Juan García Abrego

Juan García Abrego

Juan García Abrego (born September 13, 1944) is a former leader of the Gulf Cartel and nephew to reputed Mexican crime figure Juan N. Guerra. García Abrego was eventually captured and sentenced to 11 life sentences and over $100 million USD in seizures.

Foundation / operations

García Abrego's criminal beginning are associated with his uncle, Juan N. Guerra, who is reported to be the former head of a criminal dynasty along the U.S.-Mexico border. United States intelligence reports state Guerra reared his nephew on car theft before passing down his criminal enterprise.cite news|title=Matamoros Journal;Canaries Sing in Mexico, but Uncle Juan Will Not |publisher=New York Times|date=February 9, 1996 |url=http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9C0DEFDF1539F93AA35751C0A960958260 |last=Dillon |first=Sam] The exact date of succession is unknown, however law enforcement officials recall an incident on January 27, 1987 when Tomas Morlet, former officer in an elite Mexican police force turned national trafficker, exchanged harsh words with García Abrego and was later found, shot twice in the back in the doorway of Guerra's Piedras Negras Restaurant.

Reports date García Abrego's trafficking career beginning in the mid 1970's exporting marijuana from Mexico into the U.S. states of Texas, Louisiana and Florida. In the early 1980's he began incorporating cocaine into the cartels trafficking operations.cite book|last=Cockburn|first=Alexander|coauthors=Jeffrey St. Clair|title=Whiteout: The CIA, Drugs and the Press|publisher=Verso Publishers|date=1998|pages=361|isbn=1859841392] García Abrego is widely known for innovating Mexican trafficking operations, turning them from not only smugglers, into suppliers. By renegotiating his deal with the Cali Cartel, García Abrego was able to secure 50% of a shipment out of Colombia as payment for delivery, instead of the $1,500 USD per kilo they were previously receiving.cite web|url=http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/mexico/readings/lupsha.html|title=Transnational Narco-Corruption and Narco-Investment: A Focus on Mexico|last=Lupsha|first=Peter|publisher=PBS Frontline|accessdate=2008-04-16] The renegotiating however brought a price, the cartel would have to guarantee any shipment from Colombia to its destination. This change forced García Abrego to begin stockpiling 100's of tons of cocaine along Mexico's northern border in warehouses, however it allowed him to setup his own distribution network and expand his political influence. By the end of the 1980's and into the early 1990's it was estimated García Abrego was smuggling over 300 metric tons per year across the US-Mexico border.

Once the cocaine cross the border into the United States it was believed to reach distribution networks across the country in cities such as San Antonio, Houston and New York City, with smaller elements in Dallas, Chicago, New Orleans, Oklahoma City, California and Arizona.cite news|url=http://www.usdoj.gov/opa/pr/Pre_96/March95/133c.txt.html|title=Mexican Drug Fugitive Named To FBI'S "Most Wanted" List|date=March 9, 1995|publisher=Department of Justice|accessdate=2008-04-16]

In addition to transporting cocaine for the Cali Cartel, it was believed the García Abrego cartel would also ship large quantities of cash to be laundered. The United States Department of Justice would confiscate over $53 million USD between 1989 to 1993 that was being laundered through two corrupt American Express employees as proof of such large scale operations.cite news|url=http://www.usdoj.gov/dea/pubs/cngrtest/ct950808.htm|title=International Drug Trafficking Organizations in Mexico|date=August 8, 1995|publisher=Drug Enforcement Administration|accessdate=2008-04-16] In 1994 the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) believed García Abrego was making as much as $10 billion USD per year in profit. The following years Fortune Magazine estimated the García Abrego empire to be worth $15 billion USD.cite book|last=Gray|first=Mike|title=Drug Crazy: How We Got Into This Mess and How We Can Get Out|publisher=Routledge|date=2000|pages=230|isbn=0415926475]

