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U.S. accuses ex-governor of Mexico’s Tamaulipas state of laundering cartel cash

Tim Johnson

The former governor of Mexico’s Tamaulipas state invested millions of dollars in drug sale proceeds in real estate across southern and central Texas, the U.S. government charged in an indictment unsealed Monday.

The allegations against Tomas Yarrington, who governed Tamaulipas from 1999 to 2004, marked the latest attempt by U.S. prosecutors to prove that organized crime has penetrated deeply into Mexican politics at the state level. Tamaulipas borders Texas.

According to the indictment, Yarrington received “millions of dollars” in payoffs from the Gulf Cartel, a major drug trafficking group based in Matamoros, which lies across the Rio Grande from Brownsville, Texas, where the indictment was returned in May. There was no explanation for why the 53-page indictment was kept secret until Monday.

The payments began in 1998 when Yarrington was a candidate for governor and continued throughout his six-year term, the indictment alleges. Tamaulipas state police working for the Gulf Cartel delivered the first of the bribes while Yarrington was running for governor, it says.

After he left office, Yarrington accepted quantities of cocaine in exchange for facilitating access to ports in Veracruz state for the cartel, the indictment says.

Yarrington is the first former governor to be indicted by U.S. prosecutors since May 2010, when Mexico extradited Mario Villanueva, the former governor of the state that includes Cancun, to stand trial in New York City for working for the Juarez Cartel, another trafficking group. Villanueva pleaded guilty and was sentenced to nearly 11 years in prison. Under his watch, Villanueva admitted, the Juarez Cartel moved tons of cocaine through his state of Quintana Roo to the United States.

Yarrington’s Houston attorney, Joel Androphy, said the indictment is “nothing more than a piece of paper with false allegations.”

“He has not engaged in any criminal activity with anybody,” Androphy added.

The whereabouts of Yarrington, who also is under investigation by Mexican prosecutors, were not clear. Androphy declined to say where he was.

The indictment against the 56-year-old Yarrington and a second man, Mexican construction company owner Fernando Alejandro Cano Martinez, accuses them of a web of conspiracy to funnel drug proceeds into the purchase of property in Bexar, Cameron, Hays and Hidalgo counties in central and southern Texas.

Yarrington used bribes he received as governor to buy a hunting lodge in Tamaulipas state, the indictment says. It also accuses him of handling stolen public funds for other corrupt politicians and orchestrating ways to move that money into Texas banks, the indictment says.

Cano Martinez bribed Yarrington for favorable consideration in public works contracts, often in the form of property in Mexico whose ownership by Yarrington was hidden, the indictment says. Cano Martinez and Yarrington created numerous partnerships to buy property across Texas, it adds, either as payoffs to themselves or on behalf of the cartel.

The properties included three lots – measuring 179 acres, 46 acres and 104 acres – in Bexar County, which surrounds San Antonio, the indictment says.

Yarrington also used unnamed straw men to purchase a condominium on South Padre Island and a waterfront home in Port Isabel, Texas, the indictment alleges.

The racketeering conspiracy also included the purchase of two airplanes, a Sabreliner 60 and a Pilatus business aircraft, it says.

Prosecutors allege that the conspiracy involved the transfer of at least $7 million in funds from Mexican banks to a series of banks in the Rio Grande Valley, including First National, Inter National, Falcon International and Lone Star National banks. At those banks, they allege, the conspirators used confederates to take out loans to finance real estate purchases, providing fraudulent information to hide the provenance of the money.

Yarrington, who had national political standing and had met with George W. Bush when he was governor of Texas as well as the current governor, Rick Perry, remained in good stead with Mexico’s ruling party, the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, even as allegations mounted of his alleged ties to organized crime. He was finally suspended from the party in early 2012 as elections heated up in the country.

Yarrington sought the PRI nomination for the presidency of Mexico in 2005 but did not get it.

U.S. prosecutors already have seized a number of properties mentioned in the indictment, including the 46-acre parcel in Bexar County, the 2005 Pilatus business aircraft and the South Padre Island condo.

Still, they are seeking a judgment of forfeiture against Yarrington for $50 million.


By Tim Johnson
McClatchy Foreign Staff