BROOKLYN, N.Y. (CN) — A high-ranking member of the Sinaloa Cartel handed over briefcases stuffed with millions of dollars in bribes to a Mexican federal official, he told the world last year during the drug trafficking trial of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman. In exchange, the cartel got safe passage for its drugs, as well as intel on rival trafficking groups and police investigations.
Those bribes are the official story now from federal prosecutors in Brooklyn, who unsealed a four-count indictment Tuesday against former Mexican public security secretary Genaro Garcia Luna, accusing him of cocaine-trafficking conspiracy and making false statements. Garcia Luna, now 51, was arrested Monday in Dallas.
At Guzman’s trial in November 2018, cooperating witness Jesus “El Rey” Zambada, the brother of Guzman’s partner Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada, said he gave Garcia Luna $3 million on one occasion in the mid-2000s followed a few years later by another $3 million to $5 million. Garcia Luna denied the accusations at the time.
Now prosecutors say Garcia Luna pocketed hefty briefcase bribes on at least two occasions from 2001 to 2012, as payment for protecting the drug-trafficking activities of Guzman’s notorious and powerful Sinaloa Cartel.
During that time he led Mexico’s Federal Investigation Agency, followed by a stint as secretary of public security under President Felipe Calderon where he controlled Mexico’s federal police force, Garcia Luna allegedly passed on information about rival cartels and police investigations into the Sinaloa Cartel’s activity, as well as ensuring safe passage for the drugs.
“Garcia Luna stands accused of taking millions of dollars in bribes from ‘El Chapo’ Guzman’s Sinaloa Cartel while he controlled Mexico’s Federal Police Force and was responsible for ensuring public safety in Mexico,” Brooklyn U.S. Attorney Richard Donoghue said in a statement Tuesday.
Prosecutors say Garcia Luna lied about his relationship with the cartel on a 2018 application for U.S. naturalization. They called for his detention prior to trial, citing, among other factors, their estimate that he has traveled back and forth between the U.S. and Mexico at least 280 times since 2002, and the “massive wealth” he accumulated from the cartel.
If Garcia Luna flees to Mexico, U.S. prosecutors wrote Tuesday in a detention memo filed in New York’s Eastern District, they might lose him.
“While the United States and Mexico have an extradition treaty, it will be extremely difficult to apprehend the defendant in Mexico if the Sinaloa Cartel and powerful former government officials shield him,” the memo says.
Guzman’s trial wrapped up in the Eastern District this past February with a jury finding him guilty of all charges. He was sentenced to life in prison plus 30 years.
Garcia Luna is scheduled to appear in Dallas federal court Tuesday afternoon after his arrest there Monday. Prosecutors will seek to have him moved to Brooklyn. If convicted, he faces 10 years to life in prison. He was represented by Rose Romero. A detention hearing was set for Tuesday, Dec. 17.