Mexico Atty General: Busted American Drug Planes Flown by Same Operation

Was U.S. in Business with Mexico's Sinaloa Cartel?

alartorre1 Two weeks after the MadCowMorningNews exclusively reported suspicious connections between the owners of the two American-registered planes busted with multi-ton loads of cocaine during the past 18 months on Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula,  the Mexican Attorney General confirmed that both planes were used by the same smuggling operation.

In coordinated raids Thursday on Casa de Cambio Puebla SA, a country-wide network of currency exchanges, many located at airports, squads of heavily-armed Mexican Federal Police took more than 70 people into custody, targeting a ring they said used laundered money to buy airplanes to smuggle drugs, Mexico's Attorney General's Office said in a news release.

Nabbed in the raid was Pedro Alfonso Alatorre Damy, identified by authorities as the major money launderer for Mexico’s Pacific Cartel, sometimes called the Sinaloa Cartel, as well as the New Federation, run by fugitive Mexican kingpin Juan “Shorty” Guzman.

1005Both the DC9 airliner (N900SA) busted with 5.5 tons of cocaine 18 months ago and the Gulfstream II (N987SA) business jet which crash-landed with 4 tons of cocaine had been purchased by Alatorre with laundered drug money from his “Cambio de Pueblo” currency exchanges, said a statement Friday from Mexico’s Attorney General Office.

Alatorre, alias El Piri, was arrested moments after attempting to wire $2.7 million into an account at Harris Bank in Chicago, apparently to buy more planes. In addition to that account, 23 accounts at the Wachovia Bank of Miami containing $11 million were frozen by U. S. authorities.  

A major partner in the Casa de Cambio of Puebla exchanges,  according to several Mexican newspapers, is Jose Ramon Gutierrez de Velasco, former mayor of Vera Cruz and close political associate of former Mexican President Vicente Fox.

Meet the "Usual Suspects"

orangesshoppingcart22Left unanswered by the raids in Mexico is whether anyone will suffer any consequences on the American side of the border.  The DEA's operative assumption may be that the Sinaloa Cartel was buying its jets on Ebay. Perhaps the cartel is distributing it to retail as well, using vendors who sell usually oranges at freeway onramps.

Otherwise, with no arrests of Americans  forthcoming,  the question of where the hell are the American drug lords may arise yet again, though not, of course, in major American newspapers.

Suspiciously, however, what can already be discerned about the evolving cast of characters indicates another reunion of the usual suspects.

They've almost all been here before.

Representing Casa de Cambio in Miami, for example,  is famed “white powder” attorney Frank Rubino, a former Secret Service agent who once protected Richard M. Nixon in Key Biscayne, Fl., then later the lawyer forrubino Medellin kingpin Carlos Lehder. Most recently he has been the chief lawyer for Panamanian strongman Manuel Noriega.

"At least $ 11 million of Noriega's fortune came from U.S. intelligence agencies,"  Rubino stated during the trial. “He dealt directly with the CIA, the NSA (National Security Agency) and various military intelligence.”

Maybe he's negotiating a book deal for ol' Pineapple Face, set to come out after Bush Junior leaves office. In the face of such massive corruption, that may be small compensation.

But then small compensation is better than none.

"On hangers, no starch, check for spots."

harris_bankHarris Bank in Chicago, to which Alatorre was wiring funds when he was arrested, has  been here before, too.

According to a February 06, 2001 Associated Press report, the bank “has been named by congressional investigators as being among some of the top U.S. financial institutions helping drug dealers and organized crime launder as much as US $500-billion a year, mostly through links with 4,000 offshore rogue banks."

A Senate subcommittee chaired by Senator Carl Levin, who headed a year-long money laundering probe, accused Harris Bank of being a 'significant gateway' for laundered money through correspondent accounts, or relationships with banks operating in tax havens outside the United States.

The bank had been linked to a paper company involved in financial fraud called “Hanover Bank of Antigua,” run by PR man with no banking experience whose sole banking credential appeared to be his service as a public relations advisor to former Irish prime minister Charles Haughey.

Da planes! Da planes!

lookaflash!Then there are the American-registered drug-running airplanes, with their manifold  connections to U.S. political leaders and intelligence agencies,  as a continuing series of reports in the MadCowMorningNews have shown.

The DC9 airliner, dubbed Cocaine One because it was painted to be indistinguishable from official U.S. Government planes from the Dept. of Homeland Security, belonged to a company which received an unexplained investment from San Diego defense contractor Titan Corp., to cite one example among many.

