Mexico publishes US evidence on ex-defense secretary

FILE - In this Sept. 16, 2016 file photo, Defense Secretary Gen. Salvador Cienfuegos, left, and Mexico's President Enrique Pena Nieto, salute during the annual Independence Day military parade in Mexico City's main square. The U.S. Justice Department is dropping its drug trafficking and money laundering against former Mexican defense secretary Gen. Salvador Cienfuegos, Attorney General William Barr said Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2020. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell, File) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)
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MEXICO CITY (AP) — Mexico on Friday published 751 pages of evidence it received from the United States against Mexico’s former Defense Secretary, Gen. Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda, whom U.S. prosecutors had charged with drug trafficking.

The unprecedented move came a day after Mexico announced it was dropping the case against Cienfuegos, whom the U.S. arrested in October and then handed over to Mexico a month later after dropping the charges under pressure from the Mexican government.

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador dismissed the evidence against Cienfuegos Friday as circumstantial and accused the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration of fabricating the accusations and displaying a lack of professionalism in their investigation.

It wasn't immediately clear if the newly released documents would affect other prosecutions in the U.S. or compromise the identity of witnesses.

The case file contains transcripts of Blackberry messenger exchanges purportedly between cartel figures and Cienfuegos, who U.S. prosecutors have said was identified alternately as “The Godfather,” “Zepeda” and “Sepeda.” All of the pages are marked: “Shared per court order, not for further distribution.”

The U.S. Justice Department said Friday it reserved the right to resume the prosecution of Cienfuegos, who had been accused of accepting bribes in exchange for ensuring the military did not take action against the H-2 cartel while acting against its rivals. He was also accused of introducing cartel leaders to other corrupt Mexican officials.

The case file starts with text messages exchanged in December 2015 between Daniel Silva Garate, alias "el H-9,” and Juan Francisco Patrón Sánchez, “H-2,” who were leading drug gang figures in Mexico’s Pacific coast state of Nayarit. Both were killed two years later in shootouts with the Mexican Marines.

In the exchange, Silva Garate, a lieutenant to the Patrón Sanchez, describes attending a meeting with “The Godfather.”

Silva Garate describes being picked up by men with short, military-style haircuts wearing berets. He says they were traveling in three SUVs with darkened windshields, “going like crazy,” escorted by motorcycles.

At one point, Patrón Sanchez tells his underling, “He (The Godfather) is second to the president … talk calmly to him.” Silva Garate later describes having a meal with a pale-skinned man — Cienfuegos has pale, pock-marked skin — and being taken to a house in the luxury Mexico City neighborhood of Las Lomas.

At one point, Silva-Garate tells his boss that the men — whose heads are also close-cut — are taking him to Defense Department headquarters in Mexico City.

Patron Sanchez tells Silva Garate, “Give him a hug and tell him it is an honor to meet him, and tell him that if we loved him before, now we would die for him, we will never hurt him.”

Silva-Garate says the man was wearing a uniform. “Hey, this is the guy who appears on television,” he writes in amazement, though he he spells the name as Salvador Sinfuego Sepeda.

“He wants you to work so there is a crapload of money,” Silva Garate texts his boss. “We have to do something from Colombia.”

Silva Garate at one point says “The Godfather” is concerned about security and wants them to delete references to him, and the two agree to throw away their phones after the meeting is over.

“There’s no way he won’t be recognized,” Patrón Sanchez jokes at another point.

Silva Garate tells his boss that the “The Godfather” told him: “Now we are going to do big things with you … that what you have done is small-time.”

After Patrón Sanchez reports that a boat leaving Colombia has apparently been caught while transporting drugs, probably 420 kilograms of cocaine, Silva Garate says the Godfather has told him “he has friends in Colombia that can help you,”

Silva Garate asks his boss what he wants from the Godfather, and Patrón Sanchez says he wants unmolested routes to ship drugs from Colombia. Silva Garate texts back, “He says that as long as he is here, you will be free … that they will never carry out strong operations,” or raids.

Silva Garate tells his boss the “The Godfather” told him that, “You can sleep peacefully, no operation will touch you.”

Sanchez Patron texts back, “We are very grateful to him, tell him I don’t know how to pay him for this help.”

Sanchez Patron tells his subordinate to ask The Godfather “to help us with Mazatlan,” the Pacific coast resort city then dominated by the Sinaloa cartel. “Tell him it’s our dream … to be back on our turf.”

Sanchez Patrón writes “He has already done a lot for me, I owe him everything,” and Silva Garate responds, “Look at how long it has been since there was a raid in your state (Nayarit).”