Blog dedicated to reporting on Mexican drug cartels
on the border line between the US and Mexico

Thursday, July 29, 2021

The Kings of Inverse Huachicol: An Analysis of Mexico's White Collar Crime Scenario. Part One

"Redlogarythm" for Borderland Beat

Mexican customs have become one of the key instruments for economic criminality, constituting a market as big as the one managed by violent organized crime

Mexico has become known for its forms of violent criminality. Gruesome videos of interrogations, tortures and executions are daily uploaded and shared through social media. Pictures of lifeless bodies piled as garbage in highways or hanged from modern bridges illustrate our mornings when we consult the journals.

Narco "comunicados" displaying cadres of heavily armed and masked individuals talking to their enemies and addressing local authorities are also common. Each day we receive reports of a new massacre in a rehabilitation center or a restaurant, of a new load of weapons seized in an airport or a customs office or of a several hour long gun battle fought in Reynosa, Matamoros, Caborca or Guadalajara.

And behind such horrible events the civil society points its finger towards a growing number of criminal groups commonly labeled as "cartels". We have the powerful ones, like the Sinaloa Cartel or the Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación (CJNG), which monopolize the production and export of drugs.

We also have the remnants of once important organizations, such as the myriad of factions using the Gulf Cartel´s label in Tamaulipas, Zacatecas and parts of Veracruz; or the remains of the once almighty Los Zetas group preying in the extortion, kidnapping and drug retailing markets all across the Eastern Gulf coastal line.

Finally, we have the local and regional expressions of Mexico´s underworld expansion; groups that from an initial family-oriented business strategy have expanded trying to exert their dominion over extensive areas to create frames of criminal governance.

This would be the case of the ruins of the Beltrán Leyva cartel, of the myriad of Guerrero´s criminal cells or of Guanajuato´s mixture of drug retailers, extortionists and gas thieves that have used the brand of the Santa Rosa de Lima cartel to appear as a monolithic entity.

These groups, experts say, are the ones to blame for Mexico´s current tragedy. It´s the turf between Ismael Zambada´s proxies and CJNG´s cells the one that has created a brutal spiral of violence that has led to the crucifixion of human beings in Zacatecas. It´s the conflict between CJNG and members of Carteles Unidos (CU) what has caused the forced exodus of thousands of people in Michoacan. It´s the rivalry between drug distributing gangs and enforcer cells affiliated to the criminal groups operating in Tijuana what has created a public security crisis, fostering the building of twisted criminal markets such as the ones of kidnapping or extortion. It has been the conflict between the criminal associations of gas thieves what is behind the levels of violence in areas such as Guanajuato, Puebla, Tabasco and Veracruz.

In summary, according to the predominant opinion, Mexican violent organized crime is the cause of the country´s present troubles. Without "drug cartels" acting all over Mexico, violence would not be so popular and the nation would be radically different. This assumption is partially correct. Indeed, violence is a plague for Mexico and much of it is either a consequence of the operations of criminal groups or a cause of the actuation of such groups, which most of the times virtually are immune to any judicial prosecution.

Nevertheless, such explanation is far from being complete. In fact, the explanation of violent organized criminality as the source of Mexico´s security crisis has become a card which everyone -from journalists to politicians- tend to use to explain briefly a state of affairs that requires a much in-depth analysis.

It´s clear and undisputed that Mexico´s biggest problem is organized violence. Nevertheless, it´s not so clear which are the factors triggering the current degree of organized violence. Most people say it´s organized crime and, using a wide range of terms, tend to blame "drug cartels", "criminal groups", "criminal gangs" or "organized delinquency" thus perpetuating the stigma of a Mexican criminality which is violent per se. A criminality whose members are youngsters wearing cheap jeans, tactical vests and assault rifles, roaming across Mexico in SUV convoys. A criminality devoted either to extorting formal businesses, to a wide range of criminal activitites (such as alien smuggling, prostitution and gun running) or to the import, manufature and export of drugs.

However, this school of thought tends to forget that not every expression of criminality is necesarily violent. In fact, violence is a tool used by organized crime in markets were there´s no other option or resource to restore equilibrium or to enforce rules. Such type of rational and non-violent criminality is much more present in Mexico than what we might think, and it is called economic crime.

Across decades of violence and crime Mexico has generated a certain sector of the private business that not only commit crimes as a way of guaranteeing its own success but that uses huge criminal practices and fraudulent schemes as business strategy. Thus, Mexico´s private sectors is silently but inevitably turning into an entity whose behavior and modus operandi is not so different to the ones used by violent criminality.

