One of Mexico's wealthiest and most politically powerful families is so involved in drug trafficking and money laundering that the father and two sons "pose a significant criminal threat to the United States," according to a recent report by the U.S. government's main drug intelligence task force.
While U.S. law enforcement officials have spent years investigating the family – Carlos Hank Gonzalez and his sons Carlos Hank Rhon and Jorge Hank Rhon – the assessment by several agencies marks the first time that all three have been linked directly to the operations of major Mexican drug organizations.
The report said the Hank family also "has begun to extend its interests from Mexico to the United States. [It] has purchased or exercises control over several U.S. banks, investment firms, transportation companies and real estate properties." The report mentioned, for example, that Carlos Hank Rhon purchased shares of Laredo National Bankshares, the holding company of two Texas banks, through two of his holding companies. It also gave examples of the family's efforts to gain influence over U.S. gambling businesses.
The Hank family, often described as Mexico's Rockefellers, is known for its multi-billion-dollar transportation, construction and financial empire and its great influence within the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which has ruled Mexico for seven decades.
Hank Gonzalez, the patriarch, was mayor of Mexico City, held two cabinet positions in the government of former president Carlos Salinas de Gortari and used his position as minister of agriculture to mobilize electoral support for Salinas's successor, President Ernesto Zedillo.
Spokesmen for the Hank family denied the report, and Mexican officials said the allegations were politically motivated and designed to embarrass the Zedillo government.
A senior Clinton administration official acknowledged the authenticity of the report. "Allegations that significant sums of foreign drug money are being invested in the United States are extremely serious," the official said.
The report was written by the National Drug Intelligence Center, which coordinates investigations by different agencies. It accuses the Hank family of using its businesses to move cocaine to the United States and launder millions of dollars in drug money. The family enjoys impunity in Mexico because of its high-level political connections, the report says.
The report drew on information from the Drug Enforcement Administration, FBI, U.S. Customs Service, CIA, Interpol and others. The report says intelligence agencies had "intercepted conversations of the Hank family coordinating drug shipments" at TMM – a giant Hank-owned shipping company – and personally meeting with drug kingpins.
Stamped "Law Enforcement Sensitive," the internal document was first described Monday in the Mexican newspaper El Financiero, and The Washington Post obtained a copy.
The investigation of the Hank family, known in Mexico as Grupo Hank, was approved Dec. 9, 1997 and concluded earlier this year.
"Several years of investigative information strongly support the conclusion that the Hank family has laundered money on a massive scale, assisted drug trafficking organizations in transporting drug shipments, and engaged in large-scale public corruption," the document says.
"Grupo Hank poses a significant criminal threat to the United States," the report continues. "Its multibillion-dollar criminal and business empire, developed over several decades, reaches throughout Mexico and into the United States."
Carlos Arguelles, a spokesman for Hank Gonzalez, said the accusations were "completely false, and everyone in Mexico knows they are false . . . [Hank Gonzalez] travels to the United States frequently, and I don't understand what is motivating these charges."
Hank Gonzalez's son, Carlos, was a close associate of Raul Salinas de Gortari, brother of the former president and a convicted murderer who also has been linked to drug trafficking.
"An analysis of case information shows that [Carlos] Hank-Rhon continues to launder money and was closely associated with the late [Juarez cocaine cartel leader] Amado Carrillo Fuentes," the report says.
Robert Siegfried, a New York-based spokesman for Carlos, said the report was "nothing more than recycled misinformation. . . . Any allegation or assertion that Carlos Hank-Rhon or any of the businesses in which he has an interest have been or are involved in illicit activities are and have been proven to be unequivocally false."
The report was hardest on Jorge, the younger son. He lives in Tijuana, owns its largest racetrack and "is reportedly a close associate of leaders of the Tijuana-based Arellano-Felix drug trafficking organization," the report says.
"Case information indicates that Jorge Hank-Rhon launders money, distributes cocaine and meets with prominent drug traffickers through his businesses," the report said. "Jorge is more openly criminal than either his father or his brother and is regarded as ruthless, dangerous and prone to violence against his enemies."