Mexico took the first steps June 21 toward extraditing former Quintana Roo governor Mario Villanueva Madrid to the US, where he is wanted in New York City on charges of drug trafficking, money laundering and racketeering. President Felipe Calderón has already sent 21 narco suspects to face charges across the border this year, but Villanueva would be the highest-ranking former Mexican official to stand trial in the United States on drug charges.
Villanueva is accused of taking millions of dollars in payoffs from the Juárez cartel during the 1990s in return for helping it ship about 200 tons of cocaine through the Yucatán Peninsula. He went underground in April 1999, just before his term as governor (and immunity from prosecution) ended. Federal police tracked him down and arrested him in May 2001 near Cancún. Since then, he has been in Mexico’s Altiplano maximum-security prison, on a money-laundering conviction.
But on June 21, he finished his sentence and walked out of Altiplano. As his family looked on, a dozen masked federal agents immediately seized him again—this time at the request of the United States. “They are kidnapping me! Help!” the former governor said as he was seized, according to El Universal. He is now being held pending an extradition hearing.
According to two indictments in Manhattan Federal Court, Villanueva took millions of dollars from Juárez kingpins, including Alcides Ramón Magaña, from 1994 to 1999—about $500,000 for each shipment. He is also acused of laundering some $11 million with the help of an investment manager at Lehman Brothers in New York.
In return for the payoffs, the cartel brought at least 200 tons of cocaine into Cancún by boat, storing it for shipment north to the border town of Reynosa, from where it was hauled to New York and other cities. The indictments say Quintana Roo state police escorted the shipments and worked as enforcers for the cartel. (NYT, June 22)