Mexico has extradited a former state governor to the United States to face charges of helping a cartel smuggling cocaine through the resort of Cancun en route to the U.S. market.
Mario Villanueva, who was governor of the Caribbean state of Quintana Roo from 1993 to 1999, was turned over to U.S. authorities Saturday at the international airport in Toluca, a city near the Mexican capital, the federal Attorney General’s Office said in a statement.
Villanueva is the first former governor to be extradited to the U.S. on drug charges.
He is charged in New York federal court with aiding the Juarez cartel smuggle hundreds of tons of Colombian cocaine to the United States via Cancun. U.S. prosecutors have said Villanueva received $500,000 for each of several shipments he aided.
Villanueva is the 326th criminal suspect Mexico has extradited to the U.S. under the government of President Felipe Calderon, which has stepped up the extradition process as the two countries intensify cooperation in the fight against drug trafficking.
Villanueva allegedly helped the Juarez cartel when it was headed by Amado Carillo Fuentes, one of Mexico’s top drug kingpins until he died in 1997 while undergoing plastic surgery.
Villanueva “gave orders to allow shipments of cocaine to be unloaded and stored in ranches in Quintana Roo, to be later sent to the neighboring country by land or air,” the Attorney General’s office said.
The former governor has been fighting extradition to the United States for years.
He disappeared two weeks before his term ended in 1999 after learning that Mexican authorities were seeking his arrest on drug trafficking charges. He spent two years in hiding before he was arrested in Cancun in 2001.
Villanueva, who belonged to the Institutional Revolutionary Party that ruled Mexico for 71 years until 2000, was convicted of money laundering charges and sentenced to six years in prison. He was released in 2007 but was immediately re-arrested on the U.S. extradition request.
In 2008, a Mexican court sentenced him to 36 years for fomenting drug trafficking, overturning the earlier ruling that had convicted him of money laundering but cleared him of drug smuggling and organized crime charges.
In the past, few top drug suspects were extradited to the United States because they argued they should face justice first in Mexico. But Calderon has shown greater willingness to extradite drug suspects to the U.S. since taking office in 2006.
Villanueva’s extradition “shows the close collaboration between Mexico and the government of the United States in the fight against crime, ensuring that our national territory does not become a refuge for fugitives of justice,” the Attorney General’s office said.
Washington has supported Calderon’s military-led offensive against drug cartels with equipment and training under the $1.3 billion Merida Initiative.
Several top drug lords have been arrested or killed since Calderon deployed tens of thousands of troops and federal police across the country. But gang violence has surged, claiming more than 22,700 lives in the past three years.
Three headless bodies showing signs of torture were found just outside Acapulco, a Pacific coast resort city, and the bodies of five other men with multiple gunshot wounds were discovered in a car north of the Pacific resort, police said Saturday.
Police in the southwestern state of Guerrero, where Acapulco is located, said the three beheaded men appeared to be in their 20s and 30s, but their identities and a motive had not been determined. They were found on a peninsula a few miles south of Acapulco.
About 50 miles (80 kilometers) north, near the small town of Tecpan de Galeana, police discovered five bodies in a car left on a dirt road about 100 yards (90 meters) off a main highway.
A police report said all five men had been repeatedly shot. Two bodies were in the front of the vehicle and three in the trunk, the report said.