By CLAUDIA TORRENS Associated Press
NEW YORK (AP) — Mexican former top security official Genaro García Luna is in talks on a possible plea agreement with federal prosecutors in New York, where he is charged with accepting millions in drug-money bribes from the notorious Sinaloa cartel of convicted kingpin Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán.
A court document filed Monday says lawyers for García Luna and prosecutors are engaged in negotiations, “which they believe are likely to result in a disposition of this case without trial,” according to the filing signed by García Luna, his lawyer, a prosecutor and magistrate Judge Peggy Kuo.
García Luna, 51, was indicted in New York on three counts of cocaine trafficking conspiracy and a false statements charge. He pleaded not guilty on Friday.
Kuo ordered him detained after Assistant U.S. Attorney Erin Reid argued he would pose an “unacceptable risk of flight” if released. Garcia Luna’s lawyer, Cesar de Castro, said he would ask the court at a later date for his client to be granted bail. De Castro declined to comment on the plea negotiations in an email to The Associated Press.
The former security chief was viewed as the point man for Mexico’s drug war under then-President Felipe Calderón, who governed from 2006 to 2012. U.S. prosecutors alleged in a court filing this month that García Luna had accepted “tens of millions of dollars” in bribes —often briefcases full of cash— to protect the cartel.
During Guzmán’s 2018 trial in New York, jurors heard former cartel member Jesús Zambada testify that he personally made at least $6 million in secret payments to García Luna on behalf of his older brother, cartel boss Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada.
The witness said he met García Luna in a restaurant between 2005 and 2006 and gave him a suitcase containing $3 million. A that time García Luna was in charge of Mexico’s Federal Investigation Agency. In a second meeting in 2007, when García Luna was Mexico’s top security official, Zambada said he gave him a suitcase with $3 million to $5 million.
Zambada also testified that three other drug traffickers, Héctor Beltrán Leyva, Arturo Beltrán Leyva and Edgar Valdez Villareal, purportedly put together $50 million for García Luna, in order to obtain protection for their business.
García Luna, who was arrested in Texas in December, denied the accusations.
“It is a lie, defamation and perjury against me when it is said that any person, policeman or criminal group gave me economic or material gains at any moment of my public or private service,” he said in a statement at the time.
The recent court document shows plea negotiations between García Luna and prosecutors began January 3. The next court hearing is expected January 21.