Human Rights and Civil Society · Transparency & accountability

Former Governor of Tamaulipas accused of receiving money from cartels

Image of a fragment of the affidavit against Peña Argüelles presented by the DEA to a Federal Court in Texas. Photo credit: Reforma.

12/02/12 ­– The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) filed an indictment before a District Court in Texas against Antonio Peña Argüelles, arrested in San Antonio, Texas on February 8 for money laundering. According to testimonies collected by the DEA, Peña is believed to be a liaison between drug organizations and Mexican politicians, as he acted as a link between groups like the Gulf Cartel and the Zetas, and elected officials like Tamaulipas’ governor Antonio Yarrington (January 1, 1999 to December 31, 2004) of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (Partido Revolucionario Institucional, PRI),  among others.

According to protected witnesses’ statements, Governor Yarrington received millions of dollars from both the Zetas and the Gulf Cartel in exchange for protecting their criminal operations while serving as governor. It is believed that Peña created the ties between cartel bosses like Miguel Treviño Morales, “Z-40” and Heriberto Lazcano Lazcano, “Lazca,” both of Los Zetas, and with Yarrington following his election in 1998. More information provided by the DEA suggests that Osiel Cardenas Guillén, the former leader of the Gulf Cartel who was arrested in March 2003, also gave money to the government of Tamaulipas to gain inroads and favors. Yarrington and Peña were seen several times together in Nuevo Laredo and in the United States, even once arguing about money in a house the governor used to rent in San Antonio, Texas. Peña is accused of laundering the money that Yarrington received from the Gulf Cartel and coordinating the assets for Yarrington in both the United States and Mexico. The affidavit also documents that, through a text message, Peña was threatened by “Z-40” for having stolen $5 million USD from the cartel. The text also mentioned that Peña’s brother, Alfonso Peña –allegedly killed by the Zetas– colluded with Yarrington and Jorge Eduardo Costilla Sánchez –current leader of the Gulf Cartel– in the assassination of Rodolfo Torre Cantú, the former PRI candidate for governor of Tamaulipas. According to the Associated Press, Yarrington declined to comment.

Rodolfo Torre Cantú (45), former candidate for governor in Tamaulipas, was murdered on June 28, 2010, along with campaign coordinator Enrique Blackmore, personal assistant Alejandro Martínez, and a fourth person. Four more were also injured in the attack.  As reported by the Justice in Mexico Project, the convoy in which they traveled was attacked while en route to the airport to travel to Valle Hermosa for a final campaign stop. Most of the major polls in Tamaulipas indicated that Torre Cantú was favored to win. After the murder, Egidio Torre Cantú –Rodolfo’s brother– was named as a candidate to fill the vacancy, and then elected governor in June 2010, which is a position he will hold until 2016. Torre Cantú asked for secrecy and confidentiality in the investigations carried out regarding his brother’s assassination, which the Attorney General’s Office (Procuraduría General de la República, PGR) – the institution responsible for conducting investigations– has offered to uphold. However, he noted that it has been 20 months since the death of the former PRI candidate, and there has not been any significant advances in the elucidation of the crime.

The PRI has been fending off allegations of criminal ties from the current ruling party in the federal government, the National Action Party (Partido Acción Nacional, PAN), who is also its main competitor in the upcoming July 2012 elections. PRI presidential candidate Enrique Peña Nieto backed up former governors from the party that are being accused by authorities for links with organized crime. Peña Nieto called for an end to fabricating distractions for electoral purposes, and to let Mexican electors decide at the polls. Although he has not directly addressed the recent accusations from the DEA, and unlike his defense of another former Tamaulipas’ governor– Manuel Cavazos Lerma– accused of organized crime connections recently, Peña Nieto did not entirely go to bat for Yarrington, saying that the PRI will not defend militants that have violated the law.


“PRI no permitirá uso faccioso de la ley: Cristina Díaz. Con Denise Maerker”. Grupo Fórmula. February 2, 2012.

Associated Press. “DEA investigation turns up allegations, evidence that Mexican governor got drug cash”. Washington Post. February 10, 2012.

“DEA: Mexican governor got millions in drug cash”. Associated Press. February 10, 2012.

Redacción. “Da narco fortuna a Yarrington.- DEA”. Reforma. February 10, 2012.

“Descarta Peña defender a Yarrington”. El Mañana. February 14, 2012.

López, Benito. “Piden a PGR sigilo por muerte de Torre”. Reforma. February 14, 2012.

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