A Mexican governor accused of money laundering and ties to organized crime has hired a Texas law firm to try to put an end to the Mexican media’s publication of confidential US government documents that he says amounts to a political hatchet job by the ruling party of President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.
Tamaulipas Gov. Francisco Garcia Cabeza de Vaca of the conservative opposition National Action Party hired Gerger Hennessy & McFarlane of Houston in his personal capacity for an undetermined amount of time, effective April 2. The firm is expected to contact officials in the Joe Biden administration and possibly Congress “concerning the disclosure of confidential information to Mexican Press and the harms caused thereby” and “seek to educate officials concerning the importance of mitigating the harm and preventing it in the future,” the firm wrote in a disclosure with the US Treasury Department under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA).
“You have asked our assistance in contacting the United States Government, and in particular FinCEN, to discuss articles in the Mexican press that purport to contain confidential information that may have been sourced from FinCEN,” firm partner David Gerger wrote to Cabeza de Vaca, who was elected governor in 2016. FinCEN — the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network — is a bureau of the US Treasury Department that collects and analyzes information about financial transactions to fight domestic and international money laundering, terrorism financing and other financial crimes.
Gerger is registered as a foreign agent on the contract along with associate attorney Ashley Kaper. Both are experienced criminal defense attorneys.
Gerger and Kaper are to be paid hourly rates. The firm disclosed an April 12 payment of $100,000 from the governor’s wife, Mariana Gomez de Garcia Cabeza de Vaca, who heads the state’s family development agency.
The contract comes as the Mexican Attorney General’s Office has asked the Mexican Congress to lift Cabeza de Vaca’s immunity from prosecution after accusing him of organized crime, money laundering and tax evasion. The governor, a dual citizen of the United States and Mexico who was born in McAllen, Texas and attended Houston Baptist University, denies the charges.
Neither the governor’s office nor Gerger Hennessy & McFarlane responded to requests for comment. But in a statement to the public pinned to the top of his Twitter profile on March 25, he denied all the charges against him and wrote that the prosecution had “violated” his “human rights to privacy and the presumption of innocence.”
As part of his contract, Gerger wrote a letter to acting FinCEN chief Michael Mosier on April 15 to flag what he called “deeply concerning” reports of abuse of confidential FinCEN data by Mexico’s Financial Intelligence Unit and its chief, Santiago Nieto. The letter points out that FinCEN’s Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs) are not reports of confirmed illegal activity and should be protected against unauthorized exposure to protect innocent people’s reputation.
“The abuse of confidential information against any person warrants immediate concern, and we urge you to investigate what appear to be continuing leaks against my client,” Gerger wrote to Mosier. “Please let me know that you have received this letter and, to the extent your office allows, that steps can be taken to restore confidentiality and prevent breaches in the future.”
Attached to the letter is a March 3, 2020 statement from the chairwoman of the Egmont Group, the international organization that facilitates cooperation between Financial Intelligence Units (FIUs) decrying “deeply concerning allegations” of FIUs misusing their powers to go after government critics. The letter from Hennie Verbeek-Kusters does not name any countries, but Gerger said Nieto’s actions would violate FinCEN and Egmont rules.
In particular, Gerger highlighted a Dec. 5, 2020 article in Mexican news magazine Proceso that cited FinCEN reports as a source of information for the Mexican government’s allegations involving the governor and members of his family, including his wife, two of his brothers including Mexican Sen. Ismael Cabeza de Vaca, his mother and his father-in-law. Nieto’s office accuses the governor of owning a large number of luxury properties, including in the United States, that couldn’t have been bought with the income from his government jobs over the past two decades.
Gerger also cites a March 6, 2021 article in Reforma citing FinCEN as a source of information allegedly linking Cabeza de Vaca to a businessman accused of money laundering, Baltazar Higinio Resendez Cantu.
Gerger went on to point out that FinCEN previously suspended cooperation with Mexico “because of unauthorized disclosures by Mexican governmental officials” back in 2004. FinCEN declined to comment.
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Mexican media have also published confidential State Department cables from the US consular office in Matamoros, raising concerns about Cabeza de Vaca’s possible ties to the drug including Joaquin Archivaldo Guzman Loera, better known as “El Chapo”, going back to 2004 when he was running for mayor of Reynosa. The cables were reportedly handed over to prosecutors by Alejandro Rojas Diaz Duran, a politician who has accused Cabeza de Vaca of running a narco-state south of the border with Texas.
The push-back from Cabeza de Vaca and Gerger Hennessy & McFarlane comes at an already delicate time for cooperation between US and Mexican agencies following last year’s arrest of former Mexican defense secretary Salvador Cienfuegos on drug trafficking and money laundering charges. Mexican authorities accused the US of blindsiding them and demanded his release; he was exonerated without a trial in January, weeks after Mexico passed a law making ir harder for US Drug Enforcement Agency agents to operate in the country.
A state of about 3.5 million people with close ties to the Texan economy, Tamaulipas has long been under the influence of the drug cartels. One of Cabeza de Vaca’s predecessors, Tomas Yarrington, was arrested in 2017 after five years on the lam on charges that he took millions in bribes and invested the money in Texas real estate.
Update: This post was updated at 9:30 a.m. on April 20 with content from Gerger Hennessy McFarlane’s letter to the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network