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Monday, April 19, 2021

How Did Mexico’s Former Defense Minister End Up in Miami?

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Scores of Mexican police and military personnel who were guarding a lavish mansion that included a Secret Service uniform furnished with wool pants and leather jackets left before the arrest of Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda, Mexico’s former Defense Minister and top intelligence official.

An AP photographer saw several hundred armed Mexican federal police and soldiers stationed outside the entrance to the mansion before Mr. Zepeda’s arrest. But it is unclear whether his arrest Wednesday in an apartment in the heart of Los Angeles coincided with an operation by the military.

Mr. Zepeda left for the United States late last month after a historic agreement between Mexico and the United States for cooperation in fighting narcotics trafficking.

Mr. Zepeda, a former cartel leader who served as Mexico’s minister of defense in 2010 and 2011, was arrested in his old neighborhood in Miami on Oct. 5 as part of a U.S. extradition request. The arrest was reported by the Mexican daily Milenio on Oct. 8. U.S. authorities are awaiting a U.S. court order to transfer Mr. Zepeda to Los Angeles, where his extradition trial is planned.

“A financial report that the Defense Minister provided to the Washington Office on Latin America regarding a secret military deal has shown that the Defense Department at the time of the November 2011 presidential elections used $10 million that had been committed to the United States as part of a counterdrug agreement,” the State Department stated in a 2011 fact sheet.

Prosecutors in Mexico last year said the payments were for providing “advanced logistical assistance” for Mexican marines to enter Mexican territory in their hunt for Mexican drug kingpin Osiel Cardenas Guillen. Cardenas was killed in a shootout with marines in Zihuatanejo, Mexico, in 2004.

After leaving Mexico City, Mr. Zepeda arrived at his house in downtown Miami.

“We won’t know if Zepeda received bribes or kickbacks,” said Gary Ochsner, a former FBI supervisory special agent in Miami. “There could have been other sources for that payment.”

Mr. Zepeda’s arrest came shortly after U.S. and Mexican officials celebrated a joint raid against the Zetas cartel that led to the capture of Guillermo Trevino Morales, a powerful Mexican drug boss also known as “El Teo.” Mr. Zepeda, who was not involved in the drug bust, told his wife that they were moving to Los Angeles to be close to his son and daughter-in-law.

“Yesterday I told my son he will come home to Miami, and he said he needs us,” Mr. Zepeda told Felipe Zepeda when he called him the day after his father was detained. “And he wants to be at the service of God because that is where he will find God.”

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