Former Tamps. governor, businessman targeted by feds
May 23rd 2012 · 0 Comments
SOUTH PADRE ISLAND — Federal prosecutors have targeted a former Tamaulipas governor and fugitive Mexican businessman who they say accepted millions of dollars in bribes from the Gulf Cartel that were laundered in a series of business and property deals throughout South Texas.
An indictment and two forfeiture complaints filed Tuesday seek at least $40 million in damages from Fernando Alejandro Cano Martinez, 55, of Ciudad Victoria, Tamps., who faces charges of conspiracy to launder monetary instruments and bank fraud.
Tied to Cano is Tomas Yarrington Ruvalcaba, 55, a former Tamaulipas governor, Matamoros mayor and failed Mexican presidential candidate. Now a business consultant, he is named in court documents as a beneficiary to Gulf Cartel bribes.
Prosecutors moved to seize a gated condominium on South Padre Island purportedly owned by Yarrington — purchased by a “straw man” to avoid attention from the feds — and $6.6 million in property at a residential lot in San Antonio.
Investigators have identified at least four other unindicted co-conspirators involved in the case besides Yarrington, who stands to lose millions in property, but faced no criminal charges Tuesday.
The indictment alleges Cano and others conspired to use an array of corporate entities they formed in Texas to launder portions of bribes paid by the Gulf Cartel to high-level elected officials and candidates for such elected office in Tamaulipas.
Millions of dollars of assets, primarily Texas real estate, were allegedly acquired in the scheme involving Yarrington, court records state.
The Gulf Cartel bribes went to high-level elected officials in Tamaulipas, including candidates for public office “on an ongoing basis,” the indictment states.
“These bribes were paid in exchange for little or no police interference or forbearance of police action concerning the Gulf Cartel’s narcotics trafficking and money laundering activities within the State of Tamaulipas,” at least since 1998, the indictment states.
Much of those bribes likely were directed by Osiel Cárdenas Guillén, the former Gulf Cartel capo extradited to the U.S. five years ago and sentenced to 25 years in prison in 2010.
Cano faces up to 20 years in prison, if convicted of money laundering and an additional five years if convicted of conspiracy to commit bank fraud.
MOVE TO SEIZE
A civil complaint filed Tuesday afternoon in federal court in Corpus Christi targets a condominium on South Padre Island owned by Yarrington, an economist and business consultant who holds a master’s degree in public administration from the University of Southern California.
Beyond serving as governor from 1999 to 2004, Yarrington was the former Matamoros mayor and presidential candidate who sought nomination by the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, in 2005.
The complaint accuses Yarrington of using ill-gotten money to buy a condo on South Padre Island, using a third party to buy the $450,000 property.
The condo is owned by Napoleon Rodriguez, owner of Ferretera Industrial Rodriguez, a hardware supply company that has been contracted by the city of Matamoros and state of Tamaulipas to supply paint and lights, the complaint states. The upscale, 1,946-square-foot unit is halfway up the 29-story high rise, with sweeping views of the Gulf of Mexico and Laguna Madre.
Rodriguez also worked to assist Yarrington on his political campaigns, and bought the SPI condo in 1998 as a “straw man” for Yarrington at his request, the complaint states.
Prosecutors allege Yarrington used “illicit income from his political years” to become a “major real estate investor” via money laundering, the complaint states.
And in San Antonio, the U.S. Attorney is pursuing about $6.6 million for a property allegedly obtained with illicit funds by Yarrington, Cano and others.
The indictment filed Tuesday does not specifically name Yarrington, who does not face criminal charges. But prosecutors in a news release linked him to the case, saying the civil forfeiture complaint is tied into the bribery and laundering scheme involving Cano.
“We remain steadfast in our commitment in targeting not only the drug cartels, but those who allegedly provide support and service to them,” said Kenneth Magidson, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Texas.
Prosecutors all but said Yarrington was a primary beneficiary of Cano, who is accused of acting as the point man for millions in Gulf Cartel cash that kept state and local police off the notorious drug trafficking enterprise’s track.
Cano is a prominent developer in Tamaulipas with several construction companies with close ties to the former mayor and governor.
Yarrington is not named as a specific recipient of cartel bribes in Cano’s indictment — no specific names are given — but prosecutors said high-level officials throughout Tamaulipas, including candidates for public office, their allies, police and judges have accepted Gulf Cartel cash at least since 1998.
The two forfeiture complaints filed Tuesday mark the second time Yarrington’s name has emerged in federal court records as a beneficiary to cartel cash.
In February, federal authorities arrested Antonio Peña Arguelles in Laredo. Peña is accused of funneling bribes from the Zetas drug cartel to Yarrington, who was not criminally charged in that case, either.
Prior to Tuesday’s court filings, Yarrington has denied any wrongdoing or ties to drug cartels. Attempts to reach him Tuesday were unsuccessful.
Cano is accused of directing the bribe money from Mexico to the United States, where purchases were made under third parties — such as Yarrington’s condo — to avoid detection by federal agents.
Cano allegedly hid at least $20 million in bribe money in several businesses located in the Valley and San Antonio.
No attorneys for Cano or Yarrington were listed with their case files Tuesday evening.
Investigators with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Drug Enforcement Administration and Internal Revenue Service identified about 10 bank accounts in Mexico where, beginning in 2007, tens of millions of pesos were deposited and later wire transferred to accounts at Inter National Bank in McAllen and First National Bank in Brownsville, the indictment states. Between 2008 and 2009, those wire transfers exceeded $5.5 million.
The government is also seeking $40 million beyond the forfeiture of Cano’s assets, which include a Pilatus PC-12 single-engine aircraft and several bank accounts that belong to Cano.
The Swiss-made plane has made at least 20 trips between late January and April, flying between Brownsville and Houston, San Antonio, Ciudad Victoria and Monterrey, online flight records show.
The plane last flew April 22, on a one-way trip from Brownsville to Monterrey.
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By Jared Taylor