As a matter of fact, violent criminality couldn´t exist without economic criminals.

It´s very dangerous to think that all the businessmen being used by criminal groups in Mexico are nothing more than simple money launderers working for a certain commission and incardinated into the structure of such organizations. In fact, most of the times such individuals operate independently. They gather forces with violent criminality, but for the sole purpose of mutual retribution.

Violent Mexican criminality couldn´t survive without economic criminality, and at the same time economic criminality needs the proceeds generated or facilitated by violent groups to exist and operate. It´s a symbiotic relationship that has very conveniently been avoided by almost everybody. But why?

Economic Crime and White-Collar Criminality: an introduction to economic criminal law

The term white-collar crime was coined for the first time in 1939 by American sociologist Edwin H. Sutherland to denominate the offences committed by "people of high socioeconomic status in the development of their professional activities". Sutherland´s theory of white-collar criminality appeared at a time when the echoes of the Great Depression still reverberated, bringing from the past the images of cadres of exclusive individuals of the upper classes who had managed to avoid any criminal responsibilities for the 1929 financial disaster.

Sutherland´s white-collar criminality theory caused sensation at the time mainly because until then the commission of crimes was a phenomenon analyzed from a purely criminal perspective, not from a social one. Until 1939 it was a person the one perpetrating a crime, not an individual of a certain social status. Thus, Sutherland opened the door to a new optic for the analysis of criminal conducts based on the offender´s social background.

The problem of white-collar criminality is precisely its broadness of vision, which makes impossible to categorize it as a specific type of offence in any rational penal code or criminal justice system. The rule to categorize the crime committed by an individual is the set of norms that classify crimes according to the facts and premises stablished by the law, not the social background of the offender. Thus, most legislations tend to regulate white-collar crimes as types of the much more comprehensive set of crimes called Economic Criminality.

Economic criminality has received multiple definitions. For some authors it consists of any crime attacking the production, circulation, distribution and consumption structures of an State´s wealth. Other authors categorize Economic Criminality the kind of criminality that is committed without violence by individuals considered "formal" or "reputable".

The dichotomy between white-collar criminality and economic criminality can be appreciated if we focus on the objective of criminal investigation. If the criminal investigation of an offence is oriented towards the author then we are talking about white-collar crime since it´s the background of the offender what matters. By the contrary, if the criminal investigation is oriented towards the illicit act (the crime itself) we are talking about economic criminality since what matters are the circumstances surrounding the offence.

Maybe the best definition of economic criminality is offered by Moreno Castillo and Aráuz Ulloa when they say that it is an expression used to denominate criminal offences perpetrated by people of high social level affecting the socioeconomic order. 

For Barroso González, there are certain characteristics of economic criminality that make of it a specially dangerous type of delinquency:
  • Most of the offenders belong to upper social classes. Contrary to other criminals of lower social background economic criminals tend to enjoy of a considerably high level of social consideration and respect that grant them almost natural credibility. This aura of respectability is promoted by the criminal himself, who will use it to build ties with sectors of the judiciary and the political spectrum in order to gain power and influence.
  • Most economic criminals are considerably intelligent and use their cunning to avoid being discovered.
  • Economic criminals are specially dangerous for two reasons. Firstly, because of the immense consequences of their crimes, which can affect hundreds of thousands, maybe millions of people. Secondly, because they will commit the crime if they know they won´t be discovered and punished, which demonstrates a natural inclination towards crime.
  • Although economic criminals know that their crimes are illegal they don´t consider them criminal actions. This is due to a wide range of reasons: they think that their social status allow them to be above the law, they can consider the law irrational or unfair, because the crime being committed is very popular among the members of their social class or because they don´t see themselves as criminals since for them the term "crime" is a phenomenon applied to lower social classes.
  • Economic criminality is only possible if the criminal owns considerable resources. Otherwise it is only possible to commit small offences against the property of others, but not against the socioeconomic order of nations.
As we can see, economic criminals present a very specific set of characteristics that make them unique: they´re rich, intelligent, highly considered among the members of their social, class, powerful, economically dangerous and with a vast range of resources that grant them anonymity, alibis and impunity.
In conclussion, economic criminality can be defined as a type of the much broader white-collar criminality.