The DC9 airliner was also used, without reimbursement, during the first-time Senatorial campaign of Florida Republican Senator Mel Martinez, who until recently was!!!x416vp President George W Bush’s handpicked chairman of the national Republican Party.

The Gulfstream II business jet, which some immediately dubbed Cocaine Two, was named in a European EU Commission investigation as one of the CIA planes involved in extraordinary renditions. Even if it didn't,  evidence indicating it was a U.S. Government plane is its at-least several flights through highly-restricted airspace to the highly-secure U.S. military facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

It was in Mexico on at least two previous occasions, though no record of dates of departure or destination could be found. This fits Mexican journalists' reports of being denied routine access to airport logs in Cancun to show the plane's previous flights.

Cocaine_Two-AThe EU investigation reportedly logged 794 flights by the Gulfstream between November 17, 2001 and December 25, 2005.   It flew in the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Italy, France, Czech Republic, Iceland and Ireland, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Barbados, Jamaica, Virgin Islands, Guadeloupe Islands and St. Kitts and Nevis, Barbados, Aruba, Santo Tomás, the Bahamas, Santa Lucia, Hawaii, Bermuda and Cancún.

"Cocaine 2" clearly got around.

 Roughly during this time period, the plane was owned, at least on paper, by  a New York company owned by a Russian immigrant with reported ties to top-level Russian Mobsters, according to the New York Post, as well as a George W. Bush Ranger who personally bought over $1 yaponchikmillion of billboard ads for Bush during his 2000 Presidential election bid, which was a MadCowMorningNews  exclusive.

The fact that the plane has had an impressive list politically well-connected recent owners is, no doubt, merely coincidental with the recent discovery of 4 tons of cocaine in the passenger cabin.

Otherwise someone would have been charged with a crime by now. And all that is heard officially, in regards to this matter, is a deathly silence.

Waterboarding the Water pilots?

COKELUGGAGE_SIMPLE1The sequence of events began when a DC9 was busted by Mexican soldiers after landing under suspicious circumstances at a rural airport in Campeche after a flight from Venezuela on April 10, 2006. According to Mexican officials, the flight originated in Colombia.

 Two pilots of Mexico’s National Water Commission (Conagua) Fernando Poot Perez and Marco Aurelio Perez de Gracia, were arrested during the seizure of more than five tons of cocaine after loitering around the tiny rural airport trying to look inconspicuous in their Falcon business jet while awaiting the arrival of the DC9.falcon

The investigation which followed revealed a network of money-laundering for the cartel headed by Joaquín El Chapo Guzman, the Mexican Attorney General's  statement said.

Then, six weeks ago, on Sept 24th, a Gulfstream II was caught after a late-night flight from the Medellin International Airport in Rio Negro. After the plane was denied permission to land at the Cancun Airport, it  circled over the Yucatan peninsula until just after dawn, then crash-landed, breaking into thre pieces, in a field outside the Yucatan capital of Merida.

No one was apparently injured in the crash, and the crew and passengers were gone by the time Mexican military helicopters arrived on the scene.

El Chapo: Mexico's Pablo Escobar?

tandyThe arrest of his top money launderer  is the second blow to the organization headed by Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman in a week. In our next story we will discuss the astonishing changes underway in the Mexican drug trafficking hierarchy.

Outgoing DEA administrator Karen Tandy crowed that, for hapless drug traffickers, it was a "perfect storm."

By this she means to indicate that Mexico's major recent seizures point to a corner being turned in the decades-long drug war.

In truth, it is a perfect storm, one which offers an excellent opportunity to blow away some cobwebs from the picture of the Drug War which federal officials have been painting all these years to an increasingly-skeptical American public.

scarfaceIn coming days the MadCowMorningNews will release the results of our investigation into the people responsible for these two drug smuggling American-registered aircraft, who are members of a network which we will trace all the way back to Barry Seal, in an unbroken succession of officially-sanctioned American Drug Lords, who snort with derision at the concept of Equal Justice Under Law.

In all modesty, some of what we've discovered should have long been obvious to even the meanest of intelligences.

Lucky for us, we've got a mean intelligence.

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Daniel Hopsicker

Daniel Hopsicker is an investigative journalist and the author of two books on transnational crime, Welcome to Terrorland and Barry & the Boys.