“Sol Prendido” for Borderland Beat
The DEA began following the steps of Genaro García Luna more than a decade ago. This was confirmed Thursday by Miguel Madrigal, an anti-drug agent called to testify in the trial in New York against the Secretary of Public Security of the Government of Felipe Calderon (2006-2012). After Sergio Villarreal Barragan El Grande was arrested in September 2010, Madrigal met with the drug lord for several hours and gave information about bribes the official allegedly received from the Beltran Leyva Cartel. He did not specify the date of the meeting. “He detailed information about those deals,” recounted the official, who was between 2008 and 2015 in the Agency’s Mexico City office. The witness also spoke of Champs Elysées [Champs Eliseos], a luxurious restaurant in the capital that was across the street from the US Embassy, where the money deliveries took place, according to intelligence sources. “We had information that high-ranking officials received bribes from the cartels there,” he said.
Madrigal pointed out in several images where the restaurant was located on the map and said the U.S. agents went to the site to see if they could identify information that would help them learn more about the money deliveries. “We were looking for cameras,” the witness commented. But there weren’t any. The DEA was particularly concerned about the information it had received because it was constantly exchanging sensitive data on criminal groups with the Federal Police, at the time under Calderon’s command. They shared intelligence, phone tracking, locations of suspicious addresses and the tracking of drug traffickers’ vehicles, for example.
The witness pointed directly to Edgar Bayardo, former commander of the Federal Police. After the 2008 cartel war between Joaquin El Chapo Guzman’s group and the Beltran Leyva brothers’ faction, the DEA began to realize that Bayardo only shared information with them about drug lords from Arturo Beltran’s group, such as Edgar Valdez Villarreal La Barbie and Harold Poveda El Conejo. Nothing about Ismael El Mayo Zambada, his brother Jesus El Rey Zambada or other Sinaloa Cartel allies. U.S. agents became suspicious.
Soon after, a DEA source showed Madrigal a video showing Bayardo’s car parked outside one of the homes of El Rey Zambada, the Sinaloa Cartel’s handler of bribes to Garcia Luna, according to testimony from cooperating witnesses who have already testified in this trial. At least that’s what they believed. “We informed our bosses that Bayardo was receiving bribes from Rey,” the witness recounted. The agent shared the information with his superior to pass a report to Bayardo’s superiors, Commissioner Victor Garay, in the Federal Police. After they identified where El Rey was living, they coordinated efforts to catch him, but he had already escaped. Suspicions of leaks and betrayals grew.
Jesus Zambada was finally arrested in October 2008, in an operation in which the Federal Police had nothing to do with. When Madrigal shared the information with Bayardo, the conversation was short. “He looked worried,” recalled the agent, currently stationed in Texas. “It seemed strange to me.” The witness said that from this point on, the information they shared with their Mexican counterparts was limited and they began to act “carefully.”
“With the help of the government, the cartel grew in terms of territory, in the amount of drugs we were moving and eliminated their enemies,” Villarreal Barragan said in Brooklyn court on Jan. 23. El Grande was the first witness to testify in the trial against Garcia Luna. “They would usually put a suitcase on the table, open the zipper and show the contents,” the capo said of the payments to the ex-secretary. “He would give us information about operations and investigations against the organization and help us get rid of commanders and police chiefs in each plaza,” he added.
Bayardo later became a protected witness in December 2008 in a case involving collusion between officials and members of drug trafficking, specifically the Sinaloa Cartel. A year later, the commander was murdered in December 2009 in a Starbucks café in Benito Juarez, south of Mexico City. According to the chronicles of the murder, the policeman was an informant for the DEA, the Federal Police and the Sinaloa Cartel. He was gunned down by two hitmen who got out of a pickup truck. They killed him and left one of his bodyguards and a female diner seriously wounded.
Madrigal’s testimony continues this afternoon at the Brooklyn courthouse in the last hearing of the week. García Luna is accused of drug trafficking, organized crime and giving false statements. On January 22, Propublica reported that the DEA had been investigating the former Mexican official for more than 10 years.