Economic Criminality in Mexico: A Promised Land for the Wicked

In Mexico, economic criminality has become known as some sort of "secondary" criminal phenomenon. While violent organizations such as the Sinaloa cartel, the CJNG and other smaller groups are cited almost daily in newspapers, TV and the internet for their gruesome acts of violence very little attention is paid to other smaller, more exclusive and much less violent criminal organizations. These groups tend to escape from the public´s attention for two reasons. Firstly, because of the kind of crimes they perpetrate. Such groups, don´t behead, torture or kidnap since they are devoted to economic crimes. Secondly, they aren´t interested in advertising their very own existence.

For these reasons, when news about economic criminals are leaked to the public, the media tends to present them either as members of violent criminal groups (such as accountants, money launderers or financial operators) rather than as individuals that operate completely aside from such violent groups. "For violent criminality economic criminals are accessory offenders" is the official motto. Thus, economic criminality tends to be presented as an integral part of violent criminality when, in fact, it is an independent and autonomous phenomenon that doesn´t necessarily rely on violent organizations to exist, nor to operate.

In fact, Mexico has proven itself as a country where economic criminality is a widespread phenomenon. The generalized political and administrative corruption, as well as the sudden change from a deeply State-centered economic system to a radically predatory economy where serious business is only done through the mediation of political contacts which mediate for administrative procedures has facilitated the perfect circumstances for the emergence of criminal groups devoted to the commission of huge frauds, corruption schemes and other public malpractices.

This state of things has ended in the alliance between certain sectors of the business class and political elites at the local, State and Federal level. This alliance has resulted into a considerable number of operations designed to extract massive amounts of money from public coffers. Such have been the cases of the nation-wide frauds such as the Estafa Maestra, the sack of Pemex, the mega debt cases of Coahuila under the Moreiras, of Veracruz under Javier Duarte or of Chihuahua under César Duarte. Nowadays we are also witnessing the development of investigations surrounding other political figures accused of creating wide webs of nepotism that are used to profit from public funds in exchange of political favors (such as the cases of the Cabeza de Vaca clan in Tamaulipas or of Francisco Vega de La Madrid, former Governor of Baja California.

These illicit operations share certain common features: they are performed mainly by businessmen, they tend to be based either on the stealing of funds or public resources as well as on tax evasion and important political figures that are also beneficiaries of the scheme provide protection. Political protection is needed most of times for the simple reason that the levels of resources channeled through the schemes are so high that they would raise suspicions without a proper administrative cover up. Politicians are also highly valued for the access to public resources they can provide, resources or funds that would remain unreachable for any common citizen regardless of his level of income.

The main advantage of such schemes is their resilience. In fact, they tend to last over years, sometimes even decades. This high durability is due to the fact that although conceived for a certain illicit purpose (the misappropriation of public funds, mainly) what were initially illegal schemes tend to become stable over time, absorbing more members and providing higher profits. Thus, we can see how the operations of certain schemes (such as the one of César Duarte, for example) evolved from a purely public funds stealing scope into a multi-faceted criminal organization devoted to the granting of public positions for political allies, the theft of lands, cattle rustling, illicit campaign funding or financial fraud.

Such criminal organizations have evolved so much that they have exceeded all expectations for organized criminality. Politicians have now become secondary figures since they are mere facilitators and not the ultimate beneficiaries. These groups aren´t involved solely in the stealing of public resources since such illicit activities have become a consequence, not an objective, of their operations.

Nowadays Mexican economic criminality isn´t only devoted to steal money from public escrows, but is engaged in multifaceted criminal operations such as transnational contraband of fuel and other consumer goods, financial fraud or money laundering. Such offences resemble more the activities of violent organized crime rather than the set of crimes that we would expect from a group of people living in the most exclusive residential areas of Monterrey, Guadalajara, Culiacán or Mexico City.

In conclusion, Mexico´s political, social and economic panorama has given birth to a certain number of organizations composed both by businessmen and politicians devoted to the commission of crimes that aren´t necessarily violent but involve a massive amount of resources, resulting in an astonishingly negative effect for the Mexican economy. What follows is the analysis of on of such organizations and the massive operation of contraband that it has developed through the years, transforming itself in Mexico´s biggest oil distributor only behind Pemex.

