BROOKLYN (CN) — A former member of a Mexican drug cartel testified in U.S. federal court Monday that he paid his country’s top security official millions of dollars to secure the transport of massive cocaine shipments and to protect traffickers from raids and arrests.
Genaro García Luna, Mexico’s former public security secretary, is on trial in Brooklyn, accused of taking the hefty bribes to protect the Sinaloa cartel, which the notorious drug kingpin Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán headed up for years before his own recent takedown and imprisonment.
On the witness stand Monday, Oscar Nava-Valencia — also known as "El Lobo" — told jurors that the bribes from traffickers worked to safeguard massive drug shipments and secure intel about forthcoming police raids.
The cooperating witness told the jury about a time in 2007 when authorities seized more than 20 tons of cocaine at Mexico’s Port of Manzanillo coming from Colombia, half of which Nava-Valencia expected to receive. In an attempt to recover the cargo, Nava-Valencia paid García Luna $10 million, he testified. But the move was unsuccessful because, as García Luna explained at the time, Mexico’s marines and U.S. law enforcement were involved in the seizure. The drugs were incinerated.
Still, García Luna helped in another way: furnishing a report for Nava-Valencia that showed the seizure occurred because of a tip about activity on the part of the sender from Colombia. This got Nava-Valencia’s group off the hook for the $50 million the group in Colombia lost on the deal.
“We sent them a copy of the document so they could see the problem was theirs, not ours,” Nava-Valencia said of his Colombian trade partners.
Nava-Valencia said he was first involved in bribing García Luna in 2006, when he chipped in $2.5 million as part of a payment pool.
After the Sinaloa cartel split into factions in 2008, Nava-Valencia sided with El Chapo — in large part because the other group’s leader, Arturo Beltrán Leyva, had ordered Nava-Valencia to be kidnapped and held for a week at a safe house in Mexico City, the witness testified.
El Chapo’s group feared that their rivals would send law enforcement information to have them raided. Wanting García Luna on their side, Nava-Valencia arranged to pay the cabinet-level official $3 million for information on anticipated operations and investigations. The money, handed over at a car wash in Guadalajara, Mexico, bought García Luna’s support, according to court testimony.
“They said they were going to stand with us, and they were going to have some middle men communicate with us in the future,” Nava-Valencia said.
The 51-year-old Nava-Valencia took the stand wearing a bright yellow prison jumpsuit. He is serving a reduced sentence, initially set for 25 years but later discounted thanks to his government cooperation. Nava-Valencia’s 2019 sentencing followed his pleading guilty to smuggling more than 3,000 kilograms of cocaine.
García Luna’s attorneys say their client was actually a major player in taking down cartels, and those testifying at his trial are out for revenge. On cross-examination, attorney Florian Miedel elicited that, although Nava-Valencia began cooperating with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration in 2011, he did not mention García Luna’s name until after the defendant’s 2020 arrest, which was highly publicized.
Then, weeks before trial, Nava-Valencia changed his story: In reality, he had never met García Luna, he told agents at a December 14, 2022 meeting. On the stand, Nava-Valencia said the switch — which he ultimately abandoned, returning to his original story — was out of fear that his family would be attacked.
“You don’t know what sort of repercussions you’re going to have,” Nava-Valencia said. “This will place me again in the eye of the storm.”
Miedel, a partner at Miedel & Mysliwiec, also confirmed that the witness ordered hundreds of people killed during his cartel activity, and others tortured. Nava-Valencia agreed he had made some “bad decisions” in his life.
“We were living through a conflict, through a war,” he said. Later in his testimony, he added: “I would look at it from the business side, not from the side of killing people.”
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