DEA charges Mexico's Defense Secretary based on inaccurate information


DEA charges Mexico's Defense Secretary based on inaccurate information
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The following is a translation of a two part essay which appeared on Eje Central on January 18 and 19 from Raymundo Riva Palacio. [Links to part 1 and part 2]

The enormous messiness with which President Andrés Manuel López Obrador addressed the exoneration of General Salvador Cienfuegos, caused the legal dispute to be overwhelmed by the political storm and the confrontation with the United States government that caused his declarations of fire, so that the analysis of the action of the Attorney General's Office on its merits was ignored to conclude that the former Secretary of Defense was innocent and, above all, prevented a clear view of the enormous hoax that the DEA built against the military chief.

López Obrador could have perfectly demonstrated the innocence of General Cienfuegos and proved the weakness of the case, with the notable inconsistencies of the DEA investigation, included in the exoneration notice, but he did not. When under pressure, the prosecutor Alejandro Gertz Manero did so, he published a file almost entirely tested, including documents from the Justice Department that López Obrador made public in violation of bilateral agreements with the United States. No one should be surprised that this rudimentary handling of the case triggered accusations of impunity and derision against the former Secretary of Defense.

It is unfair to General Cienfuegos and the Armed Forces–even for the government itself–because the BlackBerry messages they sent from Washington, the only thing they really prove is a deficient, naive or foolish DEA investigation, where everything indicates that they were scammed by a third-rate drug trafficker nicknamed El H-9, Daniel Isaac Silva Gárate, who also deceived his boss, El H-2, Juan Francisco Patrón Sánchez, at the time head of the now diminished Beltrán Leyva Cartel, apparently to steal money from him.

The investigation period sent by the Department of Justice covers 401 days, between 2015 and 2017, consists of 58 effective exchanges between Silva Gárate and Patrón Sánchez, which were analyzed by the defense of the general, who was dismantling the accusations during his ministerial statement on weekend prior to his exoneration in the Office of the Assistant Attorney General for Organized Crime Investigation, by documenting the inconsistencies and errors in the DEA investigation with which he was processed in the United States.

For example, there are several BlackBerry messages sent by Silva Gárate, with the pseudonym 'Samantha', to 'Spartacus', the code name of Patron Sánchez, on December 9, 2015, which appear on pages 8, 9, 10 and 11 of the file published on Friday, where El H-9 informs his boss that he is going to travel to Mexico City to meet with El Padrino, how they identify the person presumed to be general Cienfuegos, and tells him how many people pick him up, in which vehicles, and he narrates in real time the supposed conversation with the former Secretary of Defense.

In his ministerial statement, General Cienfuegos demonstrated that he was not in Mexico City that day, but in Acapulco, at a public Army event. On another occasion where Silva Gárate mentions a new meeting with the former secretary, Cienfuegos proved that he was in Hermosillo that day, at a Navy event. The DEA did not do this cross-checking, since had it done so it would have verified that El H-9 assertions were not supported by the facts. Additionally, the general delivered his agenda to the Attorney General's Office, which is a document with legal validity.

Salvador Cienfuegos was in Acapulco, Guerrero on 9 December 2015, not CDMX (source)

Other statements by Silva Gárate that were not verified by the DEA, nor by his superiors in the Department of Justice, with whom, according to official information from the US government, they were consolidating what they obtained, have to do with personal aspects. There are some easily verifiable, such as the description given by El H-9 of General Cienfuegos the same December 9, 2015, once he is supposedly with him, where he affirms that he is a person "güero, güero" [means blond or caucasian] (pages 18 and 20), "white" (page 468), "kinda fat" (page 469) and who has “cheeks always red” (page 23). Cienfuegos is neither blond nor white, but dark; He's not overweight, he's thin, and his cheeks don't suddenly turn red, because he doesn't have this medical condition. The DEA was going to confirm these descriptions, but clearly did not.

There are others less obvious, but easily verifiable. On pages 524 and 525 there are communications from November 24 where the drug traffickers affirm that El Padrino's wife is the sister of the governor of Sinaloa, Quirino Ordaz, whose name they write "Kirino". It's false. There is no relationship between their wives, and the only indirect link is that the governor's wife is the daughter of a military man. The BlackBerry messages include on page 35 another one of those incredible flaws in the DEA investigation and the prosecutors that accepted them, where Samantha tells Spartacus, in a real-time conversation when she is supposed to be in front of the general Cienfuegos, who says the former secretary "that I am younger says he has a son my age". Cienfuegos has four daughters; no son.

The errors of the DEA and the prosecutors appear in the file, but they were buried by the equally incredible, clumsy, handling of the President when commenting on the exoneration. It was not explained by the prosecutor, from a legal point of view, but he, from a political point of view. The poor management that he has in the management of the government allowed Gertz Manero to fall asleep in the file without concluding it, until he was squeezed in the National Palace and Cienfuegos pressed the statement, who learned of his exoneration from the media.

