Mexico deports drug lord to U.S. Garcia Abrego called one of most powerful in the hemisphere

January 16, 1996|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

MEXICO CITY -- Federal authorities arrested Juan Garcia Abrego, a man accused of being one of the hemisphere's most powerful and murderous drug lords, and promptly expelled him to the United States, where he is wanted on drug trafficking and money laundering charges, the government announced yesterday.

Mexican anti-drug agents seized Mr. Garcia Abrego Sunday night in the northern city of Monterrey and flew him to Mexico City.

Yesterday, Mr. Garcia Abrego was put on a Mexican government plane and flown to Houston, where he had been indicted on charges of conspiracy to possess, distribute and import cocaine and for money laundering.

Mr. Garcia Abrego was reportedly born in Texas and was included in the FBI's "Ten Most Wanted Fugitives" list last March. The FBI had offered a $2 million reward for his capture.

Mr. Garcia Abrego is the most important drug-trafficking suspect the Mexican authorities have arrested since 1989. Operating across the border from Texas, where he maintained a large private army, he is said to have taken government corruption to new heights with millions of dollars in monthly bribes.

For more than a decade, Mr. Garcia Abrego built a cocaine-smuggling empire worth an estimated $10 billion, based the northeastern Mexican state of Tamaulipas along the Gulf of Mexico, authorities said. His operations are said to have ranged from New York to Houston, Dallas and Cali, Colombia.

Mr. Garcia Abrego rose to prominence after 1988, during the six-year presidency of Carlos Salinas de Gortari, when he allegedly paid millions of dollars in bribes. In one case, a woman reported to be on Mr. Garcia Abrego's payroll developed romantic relationships with a member of the Mexican Cabinet and with Mr. Salinas' top security coordinator.

Thomas A. Constantine, the administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration, testified in August that Mr. Garcia Abrego had pioneered deals in which Mexican traffickers take their payment in cocaine from their Colombian suppliers, a move, he said, that substantially raised Mexican traffickers' profits.

From 1989 to 1993, the authorities seized $53 million in drug profits from the Garcia Abrego organization, Mr. Constantine said.

In one case that went to trial in 1994, two American Express Bank International employees in Brownsville, Texas, were sentenced to jail for accepting some $30 million in deposits for the reputed drug lord's representatives.

Mr. Constantine characterized five leaders of Mexican crime syndicates, including Mr. Garcia Abrego, as Mexico's main traffickers. With Mr. Garcia Abrego's arrest, four remain fugitives.

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