12/30/13 (written by cmolzahn) — An indictment unsealed on December 2 charges former Tamaulipas Governor Tomás Yarrington (1999-2004) with violating federal racketeering and money laundering laws. The indictment was issued by a federal grand jury in Brownsville, Texas in May, and also charges Yarrington’s alleged co-conspirator, Fernando Alejandro Cano Martínez, the owner of a Mexican construction firm, with three counts of bank fraud. Yarrington, who served as mayor of Matamoros from 1993 to 1995, has been charged with conspiring to violate the Controlled Substances Act for his alleged direct involvement in smuggling drugs into the United States, as well as bank fraud and conspiracy in structuring currency transactions at U.S. financial institutions to avoid filing required financial documents. The charges also include alleged violations of the RICO act.
According to the indictment, Yarrington accepted large quantities of bribes starting in 1998 from drug trafficking organizations operating in the state, including the Gulf Cartel. As governor, he allegedly permitted the groups to freely operate in the state, allowing large quantities of drugs to cross into the United States in exchange for a cut of the proceeds. The indictment claims that after his tenure as Tamaulipas governor between 2007 and 2009, Yarrington was directly involved in trafficking large amounts of cocaine through the port of Veracruz en route to the United States.
The indictment also alleges that Yarrington accepted bribes from commercial contractors while serving as governor of Tamaulipas. During the same time, the Tamaulipas-based company owned by Cano, Materiales y Construcciones Villa Aguayo, S.A. de C.V., was awarded significant contracts by the Tamaulipas government. The U.S. investigation has focused on Yarrington’s and Cano’s activities in Texas, where they were allegedly engaged in real estate transactions beginning in 1998 using borrowed names and front companies to hide their involvement. It is also alleged that in 2005 Yarrington used misappropriated public funds to purchase a small airplane, for which $300,000 (USD) was transferred to a bank account in the United States. An additional $5 million pesos were transferred to Cano in the same year.
All told, the indictment claims that there was $7 million (USD) in illicit funds transferred under front names to U.S. banks, all in deposits smaller than $10,000 (USD) in order to avoid detection. Yarrington faces 20 years in prison for both the RICO and money laundering charges. Conspiracy to commit bank fraud carries a prison sentence of up to 30 years, and the drug conspiracy charges carry a prison sentence of at least ten years. He possibly faces an additional five years for the currency structuring charges. The indictment also seeks asset forfeitures, including 46 acres in Bexar County, Texas, and a Pilatus airplane, along with additional properties in Texas.
Yarrington, who has secured a constitutional injunction in Mexico to avoid arrest, has denied the claims. Meanwhile, Yarrington’s attorney in the United States, Joel Androphy, has suggested that the accusations against his client could be political in nature. His attorney in Mexico, Marco Tulio Ruiz, has criticized Mexican authorities for acting outside of their jurisdiction in the initial stages of the investigation into his client. According to Ruiz, Mexican federal prosecutors and consuls in the United States did not follow proper procedure when they interviewed protected witnesses regarding the allegations against his client. U.S. authorities say that Yarrington’s whereabouts are currently unknown, and consider him to be a fugitive of justice.