The political noise caused by López Obrador will materialize in bilateral problems with the United States. However, this should not prevent one from seeing the DEA investigation and without digging too hard, corroborating, with the available documentation, the farce of its accusation. If the Department of Justice wants to reopen the process, it will have to consider that what it brought before the Court is not really useful.

On November 17 of last year, the acting prosecutor in the Eastern District Court in Brooklyn, Seth DuCharme, notified Judge Carol Amon that the United States government was withdrawing the accusations against General Salvador Cienfuegos, for receiving Bribes from the Beltrán Leyva Cartel in exchange for protection for political reasons, but insisted it was "a strong case" because of the well-documented DEA investigation. In light of the evidence that the US government sent to Mexico, that evidence turned out to be wrong, and could be one of the most notorious public fiascos of that agency.

The review of dozens of BlackBerry messages that the United States Department of Justice sent to the Attorney General's Office to investigate and prosecute the former Secretary of Defense, show deficiencies and inconsistencies that were described above, and also the way in which the DEA believed what Daniel Isaac Silva Gárate, nicknamed El H-9, told his boss Juan Francisco Patrón Sánchez, El H-2, that they confirmed that the messages were sent from the cell phone of "Zepeda", presumably the one used by General Cienfuegos to communicate with that third-rate drug trafficker in the cartel.

According to the file released by the Mexican government, the communication method that El H-2 and El H-9 had used consisted of 11 cell phones each, whose users were, among the most used during the period in question, "Superman", "Batman", "Spartacus", "Samantha" and "Thor". There are other messages from their subordinates, who provided supporting information. In that system created to hide his identity, a third user appears whose messages served to support what Silva Gárate said to Patron Sánchez, who supposedly proved that they had communication with General Cienfuegos, whose maternal surname is Zepeda. That third user, "Zepeda", only sent messages to the cell phone of El H-9, who in this way turned it into the mobile of his user 12.

Through user 12, Silva Gárate sweetened the ear of Patron Sánchez, who is perceived through the messages as a self-conscious and aspirational person. In a message, when the El H-9  is supposed to be with General Cienfuegos on December 9, 2015 (page 78), he asked him: “Tell him that I'm very happy and I have never felt this way before that I feel calm and that we will continue to make things right”. Shortly after (page 89), he added: "That God willing I dream to be big, but I also want to change the history of the mafia that they are not looking for me to kill me, I want to do my best so that they like me".

Although this part is subjective, it allows us to see the need for Patron Sánchez to have a backing like that of the Secretary of Defense, but it did not cause the DEA to deepen and clarify the contradictions in its investigation. It would seem that she was as eager for it to be true, like El H-2's that its protector was General Cienfuegos. For example, on the same December 9, when the supposed first meeting between El H-9  and the general took place, he sent another message to El H-2, "El padrino gave me the name of Salvadora Sinfuego Sepeda", which suggests it would be unlikely that, at least as a hypothesis, it should have been raised.

Didn't Silva Gárate know that he was going to speak with the Secretary of Defense Cienfuegos? Although this is not specified in the file, which begins that same day that the Department of Justice delivered it to the Mexican government, it is not explained—because what was shared was intelligence information at the raw material level—how they processed future messages where any doubts about the veracity were not reflected in how the DEA resolved theirs, if they ever had any.

Key messages about the doubt as to whether the "Padrino" referred to in the conversation was "El Padrino", and whether "Zepeda" was really Cienfuegos, appeared in the last week of November 2016. On the 24th (page 521), after speaking with his sources, Patron Sánchez wrote to Silva Gárate: "The lady tells Cinthya that the godfather I believe is not real." Immediately El H-9 responds: "What if it is what I say". The information that had been given to El H-2  that day was that the "Padrino" was a "retired military man" who was "a friend of the Secretary of Defense".

El H-2 told El H-9 that he was going to “go crazy” because of this contradictory information, and told him that if it was actually Cienfuegos, there would be no problem, but if not, as expressed by almost an hour and a half after the exchanges with his doubts (page 470), “I am going to come killing people”. El H-9  responded, allegedly quoting the general: "Please trust him". El H-2 calmed down, according to the intercepted messages, and concluded that if it was not General Cienfuegos who was supporting them, there was a military man who is "taking care of" them.

Messages sent by the Justice Department show a cheesy, effeminate general begging for money from a minor drug lord, eager to help a crumbling cartel, who is at odds with the personality of the former Secretary of Defense. In the disclosed information, there are no references to profiles of the general or El H-2 and El H-9 that will help to contrast their character with the messages.

The DEA never questioned the possibility that “Zepeda” was not Cienfuegos, as DuCharme reflected in the presentation of the case, where he stated that the investigation included “numerous communications between the accused and a leader of the H-2 cartel,” where “the defendant discussed his historical help with other drug trafficking organizations, as well as communications in which the defendant is identified by name, title and photograph." User 12 seems to have arrived at a similar conclusion too, perhaps unintentionally.

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