El Grande, first witness in the trial of García Luna: “The Sinaloa Cartel grew with the help of the Government”

Sergio Villarreal Barragán, alias 'El Grande', after being detained by the Navy in September 2010.
Sergio Villarreal Barragán, alias ‘El Grande’, after being detained by the Navy in September 2010.Saúl López (Dark Room)

Sergio Villarreal Barragan, aka The big one, is the first witness in the trial against Genaro García Luna. The former collaborator of the Sinaloa Cartel and the Juárez Cartel pointed out this Monday that the former official’s links with organized crime go back more than 20 years, when García Luna was director of the Federal Investigation Agency (AFI), during the Government by Vicente Fox (2000-2006). The first collaborator of the Prosecutor’s Office directly accused him of being part of the group led by Joaquín El Chapo Guzmán and receiving monthly bribes for years. “With the help of the Government, the cartel grew in terms of territory, in the amount of drugs that we moved, and it eliminated its enemies,” Villarreal Barragán said in the Brooklyn court.

“He had a very important participation,” said El Grande about the role that García Luna played in the structure of the Sinaloa Cartel. Villarreal Barragán, a former police officer who earned his nickname because he is over two meters tall, said that he had several meetings with García Luna when he was in charge of the AFI and that he was present on several occasions when they They gave him bribes. The capo said that Arturo Beltrán, a former partner of the Sinaloa Cartel and later leader of the Beltrán Leyva Cartel, was the one who gave the money to the former official. “The payments grew as the cartel grew and without that support it would have been practically impossible,” he commented.

Villarreal Baragán claimed that Beltrán gave García Luna bribes ranging from $1 million to $1.5 million each month between 2001 and 2006, either through people who worked for the then AFI director or delivered directly to him. El Grande said that starting in 2004, the Beltrán Leyva faction and the defendant met on average once a month in a safe house near Perisur, a well-known shopping center in southern Mexico City. Members of the Sinaloa Cartel picked up García Luna in the parking lot of the commercial plaza and took him to the “office” of the criminal group, where the former official talked for about three hours with his alleged associates, according to the testimony. Luis Cárdenas Palomino, García Luna’s right-hand man and general director of Investigations at the AFI, also attended the meetings. Cárdenas Palomino is indicated by the authorities as the main accomplice.

Always according to this version, the drug trafficker said that Arturo Beltrán gave García Luna a limited edition Harley Davidson motorcycle to win his favors and start meeting relatively frequently. Once contact was established, the bribes were delivered in black bag packages containing $100 bills, known as sausages and compacted until reaching the sum of 10,000 dollars. Then packages of five were put together sausages until he amassed around a million dollars that were delivered to the high command of the specialized Police. “Usually they would put a suitcase on the table, open the zipper and show the contents,” said El Grande. The bosses of the Sinaloa Cartel referred to the defendant as the dude either the stutterer, as a mockery for his language problems. “They spoke with familiarity, as friends,” Villarreal Barragán said of the conversations between Arturo Beltrán and García Luna.

El Grande stood before the jury and explained in front of a blackboard the expansion of the cartel thanks to the supposed support of García Luna. In 2001, according to his testimony, the criminal organization controlled only Sonora, Chihuahua, Sinaloa, Durango and a part of the corridor between the cities of Torreón and Monterrey. After a few years, it maintained its presence in those States and practically extended throughout the country from Baja California to the Yucatan peninsula. “He gave us information on operations and investigations against the organization and helped us get rid of commanders and police chiefs in each square,” he added.

After spending more than a decade in the security forces and colluding with the Juárez Cartel, El Grande joined the Sinaloa Cartel in 2001, a few months after García Luna was appointed director of the AFI, an agency created during the Fox government to investigate federal crimes. At the time, the criminal organization was an amalgamation of alliances between various crime bosses. At the beginning of his appearance, Villarreal Barragán identified several famous bosses in front of the jury as Ismael the may Zambada, his brother Jesus The king Zambada, Ignacio Coronel and the Beltrán Leyva brothers. “Arturo knew about my knowledge of the police and he asked me to design the operations to attack his enemies,” he commented.

El Grande said that the criminal group received protection from the Mexican government with police officers working as bodyguards and that several members of the cartel had credentials that identified them as AFI agents and that allowed them to carry weapons. Villarreal Barragán had, for example, identification with the position of “second commander” under a false identity: Gerardo Máynez Real. In addition, the Sinaloa Cartel had “cloned” patrol cars with the shield of the agency in charge of García Luna and false uniforms to camouflage themselves as police officers.

The testimony of the drug trafficker, now a cooperating witness, was detailed regarding the alleged networks of complicity between the AFI and the Sinaloa Cartel. He spoke, for example, that the investigative agency had an agreement with the criminal group to share the drug seizures: the “García Luna people” kept half the value of the shipments and the drug traffickers, with the other one. He said that cartel gunmen and agents carried out joint operations against the Gulf Cartel, their enemies. That criminals put people in and out of the structure of the government agency, and did the same with police checkpoints to facilitate the flow of drugs. “Those payments were for them to be committed to us, one hundred”, said El Grande with a thick northern accent.

In addition to pointing fingers at García Luna and Cárdenas Palomino, El Grande’s statements also targeted a whole network of AFI officials. Among those mentioned are Domingo González, director of the agency’s Command Center and a key player in the alleged bribery network. Armando Espinosa de Benito, another high-ranking official, was identified as a DEA collaborator, “el Chapo’s friend and friend of El Mayo,” according to Villarreal Barragán. Other close collaborators of the accused were directly accused of working for the cartel such as Iván Reyes Arzate The Queen, sentenced to 10 years for drug trafficking in the United States; Ramón Pequeño, fugitive from justice, and almost a dozen commanders and middle and senior managers. Edgar Valdez Villarreal the barbie He also emerged in his testimony as one of the main drug traffickers who had a relationship with the AFI. Some meetings were even in the agency’s offices in the capital, the witness commented.

The initial allegations

“García Luna was part of the Sinaloa Cartel, they put him on their payroll,” said assistant prosecutor Philip Pilmar, in charge of giving the initial position of the Prosecutor’s Office this Monday. “Despite that, he presented himself as a hero,” he said in his first opportunity to address the jurors. César de Castro, García Luna’s lawyer, assured that the US authorities had no evidence to prove the charges against his client. “They will see how his government abandons one of his strategic partners and how the Prosecutor’s case is based on the testimony of murderers, kidnappers and drug traffickers,” said De Castro.

García Luna entered the room shortly before half past nine in the morning. He sent kisses and thanked his daughter Luna and his wife, Linda Cristina Pereyra, for being present. “I love you very much”, he could be read on the lips of the former official, while he greeted his family. Around 50 minutes later, both sides gave their starting positions. Then they gave way to the first testimony of the trial, which lasted for about four hours, interrupted by the recess. “Your Honor, the Prosecutor’s Office is calling Sergio Villarreal Barragán,” said Assistant Prosecutor Erin Reid, in charge of the interrogation.

El Grande was arrested in Mexico in 2010 and extradited to the United States in May 2012, when García Luna was Secretary of Security in the Government of Felipe Calderón. His testimony is the first of a list that includes dozens of people ready to testify against García Luna, including former associates, drug traffickers and corrupt politicians. If found guilty, the highest-ranking former Mexican official to have stepped foot in a US court faces between 10 years and life in prison. The interrogation of Villarreal Barragán is expected to continue on Tuesday, with the rest of the questions from the prosecutors and the defense lawyers.

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