A senior Mexican official helped smuggle drugs into the United States in exchange for bribes

Secretary of Defense General Salvador Cienfuegos, left, and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto salute during the annual Independence Day military parade in Mexico City’s main square in 2016. Mexico’s top diplomat said that the country’s former Secretary of Defense had been arrested in Los Angeles.

AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Mexico’s former secretary of defense helped smuggle thousands of kilograms of cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine and marijuana into the United States in exchange for bribes, according to unsealed court documents on Friday.

General Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda, 72, acted on behalf of the H-2 cartel while serving as defense secretary from 2012 to 2018 under former President Enrique Pena Nieto, authorities said.

Thousands of intercepted Blackberry messages show that the general ensured that military operations were not carried out against the cartel and that operations were launched against rivals, according to prosecutors. Cienfuegos allegedly introduced cartel leaders to other corrupt Mexican officials.

Cienfuegos is accused of alerting cartel leaders to a US law enforcement investigation into his operations and the use of cooperating witnesses and informants, which resulted in the murder of a cartel member. whose leaders mistakenly believed he was helping US law enforcement authorities.

Intercepted communications between Cienfuegos and a senior cartel official discussed the general’s historical assistance to another drug trafficking organization, as well as communications in which the accused is identified by name, title and photograph as the Mexican government official aiding the H-2 Cartel.

Cienfuegos was indicted by a grand jury in the Eastern District of New York on August 14, 2019.

Cienfuegos was scheduled to appear for the first time in federal court in Los Angeles on Friday, Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said. His lawyer was to travel to Los Angeles from Mexico.

Cienfuegos, 72, was to be transferred to New York, where his case is being processed.

The post of secretary of defense has positioned Cienfuegos as a key figure in efforts by Mexico and its allies to combat drug trafficking.

He was arrested Thursday upon arrival at Los Angeles International Airport. A senior Mexican official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to give details of the case, said Cienfuegos was arrested along with family members who had been released and that he had been taken to the Metropolitan Detention Center.

Cienfuegos is the former senior Cabinet official arrested since top Mexican security official Genaro Garcia Luna was taken into custody in Texas in 2019. Garcia Luna, who served under former President Felipe Calderón, pleaded not guilty of drug trafficking charges.

Cienfuego’s arrest is a blow to Mexico, where the army and navy are among the last respected public institutions.

Current President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has pledged to tackle corruption and the breaking of the law under previous administrations, but he has relied more on the military – and given it more tasks , ranging from building infrastructure projects to distributing medical supplies – than any other president in recent years. the story.

Gerald R. Schneider