MEXICO CITY (AP) — In a major embarrassment for Mexican law enforcement, U.S. prosecutors said in documents made public Wednesday that the commander of a Mexican police intelligence-sharing unit was passing information on a DEA investigation to the Beltran Leyva drug cartel in exchange for millions of dollars.
What Castilla did not say was that Reyes Arzate was the commander of a federal police sensitive investigative unit (siu).SIUs, were formed starting in the 1990s precisely to create more secure groups that the U.S. could feel comfortable sharing intelligence with.
The Justice Department described Reyes Arzate as “the principal point of contact for information being shared between U.S. law enforcement and the Mexican Federal Police.”
As a top Mexican police commander, Ivan Reyes Arzate was trusted for years with the most sensitive information surrounding U.S. investigations of dangerous cartel drug traffickers, from notorious Sinaloa cartel boss Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman to the violent offshoot faction known as Beltran-Leyva.
A 42-page criminal complaint unsealed in Chicago on Wednesday alleged that Reyes had leaked crucial information to several targets of the undercover probe, including the identity of an informant who later had to be evacuated from Mexico for his own safety.
The complaint alleged that during a personal meeting with cartel leader Arturo Beltran-Leyva in 2009, Reyes revealed the identity of another DEA informant who had been “instrumental” in securing an indictment against the cartel’s bosses.
On Beltran-Leyva’s orders, cartel assassins later kidnapped, tortured and killed the informant, according to the complaint. Beltran-Leyva was killed in a firefight with Mexican authorities in 2009 which means Reyes had been working as a mole for the cartels for at least 8 years.
Several informants, including other corrupt Mexican police officials, told authorities that Reyes was paid at least $3 million for his betrayal, the complaint alleged.
Reyes first drew attention last year during an investigation involving Chicago and San Diego authorities of a Beltran-Leyva-connected drug trafficking network that was allegedly importing multiple tons of narcotics from Colombia to Mexico for distribution in the U.S., according to the charges.
According to the complaint, a DEA agent in September asked Reyes to assist in surveillance of several targets in Mexico City. The agent sent Reyes a surveillance photo that had been taken in Cancun in April to help him identify the players and gave him the address of an apartment where they were believed to be living and the name of a restaurant where they often met, the charges alleged.
The next day, that same photograph was sent by someone using the screen name “Ayala” to one of the drug traffickers warning he was being targeted by the DEA, according to the complaint.
“Regarding yesterday’s matter. Guess what? It’s you,” Ayala — who authorities later learned to be Reyes — wrote to the trafficker, according to the complaint.
Ayala also warned the trafficker to discontinue any use of cellphones and move locations if possible.
“I recommend you wait a bit, get rid of all (communication devices), and if you can move from where you are, due to the location of the phones you have now. … Take care and we’ll be in touch. No worries.”
In October, authorities intercepted text messages between Dominguez, the kingpin, and an associate discussing how the cartel had leverage over Reyes because his code name — La Reina — had already surfaced in investigative files as that of a corrupt law enforcement officer.
“We can screw ivan,” the unidentified associate said, according to the complaint.
In the texts, the two surmised the case against them was weak because it relied on the cooperation of one informant whom they repeatedly referred to as “the dirt bag.” They also discussed various methods of getting the informant to “retract” the information he had given to the government, according to the complaint.
“If the dirt bag retracts everything, that’s the only way we can make this work,” Dominguez texted Oct. 26, according to the complaint. “Ivan should be there waiting for the process, that way he can come with the gueros (U.S. law enforcement) to do the work.”
According to the complaint, Reyes met in person with Dominguez in Mexico City in November and discussed the leaked surveillance photograph.
Dominguez and one of the associates who dealt with Reyes have since been charged with narcotics offenses in federal court in San Diego, while a third cartel member faces similar charges in Chicago, according to the complaint. Both of those cases remain under seal, however.
“So the information that goes from the vetted units to their commanders can be easily compromised.”
On Feb. 2, federal prosecutors and Mexican Federal Police officials confronted Reyes at the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City, according to the complaint. In the interview, he denied being Ayala or “otherwise being the source of the leak of the U.S. investigation,” but he did acknowledge meeting with Dominguez in November, the complaint said.
Reyes said the meeting was set up with cartel members “to discuss reducing violence” following the killing of a federal police officer a few weeks earlier.
It is not the first time that Mexico has failed to detect such deep corruption. The case against Reyes Pwas unsealed in Chicago’s federal court just a week after the sitting attorney general for the western Mexican state of Nayarit was arrested at the U.S. border in California on charges he conspired with the Beltran-Leyva cartel to smuggle cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine to the U.S.
“In both cases, the arrests were made without the participation of Mexican authorities. Confidence is not at its highest level.”, said former DEA agent Mike Vigil.
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