The Kings of Inverse Huachicol

Huachicol has taken a new path in Mexico. Although the practices of illicit extraction through pricking the pipelines or stealing tanker trucks are still vital for certain criminal groups -as demonstrated by the constant incidents in the Southeastern States- such methods have become secondary in a criminal market were much more refined and clandestine practices have become the rule. With Pemex in vital support due to a multi-billion debt originated by past and present financial misdemeanors and a violent criminality engaged in what we could call "local" or "domestic" fuel theft scenario economic criminal organizations have been left almost a virgin market in which to manage vast operations in order to satisfy a never-ending demand of fuel that is not met either by licit or illicit supply chains.

Thus, a certainly original method has been developed by such organizations that involve the introduction of foreign fuel into Mexico in order to distribute it throughout the country. Needless to say, the introduction is completely illegal and takes place by very specific customs through several methods -false invoicing, mainly-. Once in Mexico, the fuel is handed over by specialized operators (which operate without official permits) to a very wide network of distributors that operate through legitimate companies that own gas-station franchises in States deeply penetrated by organized crime -such Sinaloa, Jalisco or Chihuahua- what could mean either that the members of this powerful group are colluded with violent criminals who allow their operations for a certain fee or, what would be even worse, that these economic criminals are over violent organized crime, forming a new kind of elite that is completely invisible to the public eye.

Such practice -known as huachicol fiscal or tax oil theft- has become increasingly popular and is blamed for being one of the reasons behind Mexico´s current distorted fuel market. Since at least 2020 several news briefs and journal articles had covered this topic, theorizing about the possibility of giant smuggling organizations operating from inside Mexico. The existence of one of such organizations finally was made public on early 2021.

In fact, the first glimpse over this giant contraband organization was given on February 2021 when MORENA Federal Deputy Ricardo Francisco Exome Zapata -member of the Energy Commission of the Chamber of Deputies or Cámara de Diputados- made public that he had filed a complaint against an organization devoted to transnational huachicol of which he knew through an anonymous complaint he had received.

The complaint, of which Borderland Beat has a copy, offers very specific information about the functioning of the network, providing names (both of real persons and companies) that are allegedly involved into what we could call Mexico´s biggest fraud scheme. 

During the last two months Borderland Beat has studied the allegations made in this document. We have investigated dozens of companies, individuals and entities. We have obtained contracts, public documents and corporate information through the use of private and public resources and he have made our own conclusions. It´s up to you, reader, to consider whether if what we conclude is possible or not.

Getting started: purchasing oil on Texan soil

This contraband network operates through a four-step operation. It first acquires the fuel in the US, then it introduces it into Mexico where it is sold to certain entities and finally it is distributed at the street level. Each step or level has its own agents (individuals and companies) who operate solely inside a certain field in order not to raise suspicions.

Our journey through the operations of our contraband network starts in Texas, where the first level is located. It´s in this US State that the organization purchases the fuel that will be later introduced into Mexico through the customs points along the Northeastern border region.

Who purchases the fuel - diesel and gasoline mainly-? Apparently the main purchaser is a Mexican company called Nexoil SA de CV. Constituted on September 6th, 2010, in Naucalpan de Juárez before the State of Mexico Public Broker n.1 Gustavo Mauricio Gámez Imaz , Nexoil SA de CV is a company focused on the provision of fuel to cargo, urban, mining and industrial transport.

Although Nexoil has its registered office in Atizapán de Zaragoza, the company´s operations must have been very successful, since they also operate from an exclusive office located in the American General Center (also known as the America Tower) right in the middle of Houston. It´s apparently from here (since we haven´t been cappable of identifying a real location in Atizapán de Zaragoza) that Nexoil´s operations are conducted.

Who owns Nexoil? According to Mexico´s Public Commerce Registry Nexoil SA de CV is own entirely by two cousins: Carlos Antonio Pazarán Benavides ( who owns 90% of the sahres) and Martín Pazarán Alcántara (who owns the other 10%). 

Extract of Nexoil´s memorandum of association, obtained from RPC and proving that the Pazarán cousins own the company

Carlos Antonio Pazarán Benavides is a businessman and a former leader of MORENA in Atizapán de Zaragoza. Nevertheless, in April 2018 he left the party and joined the much more conservative PAN, accusing the his old colleagues of introducing a new candidate -Ruth Olvera- who he accused of being corrupt and a complete outsider for the Municipality. "MORENA is not national regeneration anymore" he said "its national degeneration".

