NEW YORK (AP) — Mexico's former top security official pleaded not guilty on Friday on charges he accepted a fortune in drug-money bribes from kingpin Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman's notorious Sinaloa cartel to let it operate with impunity.
Genaro Garcia Luna, 51, was indicted in New York on three counts of cocaine trafficking conspiracy and a false statements charge.
During his brief appearance in a Brooklyn courtroom, Garcia Luna shook his head “no” as prosecutors outlined the charges against him.
A judge ordered him detained after Assistant U.S. Attorney Erin Reid argued that he would pose an “unacceptable risk of flight" if released. Garcia Luna's lawyer, Cesar de Castro, said he would ask the court at a later date for his client to be granted bail.
Garcia Luna was viewed as the point man in then-President Felipe Calderon’s 2006-2012 war on drugs. As public safety secretary, he was one of the most feared members of Calderon’s government, but for years was dogged by allegations about his ties to drug traffickers.
Calderon’s government was criticized for not going after the Sinaloa cartel with the same energy as the cartel’s rivals. Calderon always rebuffed that criticism.
U.S. prosecutors said in a court filing this month that Garcia Luna had accepted “tens of millions of dollars” in bribes — often briefcases full of cash — to protect the cartel.
“Because of the defendant’s corrupt assistance, the Sinaloa Cartel conducted its criminal activity in Mexico without significant interference from Mexican law enforcement and imported multi-ton quantities of cocaine and other drugs into the United States,” prosecutors wrote.
They added that Garcia Luna “prioritized his personal greed over his sworn duties as a public servant and assured the continued success and safety of one of the world’s most notorious trafficking organizations.”
De Castro declined to comment on the charges.
During Guzman’s 2018 New York trial, jurors heard former cartel member Jesus Zambada testify that he personally made at least $6 million in hidden payments to Garcia Luna, on behalf of his older brother, cartel boss Ismael "El Mayo" Zambada.
It's alleged that during the time Garcia Luna protected the Sinaloa Cartel in exchange for bribes, the cartel, at the direction of Chapo Guzman, Mayo Zambada and other leaders, sent multi-ton drug loads to New York and other American cities, including the federal district covering Brooklyn and Queens, according to court documents.
Garcia Luna lived in Miami, Florida, before his arrest last month in Texas. From 2001 to 2005, he led Mexico’s Federal Investigation Agency and from 2006 to 2012 served as Mexico’s secretary of public security before relocating to the U.S., authorities said.