Sunday, March 26, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Mexican federal cop says he got jail for reporting boss’s cartel ties

The testimony in the trial of Genaro García Luna came from an officer who so resembles the defendant that colleagues called him “Genalito.”

BROOKLYN (CN) — A former agent of Mexico's federal police told jurors Thursday that he was detained for 80 days after reporting that the head of the force, Genaro García Luna, had met with the leader of a violent drug cartel. 

García Luna, who served as public security secretary from 2006 to 2012, is on trial accused of taking millions of dollars in bribes to protect the Sinaloa cartel, formerly operated by the now-imprisoned kingpin Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán. 

But in a 2008 roadside rendezvous, court testimony revealed Thursday, it wasn’t El Chapo that García Luna was with but Arturo Beltrán Leyva — a higher-up in the cocaine trafficking group who had found himself at odds with El Chapo earlier that year and ultimately led a rival ring. 

Francisco Cañedo Zavaleta was off-duty in one day in October 2008 and driving to get tacos when he passed several SUVs parked on the side of the road near Mexico City. He slowed down and recognized García Luna, whom he’d seen often while standing guard at a federal police building where the cabinet official worked. In fact, Cañedo Zavaleta said colleagues called him “Genalito” because of his physical resemblance to the federal police boss. 

From his investigative work, Cañedo Zavaleta said he also recognized Beltrán Leyva and another Sinaloa member, Edgar Valdez Villarreal, nicknamed “La Barbie,” who was holding a long firearm. 

“I thought that they were talking,” Cañedo Zavaleta testified. “Once I confirmed who was there I kept going.” 

Two of the vehicles turned around and followed Cañedo Zavaleta, he said, into an intersection where the witness stopped, got out of his car and popped the trunk. From his angle he could see the two drug traffickers in one SUV and García Luna driving the other. 

“They started staring at me and I got freaked out, so I headed back into my car [and left],” Cañedo Zavaleta said through a translator. “I was shaking.” 

Before filing an official report Cañedo Zavaleta mentioned the incident to a colleague, who agreed to use his own name on the document, with Cañedo Zavaleta’s contact information. “[We] decided that we would run the same risk,” Cañedo Zavaleta testified. 

The fear of retaliation turned out to be justified: Cañedo Zavaleta was charged with six federal crimes including drug trafficking, arrested, and put before a criminal judge in Jalisco, Mexico. He was detained for 80 days before charges were ultimately resolved. 

“I was completely and fully absolved,” Cañedo Zavaleta said.

The timing puts the alleged incident after Beltrán Leyva and El Chapo parted ways. Beltrán Leyva courted García Luna’s unequivocal support, testimony in the trial has shown, and when the official remained neutral, the cartel boss had García Luna kidnapped

At the time, Beltrán Leyva even thought about killing the federal police leader, a cooperating witness nicknamed “El Conejo” testified Wednesday. 

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

Read the Top 8

Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.