For over a decade, Genaro Garcia Luna was in charge of former Mexican President Felipe Calderon's violent crackdown on the country's cartels. But instead of hunting drug traffickers, Luna allowed them to operate with impunity in exchange for multimillion-dollar bribes, according to a federal indictment unsealed on Tuesday.
Luna was arrested the previous day in Dallas. It is not clear how he ended up in Texas.
The arrest is a momentous break in the history of the Mexican drug war. The New York Times called it "something akin to the director of the F.B.I. being taken into custody for receiving bribes from the head of the Gambino crime family."
The conspiracy with the Sinaloa Cartel was first revealed during the 2018 trial of drug lord Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán. A former cartel leader accused Luna of twice meeting with him at a restaurant, each time accepting briefcases with over $3 million in cash.
Luna took the helm of Mexico's federal police force in 2006, where he was considered a "wunderkind," according to a 2008 profile.
But Mexico's homicide rate tripled during his tenure, from eight deaths per 100,000 people in 2007 to nearly 24 in 2011, according to a report by the Council on Foreign Relations.
He left that job in 2012 and moved to Miami with a personal fortune of millions of dollars, "inconsistent with a civil servant’s salary in Mexico," according to court papers. The government is seeking forfeiture of those assets.
Luna became a lawful resident of the United States before applying for citizenship in 2018. In that paperwork, prosecutors noted, he did not mention his criminal past.
The federal charges, filed in Brooklyn, include one count of lying to the federal government and three counts of drug conspiracy. If convicted, Luna faces from 10 years to life in prison.
According to prosecutors, multiple witnesses have accused Luna of accepting tens of millions of dollars in bribes in exchange for protection. "Because of the defendant’s corrupt assistance, the Sinaloa Cartel conducted its criminal activity in Mexico without significant interference from Mexican law enforcement," read a legal filing asking for permanent detention of Luna as he awaits trial.
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The Sinaloa Cartel has been in operation since 1989, and was led by Guzmán from 2001 until his capture in 2016. Paperwork filed in federal court laid out the scale of the cartel's operations, accusing the cartel of sending multi-ton shipments of cocaine, marijuana, methamphetamine and heroine into the United States while bribing Mexican officials in exchange for "safe passage for its drug shipments, sensitive law enforcement information about investigations into the Cartel and information about rival drug cartels."
Luna has been accused of bribery in the past by a drug trafficker he put behind bars. His spokesperson at the time called it an attempt to "discredit" him.
He is not the only top Mexican government official to be accused of accepting cartel money. One witness in Guzmán's trial accused the country's former president, Enrique Peña Nieto, of accepting over $100 million in bribes.
In an initial appearance in a Dallas courtroom on Tuesday morning, Luna was dressed in a Hugo Boss zippered sweater, according to The Dallas Morning News. He has another pretrial detention hearing scheduled for next week before his trial is held New York.