millán Gómez, the head of the police allied to El Chapo.
Mr. Cañedo Zavaleta’s report was eventually leaked to the media, which described the encounter as a kidnapping. Mr. Cañedo Zavaleta paid dearly for his denunciation: he was quickly accused of drug trafficking and placed in police custody. Ultimately, however, Mr. Cañedo Zavaleta told the jury, he was cleared of all crimes.
US law enforcement eventually obtained their own report into Mr. García Luna’s ties to the cartel from a source who claimed to have first-hand knowledge: Sergio Villarreal Barragán, the trafficker known as El Grande, who testified last month.
After his arrest in Mexico, Mr. Villarreal Barragán, who was a police officer before working for Mr. Beltrán Leyva, told US officials that Mr. García Luna had received bribes from the cartel, according to Miguel Madrigal, an Agent of the DEA stationed in Mexico at the time, who testified Thursday.
“He talked about the business relationships they had when Sergio was a policeman and a member of the Beltrán organization,” Madrigal said.