“Socalj” for Borderland Beat

Sergio Villarreal Barragán was the prosecution’s first witness called.

“El Grande” the former policeman turned cartel figure alleged that Luna not only was bribed to look the other way but helped the Sinaloa Cartel grow, take down rivals, and even traffic tons of cocaine. These accusations were outlined during the opening arguments of the Brooklyn, New York trial against Genaro Garcia Luna. Luna is the highest-ranking official from the Mexican government to be tried in the US on drug trafficking charges.

Opening Arguments

During opening arguments, Assistant US Attorney Philip Pilmar focused on Garcia Luna’s alleged role as an enabler of the Sinaloa Cartel. “While entrusted to work for the Mexican people, he had a job. He also had a 2nd job, a dirtier job, a more lucrative job: He took millions of dollars in cash bribes to enable the biggest drug cartel in Mexico to send tons—literal tons of cocaine—to the US.”
Prosecutors say evidence will show that Mexican Federal Police officers personally unloaded cocaine at the CDMX airport. Cartel members were allowed to wear federal police uniforms with badges and the federal police also “served as armed mercenaries to take out enemies the cartel wanted to be removed.”

Defense Attorney Cesar de Castro tells the jury in his opening arguments that there is: “No money. No photos. No videos. No texts. No emails. No records, no credible, believable, plausible evidence [that] Mr. García Luna helped the cartels.” De Castro says the prosecution’s case hinges on “rumors, speculation, and the words of the biggest criminals in the world, many of whom were arrested and extradited by Mr. García Luna. They want the last laugh and they want your help doing it,” he said.

In the late 1990s, García Luna left Mexico’s civilian intelligence service to help reorganize the federal police, he spent nearly 15 years at the center of the two governments’ joint efforts to build a more effective, less-corrupt criminal justice system in Mexico.
For six years, García Luna ran the Federal Investigative Agency, a police force modeled vaguely on the FBI. During the term of former Mexican President Vicente Fox, violence in Mexico was at a similar level to administrations prior. It began to get more violent in 2005.
Starting in late 2006, President Felipe Calderón declared a war on drugs, bringing the military in to tackle the cartels and in many cases, take over policing duties. Calderon also sought help from the US to fight the cartels and transform its criminal justice system, García Luna was named as his powerful Secretary of Public Safety for years.

Prosecutors presented a chart with García Luna’s image at the top and the mugshots of various Sinaloa Cartel leaders alongside him, including the Beltrán-Leyva brothers, “El Mayo” Zambada and his brother “El Rey”, and Ignacio “Nacho” Coronel.

“El Grande’s” Testimony

The first cooperating witness is Sergio Villarreal Barragán, “El Grande,” a former lieutenant in the Beltrán-Leyva Organization. He claims he was present “at some points” when Arturo Beltrán Leyva personally bribed Genaro García Luna.

Sergio “El Grande” Villarreal said that in 2001 the Sinaloa Cartel only had control of Chihuahua, Sinaloa, Sonora, and Durango but after just 9 years the number increased to 15 states. El Grande clarified that the growth of CDS would have been impossible without the participation of García Luna and the security institutions.

“El Grande” following his arrest in Mexico.

From Policeman to Cartel Member

Sergio, better known as “El Grande” due to his stature has his own past history in the federal police agencies. He had attended law school and dropped out before joining Mexico’s heavily corrupted federal police force.
In the 1990s, he recounted the memory of when he was first recruited to work for the cartels. He was supervising a checkpoint in Chihuahua in the 1990s when several SUVs got out and gunmen exited wearing the same uniforms he was. 
Amado Carrillo Fuentes, leader of the Juarez Cartel, approached him and stated,  “Either align yourself with us or get out of here.” Grande chose to join.
He eventually joined the Sinaloa Cartel under the direction of Arturo Beltrán Leyva, of the future Beltran Leyva Organization in 2001. 

Gifts and Bribes to Garcia Luna

García Luna at that time, was the Director of the AFI (Federal Investigative Agency) “[Luna] was already getting paid, and he was paid until the last day of Arturo Beltrán’s life” testified “El Grande”. On one occasion Arturo sent a “special edition Harley Davidson motorcycle” as a gift. That type of motorcycle was listed twice as assets belonging to Luna prior in 2002 and 2003 at a value of nearly $10,000.
“El Grande” testified that usually, everything given was in monthly cash payments. As the Sinaloa Cartel grew and became more powerful, the bribes increased. “El Grande” stated that the payments ranged from $1 million to $1.5 million monthly. Evidence of Luna’s wealth post-2012 when he left office is not allowed to be brought up by the prosecution during the trial.
According to “El Grande,” Luna was being bribed prior to 2001. That year, Luna became the Director of the AFI (Federal Investigative Division), it was a newly formed federal police agency similar to the FBI, that grew out of the Federal Judicial Police, the old and heavily corrupted police force for the country. He was the planning director of that agency, and as such, had a large hand in setting up the operations of the AFI. “El Grande” testified that Luna also had control over what agents were placed in certain areas that were cartel controlled.
The Sinaloa Cartel took advantage of the new agency and he and other members were given fake AFI credentials and badges. The cartel also had fake uniforms and they outfitted armored SUVs in order to look like AFI vehicles.

“He would give us info about operations against the cartel. He helped us put in and take out agents in any part of Mexico and he shared information so we could hit our rivals.”
“We needed people we trusted, people who were with us 100%.” stated “El Grande.”

Luna Profited from Stolen Cocaine Shipments

El Grande also told a story about intercepting a 2-ton cocaine shipment that belonged to the Gulf Cartel. Genaro Garcia Luna went to the safehouse where the cocaine was taken to along with his right-hand man, Luis Cardenas Palomino, who is currently jailed in Mexico’s Altiplano prison.

Sergio said that Luna had a deal to get half the value of any cocaine shipments that were stolen from rival cartels. For this load, the corrupt cops’ share was worth $14-16 million. “It was a good amount.” stated “El Grande.” The cash was handed over in cardboard boxes.

He also mentioned Edgar Valdez-Villarreal “La Barbie.” “He and I were friends, Barbie and I,” he said. No official announcement has been made if “La Barbie” will be testifying but it is likely and this is a hint.

DEA Had Knowledge of Luna’s Crimes for Over a Decade

The case against Genaro Garcia Luna will surely be a complex one. It has taken years to build, largely due to the investigation being repeatedly delayed to gain more evidence before it stalled out for a few years.

The DEA uncovered evidence of García Luna’s collusion with drug traffickers over 10 years ago, months before he stepped down from his position as Secretary of Public Security for Mexico in 2012. The following year, the same year Luna applied for a US Visa and began his move to Miami, Florida; the agents presented their case to the head of the DEA at the time, DEA Administrator Michele M. Leonhart. They were urged to work towards getting an indictment.

But as the investigators continued to build their case over the next few years, federal prosecutors in Houston rejected it repeatedly, calling it insufficient. This was according to several current and former officials.

Finally, the case stalled. “They wanted more,” said Steven S. Whipple, who supervised the investigation for several years as a Deputy Chief and then Head of the DEA office in Houston. “I thought we had enough to charge the guy, but they said no, and they were the lawyers.”