McALLEN, Texas (AP) — The former governor of a Mexican state bordering Texas accepted millions of dollars in bribes from drug cartels and invested the money in Texas real estate, federal prosecutors alleged in two forfeiture cases filed Tuesday.
No criminal charges have been filed against Tomas Yarrington, who served as governor of Tamaulipas state from 1999 to 2004. But the civil actions allege that Yarrington "acquired millions of dollars in payments" while in public office from drug cartels "and from various extortion or bribery schemes."
Yarrington then used various front men and businesses "to become a major real estate investor through various money laundering mechanisms," according to documents filed in Corpus Christi. The other forfeiture case was filed in San Antonio.
U.S. authorities are trying to confiscate a condominium in South Padre Island and a 46-acre property in San Antonio.
An attorney for Yarrington in Houston said he was reviewing the documents released late Tuesday and did not immediately comment.
Yarrington also served as the mayor of Matamoros, across the border from Brownsville, from 1992 to 1995. Matamoros has been the headquarters of the Gulf cartel.
The Corpus Christi case alleges that Yarrington used a Mexican businessman who'd had contracts with the city of Matamoros and Tamaulipas to be the official buyer of the $450,000 condominium in South Padre Island in 1998. The property was placed in that man's name to avoid detection by law enforcement, prosecutors allege.
Yarrington paid for the condo entirely with drug proceeds, according to the forfeiture case, and has used it since 1998.
Documents filed in the San Antonio forfeiture case note that the details of that transaction remain under seal, but a statement from the U.S. Attorney's Office said the 46-acre property also was allegedly obtained with "illicit funds" by Yarrington and others.
Federal prosecutors also released Tuesday the indictment of another Mexican businessman who allegedly received and distributed bribes from the Gulf cartel to Tamaulipas officials to guarantee minimal police interference in the cartel's activities.
The indictment of Fernando Alejandro Cano Martinez in Brownsville on money laundering charges alleges that he and "one or more unindicted co-conspirators" used a $6.7 million bank loan to buy a 46-acre property in Bexar County, where San Antonio is located.
Cano is a builder from Ciudad Victoria, the capital of Tamaulipas, where his company has enjoyed government construction contracts under a string of PRI governors since at least 1993. One of the last contracts awarded to his company was in 2009, for a section of a highway accessing land he owned in front of the industrial port of Altamira. A federal auditor forced him to return 2 million pesos on that project for stretches that were paid for but not paved.
Cano remains at large. No attorney was listed for him.
The indictment alleges that Cano set up several front businesses in Texas that took out millions of dollars in loans from various banks that he personally guaranteed for real estate investments and in one case to purchase an airplane. And from 2007 to 2009, Cano and others used at least 10 different bank accounts in Mexico to move tens of millions of pesos to a Mexican money transmitter, which then moved them on to several accounts in U.S. banks, according to the indictment.
That indictment also seeks a $20 million forfeiture from Cano that he had represented as his net worth.
Yarrington was also named earlier this year in the federal indictment of Antonio Pena Arguelles, who was also charged with money laundering in San Antonio. That indictment alleged that leaders of the Gulf and Zetas cartels paid millions to Institutional Revolutionary Party members, including Yarrington.
An affidavit filed in that case said the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration had obtained ledgers documenting millions of dollars in payments to Yarrington's representatives. It accused Pena of using U.S. bank accounts to funnel millions to Yarrington from leaders of the Gulf and the Zetas. Confidential informants said the money was to buy political influence in Tamaulipas.
Yarrington declined to comment when contacted by The Associated Press in February regarding those allegations.
Mexican prosecutors said in late January they were investigating former Tamaulipas officials in connection with unspecified federal crimes, a category that includes money-laundering and drug-related crimes. Yarrington and two other former governors from the same political party — Manuel Cavazos, who served until 1999, and Eugenio Hernandez, who left office in 2010 — publicly acknowledged that they were subjects of the probe but denied any links to crime.
The presidential candidate of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, Enrique Pena Nieto, is leading his two main opponents by double digits in opinion polls ahead of Mexico's July 1 election. His rivals, particularly the candidate of the current ruling party, have tried to dent his lead by accusing the party of maintaining decades-long corrupt ties to organized crime and cited the Tamaulipas cases as prime examples.
The accusations have failed to make much of an impact on Pena Nieto's showing in polls, however, and he is widely expected to win.
Osiel Cardenas Guillen, who ran the Gulf cartel while Yarrington was in office, was sentenced to 25 years in prison in 2010. He was arrested by Mexican authorities in 2003 and extradited to the U.S. in 2007.
Associated Press writer Michael Weissenstein in Mexico City contributed to this report.