Pazarán on the day he announced his exit from Morena, joining the PAN

Despite the frictions with his old comrades he seems to have come back to the fold sincehe has joined MORENA again, trying to run as pre-candidate for the June elections, although he lost -again- against his former and allegedly corrupt rival Ruth Olvera who was the ultimate choice.

Pazarán when he tried to run for Morena´s pre-candidacy in Atizapán, early 2021

Nexoil´s modus operandi is simple according to Exome´s complaint. The company introduces fuel cargoes into Mexico hiding them as other merchandises that pay much lower taxes. Although the liberalizing wave that the NAFTA began in the 1990s has reduced import/export duties considerably the Mexican State -as any other modern country- levies taxes for the importation of certain goods whose free commercialization (with no price restrictions) could be very dangerous of its sovereignty.

Fuels and oil are among such products. In fact their are levied through the Special Tax on Products and Services (IEPS), which is very similar to the VAT and is charged on some of the most popular everyday products such as alcoholic beverages, tobacco and, very important, gasolines.

The main characteristic of the IEPS is that, as the VAT, it´s an indirect tax, which means that the one selling the products doesn´t pay anything but charges the tax on the consumer, who is the one bearing all the cost. 

In this case the complaint assures that the organization´s main objective is to evade the IEPS by declaring goods different to the ones that are really being introduced into Mexico. Let´s explain it with an example: imagine I want to import 100,000 liters of gasoline into Mexico in order to distribute them through a network of gas-station that I own in Jalisco. If I comply with the law then I should pay 0.1355 MXP/liter.

Nevertheless, if I forge the import licenses and state that I am importing centrifugal coolant, then I would pay no IEPS at all. This is precisely what the members of this contraband organization are doing: altering the import licenses in order to evade taxes and sell the imported fuels at a lower and more competitive price.

In light of such criminal accusation, of the dozens of companies signaled by Exome´s complaint Nexoil has been the only one to make a public statement denying any involvement in the alleged contraband organization.

On February 16th the company posted a statement on social media ensuring the probity of its operations. Three days later, on the 19th, Nexoil shared on the media a public letter signed by the company´s legal representative, Francisco Aúreo Acevedo Castro, declaring that the allegations made about its dirty dealings were completely false.

Nexoil SA de CV public statement denying all the allegations. They have been the only company to deny the charges.

Nexoil, the letter explained, wasn´t introducing fuel into Mexico hidden under cargoes of cheap petrochemicals, additives or lubricants. In fact, the letter goes to the extent of assuring that Nexoil doesn´t deal with that types of products when saying: "we reject the imputations of buying petrochemical products, lubricants and additives mentioned in the [Exome´s] report".

Nevertheless, what Mr. Acevedo Castro forgets is that one of the main coporate purposes of the company he represents is precisely the dealing in such goods. In fact, as Nexoil´s Commercial Electronic Folio n.9390 states at its point VIII of its Legal Purpose is "the buying, selling, distribution, commercialization, importation and exportation of oil-based products and its derivates; oils, greases, combustibles, lubricants, chemical products, raw materials and everything necessary with basic and non-basic petrochemical products". 

Section of Nexoil´s Commercial Electronic Folio n.9390 stating that the dealing in oils, petrochemical derivatives and lubricants is one of its main purposes.

Regardless of Nexoil´s allegations we must acknowledge that the levels of contraband associated to this company are extremely high even for Mexican corporate standards. According to the complaint Nexoil would be the origin of the whole contraband scheme. It´s this company the one purchasing the oil on the US and introducing it into Mexico.

Nevertheless, if Nexoil is doing so it can´t be the only one involved in this early phase of the operation. Mexican law mandate that any business wiling to import or commercialize oil products inside its borders must obtain an official general license from the Energy Regulatory Commission. Once this license has been obtained the Government then grants periodic operating licenses which allow only to import limited amounts of this or that combustible.

Nexoil obtained its operating license (n. H/20609/COM/2017) on November 23 2017 and has been receiving periodic specific licenses ever since for importing ultra-low sulphur gasoline and diesel and even jet fuel.

Extracts of import licenses granted to Nexoil for the years 2017 and 2018 stating the quantities that the company could introduce in the country.

Although the quantities that Nexoil was awarded are enormous, they aren´t big enough to supply a network as complex as the one we are analyzing. And even if Nexoil wanted to introduce fuel by altering import documents it couldn´t do so without raising suspicions for the incredible levels of merchandise they would be introducing through the border. The conclusion is obvious: there must be more buyers.

