Genaro García Luna convicted of drug trafficking and organized crime in the US

The New York jury reached a unanimous verdict on the five crimes charged against the former secretary of public security of Mexico during the government of Felipe Calderón

Genaro García Luna
Mexico's former secretary of public security, Genaro Garcia Luna in Mexico City, November 29, 2012.Tomas Bravo (Reuters)

Genaro García Luna was found guilty on all charges on Tuesday in the Federal District Court in Brooklyn, New York. After two days of deliberations and four weeks of testimony, the jury’s verdict marks the end of the trial on drug trafficking and organized crime-related charges against García Luna, who was secretary of public security under former Mexican president Felipe Calderón (2006-2012). It has been the most high-profile trial ever held against a former Mexican official in the United States.

Arrested in Texas in December 2019, just five months after Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzmán was sentenced to life in prison, Garcia Luna was slapped with three drug-related charges: conspiracy to distribute cocaine internationally, conspiracy to distribute and possess cocaine and conspiracy to import cocaine. He was also charged with being part of a continuing criminal enterprise and making false statements on his naturalization application. The US District Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, which previously precipitated the downfall of the most famous Mexican drug lord of recent times, accused him of collaborating for years with the Sinaloa Cartel in exchange for million-dollar bribes.

Prosecutors said the former official’s ties to drug trafficking go back more than two decades, since he took over as director of the Federal Investigation Agency, created in 2001 during the government of Vicente Fox (2000-2006). “With the help of the government, the cartel grew in terms of territory, in the amount of drugs it moved, and it eliminated its enemies,” said Sergio Villarreal Barragán, alias “El Grande,” the first witness called to testify at the trial. The same idea was repeated in the prosecutors’ closing statements. “It would have been impossible for the cartel to have expanded as it did without the support of the Mexican government,” said deputy prosecutor Saritha Komatireddy on Wednesday.

Testimony at the trial also smeared the Felipe Calderón administration. Edgar Veytia, a former prosecutor for the Mexican state of Nayarit who was convicted of having ties to drug trafficking, said he was instructed to protect El Chapo Guzmán over the rest of the drug traffickers. “The line was El Chapo,” said Veytia. The former president denied that such orders existed during his term in office. “I never negotiated or made pacts with criminals,” the former president responded.

The trial against García Luna put the spotlight on the war on drugs launched by the Calderón administration, a war that also launched the meteoric career of García Luna, until then a second-line official. Fearsome, ambitious and powerful, the man who put a face to the fight against drugs became one of the most controversial figures in Mexican politics.

Because of the judge’s orders and the way the case was built in the United States, many of the lingering doubts about the former security secretary’s legacy were left out of court. The trial ended at least two weeks earlier than originally planned and was criticized on the other side of the border for the absence of physical evidence. “Where is the evidence?” questioned César de Castro, who heads Garcia Luna’s defense, at various stages of the process.

Some of the most feared drug traffickers of recent decades testified at the trial, including Oscar Nava Valencia “El Lobo,” leader of the now-defunct Milenio Cartel, and Jesús “El Rey” Zambada, brother of Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada, founder of the Sinaloa Cartel. Former police officers, former Mexican officials, US law enforcement agents and Anthony Wayne, former US ambassador to Mexico, also took the stand. The legal action unleashed a political firestorm in Mexico, including threats by President Andrés Manuel López Obrador to sue De Castro for insinuating that “El Rey” had also given him bribes. In the midst of the hurricane on the other side of the border, Genaro García Luna’s future was on the line in a US court.

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