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Cartel’s kidnapping of corrupt Mexican police chief detailed at trial

A cooperating witness said he talked his boss out of killing the head of Mexico's federal police, Genaro García Luna, who is on trial for taking bribes to protect the Sinaloa cartel.

BROOKLYN (CN) — With upwards of $400 million in profits from dealing cocaine, El Conejo built himself a veritable zoo stocked with horses, panthers, hippos, pumas, giraffes and kangaroos. At his “fantasy mansion” were Apollo the lion, Lucas the chimpanzee, Ray the white tiger, a flock of “spectacular” cockatoos and a purebred Persian cat named Perico, a slang term in Spanish for cocaine. 

The witness, whose real name is Harold Mauricio Poveda-Ortega, is the latest cooperator to testify against Mexico’s former public security secretary, who is accused of taking bribes to help the Sinaloa cartel, run by notorious drug boss Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán. 

Poveda-Ortega regaled jurors in federal court Wednesday with the description of his menagerie as prosecutors showed a silent video of his estate overlooking Mexico City. One highlight of the home was its "grotto,” a pool that featured a glass roof to ensure guests could see the white tigers prowling overhead. 

Prosecutors say Genaro García Luna accepted millions of dollars in exchange for shielding traffickers from arrest and handing over sensitive government information about upcoming raids.   

In early 2008, the Sinaloa cartel split into two factions with El Chapo’s group rivaling the one headed up by Arturo Beltrán Leyva. After García Luna — already on the cartel payroll — hesitated to take a side, Beltrán Leyva had his men kidnap the cabinet-level official, according to court testimony. 

Poveda-Ortega described his meeting with Beltrán Leyva shortly after the deed was done. 

“He said he had just grabbed that son-of-a-bitch García Luna, and he was going to kill him,” Poveda-Ortega said. “He was going to send his head out so people could see that nobody could take him for a fool.” 

Trying to talk sense into the boss he considered a “father figure,” Poveda-Ortega suggested it would be unwise to kill the head of Mexico’s federal police. 

“Don’t even think about doing that … they’re a whole family, just like drug traffickers are a united family,” the witness warned. “Put your cards on the table. Make him see, make him understand, and then we’ll see what happens.” 

Poveda-Ortega, a Colombian national, dealt with multiple cartels before joining up with Beltrán Leyva. He's earned his nickname, which is Spanish for “rabbit,” by stamping kilos of cocaine with the Playboy bunny logo. Although the two ultimately became close, it was only after Beltrán Leyva threatened to kill Poveda-Ortega for crossing into Sinaloa territory that their union began. 

Ten years after he pleaded guilty to trafficking more than a million kilograms of cocaine, Poveda-Ortega is still yet to be sentenced. 

Previous cooperating witnesses said they had heard about García Luna’s kidnapping, and that Beltrán Leyva made his power known to the police chief before letting him go. The government has not yet called a witnesses who was directly involved. 

Earlier Wednesday, jurors heard testimony from Israel Avila, who worked as the Sinaloa cartel’s accountant. He said García Luna was listed on the gang’s spreadsheets under the nicknames Tartamudo or Metralleta, both of which mean “stutterer,” an apparent reference to the defendant’s manner of speaking. 

García Luna’s largest payment was $5 million, with other amounts between $1 million and $3 million, Avila said. 

Defense attorneys asked Avila where those spreadsheets were. Avila said he didn’t have them on hand. 

“They’re back in the jail cell?” cracked attorney Florian Miedel, of the firm Miedel & Mysliwiec.

Avila, a former real estate agent, also said he rented and sold homes to Sinaloa members. The properties were sometimes used for kidnappings and torture. Avila himself participated in both. He is serving a 15-year sentence after pleading guilty to intent to distribute more than one kilogram of heroin. 

Cross-examination of Poveda-Ortega will continue Thursday. U.S. District Judge Brian M. Cogan is presiding over García Luna's trial. 

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