García Abrego was also involved in providing protection to other cartels wishing to operate within corridors already claimed by his organization. In the mid 1980's, Carlos Reséndez setup a meeting between García Abrego and Gernando "El Aguacate" Martínez, regarding permission for Martínez to move cocaine through Matamoros. Abrego permitted him to do so in exchange for $200k USD per airplane flying through the region. It was later revealed to García Abrego that Martínez began moving planes through the region without paying the fee. García Abrego reached out to an FBI agent, Claudio de la O, who he was bribing, to have the men taken care of. Claudio de la O alluded to having the men killed, however they were taken into custody.cite book|title=UNITED STATES of America v. Juan GARCIA ABREGO |publisher=United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit. |date=May 6, 1998 |url=http://altlaw.org/v1/cases/1090088]


Juan García Abrego's web of corruption was believed to stretch to all aspects of the Ernesto Zedillo government. Upon García Abrego's arrest a book detailing the scale of bribery was located. From examining the contents it became known that the head of Federal Judicial Police (FJP) was receiving $1 million USD, force operations chief was receiving $500,000 USD and the federal police commander of the Gulf Cartels base of operations in Matamoros, Tamaulipas, was receiving $100,000 USD.cite book|last=Farer|first=Tom J.|coauthors=Jon R. Stone|title=Transnational Crime in the Americas: An Inter-American Dialogue Book|publisher=Routledge|date=1999|pages=204|isbn=041592300X] The book detailed the payments less as bribes and more as what García Abrego would consider to be a tax on business. In an article published in the Mexican daily "El Financiero" it was alleged García Abrego had infiltrated 95% of the Attorney Generals Office. It would later be revealed that a commander in La Procuraduria General de la Republica (PGR), Lopez Parra, was receiving $1.5 million per month in bribes, Parra was the head of northern Mexico.

García Abrego's ties however extended beyond the Mexican government and into the United States. With the arrest of one of Abrego's traffickers, Juan Antonio Ortiz, it became know the cartel would ship tons of cocaine in United States Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) buses between the years of 1986 to 1990. The buses made great transportation, as Antonio Ortiz noted, since they were never stopped at the border.cite book|last=Weinberg|first=Bill|title=Homage to Chiapas: The New Indigenous Struggles in Mexico|publisher=Verso Publishers|date=2000|pages=371|isbn=1859843727] In addition to the INS bus scam, Abrego had a "special deal" with members of the Texas National Guard who would truck tons of cocaine and marijuana from South Texas to Houston for the cartel.

García Abrego's reach became known when he attempted to bribe a United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agent named Claude de la O, in 1986, in an attempt to gather information on U.S. law enforcement operations. Claude de la O has stated in testimony against García Abrego that he received over $100,000 USD in bribes and had leaked information that could have endangered an FBI informant as well as Mexican journalists. In 1989 Claude was removed from the case for unknown reasons, retiring a year later.cite news|url=http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9C07E5DC143DF933A1575AC0A960958260|title=At Drug Trial, Mexican Suspect Faces Accuser|date=September 20, 1996|publisher=New York Times|accessdate=2008-04-16] cite news|url=http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9C05E4DE1439F937A35751C0A960958260|title=Mexican Drug Gang's Reign of Blood|last=Dillon|first=Sam|date=February 4, 1996|publisher=New York Times|accessdate=2008-04-16]

García Abrego's arrest was even subject to allegations of corruption. It is believed the Mexican government knew all García Abrego's whereabouts all along and had refused to arrest him due to information he possessed about the extent of corruption within the government. The arresting officer, a FJP commander, is believed to have received a bullet-proof Mercury Grand Marquis and $500,000 USD from a rival cartel for enacting the arrest of Abrego.cite book|last=Bailey|first=John J|coauthors=Roy Godson|title=Organized Crime and Democratic Governability: Mexico and the U.S.-Mexican Borderlands|publisher=University of Pittsburgh Press|date=2001|pages=48|isbn=0822957582]

Further theories put forward allege the arrest of García Abrego was to satisfy U.S. demands and meet certification, from the Department of Justice (DOJ), as a trade partner, the vote set to take place on March 1st. García Abrego was apprehended on January 14, 1996 and Mexico shortly after received certification on March 1st.cite book|last=Harrison|first=Lawrence E.|title=The Pan-American Dream: Do Latin America's Cultural Values Discourage True Partnership with the United States and Canada?|publisher=Westview Press|date=1997|pages=227, 228|isbn=0813334705]


On May 16, 1984, it is believed García Abrego ordered a hit on rival trafficker Casimiro Espinosa, the murder attempt failed, leaving Casimiro injured. The following day gunmen shot their way into Raya Clinic, a private hospital, looking for Casimiro. In the ten-minute shootout that followed, 300 rounds had been fired and multiple people were left dead, including a security guard, a husband and child, and a bed-ridden woman. Casimiro survived the attack, however he died the following day due to injuries sustained in the shoot out.

