BROWNSVILLE, Texas (CN) - Five U.S. families whose members were killed by Mexican drug cartels sued HSBC Bank on Tuesday, saying it financed the cartels' terrorism by laundering billions of dollars for them.
Lead plaintiff Mary Zapata sued London-based HSBC Holdings PLC and four subsidiaries in Federal Court on behalf of her late son Jamie. Jaime Zapata was an Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent who was murdered by the Zetas outside of San Luis Potosí on Feb. 15, 2011. His partner, Victor Avila Jr., was wounded but survived. He and his family are co-plaintiffs.
The families want HSBC held liable for Anti-Terrorism Act violations. They call HSBC money laundering of cartels "in itself, an act of international terrorism" that provides "material support" for terrorist violence.
HSBC has admitted it laundered at least $881 million of cartel money, in a deal it struck with the federal government in 2012. The families say the figure is actually in the billions.
The Zetas are an offshoot of Mexican security forces, many of whom received U.S. training. They forced Jamie Zapata and Victor Avila off the road in broad daylight and managed to murder Zapata even though he was protected by his armored van.'
"Ignoring cries from the special agents that they were U.S. citizens and diplomats, the militants fired over 100 rounds from AK-47s and other military-grade weapons inside and at the vehicle, killing Special Agent Zapata and seriously wounding Special Agent Avila," the complaint states.
Lesley Enriquez Redelfs worked for the U.S. Embassy in Ciudad Juárez, across the border from El Paso. She and her husband, Arthur Redelfs, a jailer for the El Paso County Sheriff's Department, took their 7-month-old daughter to a birthday party in Ciudad Juárez, which was sponsored by the U.S. Consular Office on March 13, 2010.
Assassins with the Barrio Aztecas, enforcers for the Juárez Cartel, "were ordered to follow and assassinate any persons leaving the birthday party in white SUVs," the complaint states.
The Redelfs left the party in a white SUV with Texas plates. The assassins boxed them in a few blocks away and shot Lesley Redelfs twice in the head.
Her husband sped off toward the border, but the hitmen caught up to him near Ciudad Juárez City Hall and shot him. "Arthur's spinal cord was severed by one of the bullets and he died from massive bleeding. Their infant daughter was found screaming in the backseat," the complaint states.
Two months later, Rafael Morales Valencia and his family celebrated his wedding at a church in Ciudad Juárez. They walked from the church into a courtyard, where 16 members of the Sinaloa Cartel greeted them with assault rifles.
The Sinaloa Cartel is led by Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán Loera, whom Mexican Marines re-re-captured in January, after his second escape from a high-security Mexican prison. Guzmán, often called the world's most powerful drug lord, is also known as the Lord of the Tunnels.
Guzmán's cartel, like all of them, pay off Mexico's Federal Judicial Police and other police agencies, the Mexican Army and politicians. The Federal Judicial Police barricaded a road to the church for the cartel.
The assassins forced Morales' wedding party and guests to the ground, and abducted him, his uncle and his brother, according to the complaint.