They made sure the place didn’t look like much from the outside, just another plain, unassuming house in the middle of quiet residential neighborhood somewhere in the Mexican border state of Coahuila.
Inside, however, the place was a decked-out safe haven for leaders
of the powerful Zetas drug cartel. Testifying in a San Antonio federal
courtroom Wednesday, a former top financial advisor to the Zetas
remembered helping cartel bosses build what they called the “VIP.” There
was the large room with a jacuzzi and a bar with every kind of liquor
imaginable, and a part of the house where the cartel kept pit bulls and
prisoners. Rodrigo Humberto Uribe Tapia, who claims he helped launder
some $50 million in drug proceeds for the cartel before fleeing to the
United States in 2009, says a top Zetas commander insisted the place be
Scarface-themed. The commander asked that Uribe hang a blown-up image of of a scene from the movie where Tony Montana buries his face in cocaine mountain. “He was kind of like an idol to him,” Uribe said on the stand.
|screenshot via youtube|
Millan Vasquez, who was arrested in San Antonio last year, faces multiple charges that could put him in prison for life. Prosecutors are expected to bring evidence that Millan Vasquez was in part responsible for a wave of killings, abductions and disappearances that have paralyzed Coahuila in recent years.
One of the charges against Millan Vasquez allows the feds to prosecute him for killings in another country since they claim the violence was tied to a drug trafficking conspiracy that stretched deep into the United States. These charges stem from the Allende massacre, in which as many as 300 people disappeared in 2011, and the murders of at least 150 people in the Piedras Negras penitentiary between 2009 and 2012.
|shell of burned out house in Allende|
U.S. authorities say Millán personally “shot, dismembered and burned bodies” not only to enforce orders but to terrorize anyone who might resist the cartel.
In opening statements Wednesday, assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Galdo hinted at some of the grisly testimony expected to come out at trial this week and next: “The defendant killed, the defendant tortured, the defendant dismembered.”
Millan Vasquez’s attorney, Jaime Cavazos, told jurors Wednesday that his client is a simple farmer and insisted that any acts of violence described by paid government informants have nothing to do with him. “This whole trial is about condemning an organization that the federal government cannot reach,” he said.
In court, however, Uribe testified to hearing cartel leaders order Millan Vasquez to kill a high-ranking Zetas member who’d angered his cartel bosses. He also testified to seeing Millan Vasquez and other Zetas enforcers covered in blood after killing a phone company worker who’d been listening in on cartel communications.
In a strange turn in the testimony Thursday morning, explaining his appearance on a reality TV show.
Millan Vasquez’s defense attorney pressed Rodrigo Humberto Uribe Tapia, a self-described financial operator for the Zetas from 2007 to 2009, on his 2013 appearance on the Judge Judy-like Telemundo show “Caso Cerrado,” or Case Closed.
In the show, which centers on a supposed child custody battle, Uribe claims to be a former hit man who did time in prison. The show was filmed while he was providing information about the Zetas to the federal government.
“That show is fictitious and on the show they gave us a script,” Uribe testified Thursday. “That show, it’s basically based on a script, but none of it was true.”
Defense attorney Jaime Cavazos asked Uribe if he still spoke with members of the Zetas at the time the show was filmed.
“I was still in contact with them,” Uribe replied. “In fact, they thought it was really funny.”
Uribe testifies paid bribes to Coahuila to Governor Humberto Moreira
Uribe’s testimony Wednesday also underscored why a case like Millan Vasquez’s is being tried by federal prosecutors in San Antonio: corruption, bribery and violence have made it virtually impossible to bring such a case in Mexico. According to Uribe, who prosectors say was a frontman for the cartel between 2007 and 2009, when he fled the country to begin working with U.S. law enforcement officials as a confidential informant, the Zetas were able to smuggle drugs, launder money and kill with impunity in Coahuila because of bribes paid to not only local but top state officials.
In his testimony Wednesday, Uribe said he was personally involved in helping deliver bribes to Vicente Chaires Yáñez, personal aide of former Coahuila governor Humberto Moreira.
On one occasion, Uribe testified that he and other cartel leaders met with the aide in a hotel, delivering some $2 million in cash packed into suitcases. Another time they met the aid at a gas station and passed off another $2 million in vacuum-sealed bags.
Uribe testified that the bribes not only allowed cartel members to buy their way out of criminal charges, but also secured cartel bosses’ access to state vehicles and even helicopters to avoid detection from the Mexican military as they moved throughout the region. (Moreira's attorney, who just so happens to be prosecuting Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, told the Express-News yesterday that Uribe's testimony about bribing the governor's office is "pure fantasy.")
Uribe claimed drug money flowing to local and state officials allowed the cartel to set up checkpoints across the state, get around construction permits, and even assume control of a local coal mining company. He testified that the bribes also gave the Zetas near total control of the state prisons, where cartel members had access to whatever they wanted – “Everything,” he testified, “liquor, drugs, women, parties.” Uribe testified that cartel leaders even packaged drugs to load into secret compartments in smuggling vehicles on the Piedras Negras prison grounds.
He also testified that Moreira’s son Jose Eduardo, who was assassinated in 2012 in the Mexican border city of Ciudad Acuña, was killed because the Zetas’ business arrangements with the Coahuila government had broken down. (DD ; Humberto had resigned and his brother Omar elected Governor) The state police killed the nephew of Zetas leader Miguel “El 40” Treviño Morales and he responded by having Moreira’s son killed, Uribe said.
“I don’t know Rodrigo Uribe, the only thing I now know about him is that he participated in the show ‘Caso Cerrado’ as a panelist who talked about his life as an ‘ex sicario,’” Moreira said in a statement to Mexican media that included a link to a video of the show. “During my time in office no one I worked with offered me anything improper.”
“Stop trying to connect me to the people who killed my son,” he added.