Two years after the 1984 clinic shoot out, Ernesto Flores, an editor for the Mexican daily newspaper "El Popular", was executed. It is believed Abrego did it after being aggravated with their coverage of the cartel's deeds. Flores car was sprayed with gunfire as gunmen waited at the entrance of the newspaper. Norma Morena, a reporter for the newspaper was also killed in the attack.

In 1991, a principle member of the Gulf Cartel, Tomás "Gringo" Sánchez, ordered the killing of a Colombian drug trafficker who was in a prison in Matamoros. The killing was not authorized by Abrego and subsequently a riot broke out killing two members of the Gulf Cartel. Abrego, furious with the media attention that followed the riot, ordered the killing of Sánchez for over stepping his authority and bringing unwanted attention to the cartel.


Juan García Abrego had grown to such lengths that he was placed on the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation Top Ten Most Wanted List in 1995. He has the distinction of being the first drug trafficker to ever be placed on that list. He was arrested on a ranch outside of Monterrey, Nuevo León, on January 14, 1996. He was quickly extradited to the United States, where he stood trial eight months after his arrest. Abrego was convicted on 22 counts including money laundering, drug trafficking, intent to distribute and running and ongoing criminal enterprise. Abrego was found guilty by a jury after 12 hours of deliberation and a four week trial, he was later sentenced to eleven life terms in a maximum security federal prison in Colorado. In addition to the prison sentencing García Abrego was forced to turn over millions in illegal proceeds, the United States Government requested $1.05 billion USD, however the jury after an hour of deliberation only agreed to the $350 million USD. Abrego's lawyer, Mr. Canales, stated it was a "a symbolic grab at nothing" since García Abrego did not reside in the United States nor have any assets in the country.cite news|title=U.S. Jury Convicts Mexican on Drug Charges |url=http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9C0DE1DA1231F934A25753C1A960958260 |publisher=New York Times |date=October 17, 1996]

Prior to García Abrego's arrest he had been discussing terms in which he would surrender to authorities. Those terms included medical treatment for his jailed brother's diabetes, one last trip to Colombia before his surrender, conjugal visits from his mistress, to be jailed in Guadalajara, Jalisco, with some of his lieutenants, for his own protection and to allow himself to be taken in by the police commander of his choice. Mexican government officials however denied the requests.cite news|title=Accused Mexican Narcotics Trafficker Is Said to Offer to Answer All Questions |last=Dillon |first=Sam |date=January 20, 1996 |url=http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9C02E3DC1E39F933A15752C0A960958260 |publisher=New York Times] cite news|date=August 23, 1995 |title=A Drug Figure Is Said to Offer To Surrender To Mexicans |url=http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=990CE1DE113BF930A1575BC0A963958260 |last=Golden |first=Tim |publisher=New York Times]

Gulf Cartel post-Abrego

Following the arrest of García Abrego it is believed Osiel Cárdenas Guillen took over the cartel. Cárdenas is known for founding the para-military group Los Zetas as enforcers for the Gulf Cartel. Osiel himself is a former police officer and between 1999 and 2003 was believed to be shipping 4 to 6 tons of cocaine per month into the United States.cite web|url=http://www.justice.gov/dag/speeches/012207_dag.htm|title=Transcript of Conference Call with Senior Administration Officials on the Extradition of Major Mexican Criminal Defendants|date=January 22, 2007|publisher=United States Department of Justice|accessdate=2008-04-16] The Gulf Cartels Los Zetas is currently engaged in a drug war with the Sinaloa Cartel's Los Negros, also a para-military unit, for control over the Nuevo Laredo smuggling corridor.cite book|title=Networks, Terrorism and Global Insurgency |first=Robert |last=Bunker |publisher=Routledge |month=July |year=2005 |isbn=0-41534819-6 |pages=xv]

ee also

*Guadalajara Cartel
*Gulf Cartel
*Los Zetas
*US-Mexico border


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