Let´s analyze the providers now. Who are the sellers that provide the organization with fuel? According to Exome´s complaint there are two main providers: L Energy International LLC and Serv Energy LLC. These are the entities on which the whole organization relies. Without them it could not be possible to distribute anything. There have been previous cases of US companies involved in illicit operations of huachicol smuggling, but most of the times they had been the buyers of the fuel being stolen from Pemex by criminal groups. This confirms the fact that the criminal tendencies have reverted.

It´s not that Texan oil companies purchase cheap fuel from Mexican groups, but it´s the Texan oil sector the one selling fuel to Mexican companies, that sold it later by a much cheaper price than the national average.

L Energy International LLC is a company based in Houston and owned by a family dynasty that operates a considerably powerful business portfolio. Its main members are Laura J. McNear (who serves as member and executive) and Steven M. McNear (manager, member, CEO and president), although other family members hold charges in separate companies.

The McNears also operate what we could denominate a corporate energy conglomerate comprised by the McNear Energy Group LLC (the matrix of the overall structure), TJM-SMM Management Group LLC (controlled by the latter), L Energy International LLC (in charge of selling fuel) and Buckhead Midstream LLC (in charge of the legal agreements and fuel transport/logistics)

The second provider, Serv Energy LLC is much more interesting. Incorporated in May 27th 2017, it has two members acting as managers: Arysbeth Pineda Santana and Jaime Granados. Serv Energy LLC used to have another company, Serv USA LLC, as registered officer. Nevertheless, Serv USA LLC is currently inactive and Serv Energy LLC has another company, Serv Internacional SA de CV, registered as officer. This second company is Mexican, not American. This means that one of the providers of the Mexican huachicol ring is not based on the US but rather in Mexico.

Who is behind Serv Internacional SA de CV? According to what Borderland Beat knows the company was constituted at Mexico DF Public Notary n.99 José Luís Quevedo Salcedo. being registerd on Mexico City´s Public Registry of Commerce (RPC) on July 25th 2005. Nevertheless, it hasn´t been possible to obtain information of such a company at the RPC.

It is through the analysis of public contracts that have discovered the relationship between the Mexican company and its American subsidiary in charge of providing fuel to the contrband organization. According to Mexico´s public contract registry (Compranet) between 2007 and 2016 Serv Internacional SA de CV has signed at least 8 contracts with the Federal Electricity Commission for a total of 875 million pesos. All of them consisted in the provision of chemical substances such as fuel oil additives or additives for the minimization of gas emissions being used by several Mexican thermal power plants.

Through the analysis of such contracts we have discovered the identity of two individuals working for Serv Internacional SA de CV. They are Guillermo Federico Salas-Chico, who acted as General Director, and Rosmeri Santana Montúfar, who acted as legal representative and General Manager.

Extract of a contract signed between the Administration and Serv Internacional SA de CV, certifying Rosmeri Santana Montufar as General Manager

Now, we have been able to determine that Serv International SA de CV is connected to Serv Energy LLC (the US fuel exporter) through several details. Firstly, Serv Internacional SA de CV is also registered in Texas as the officer of a third company, the San Antonio-based M911 Conexer LLC, whose managing members are Alberto Gutiérrez Sandoval, Gerardo Payán-Ramos, Jaime Granados and Arysbeth Pineda Santana.

Secondly, the personal mail addresses of Rosmeri Santana and Guillermo Federico Salas Chico appear together with the one of Arysbeth Pineda Santana (Manager of Serv Energy LLC and M911 Conexer LLC) as contacts in charge of a fourth company, Serv Energy Rag SRL, which has gas facilities in the port of Dos Bocas (Tabasco) where it seems that the company operates a gas station. 

Mail adresses of the people in charge of Serv Energy Rag SRL at the Dos Bocas port facility. These individuals are also connected to Serv Energy LLC, Serv Internacional SA de CV and M911 Conexer LLC.

Who is behind Serv Energy Rag SRL? We can´t know it since Mexico´s Public Registry of Commerce restricts corporate information regarding SRL-type companies, but it´s possible that Serv Energy Rag SRL is the successor of Serv Internacional SA de CV given the fact that there´s no trace of this last company in Mexico´s RPC. 

On May 17th 2018, Serv Energy Rag SRL was granted a license for the commercialization of hydrocarbons by the Energy Regulatory Commission (license n. H/21164/COM/2018) Since then at the company has received at least one license for the importation of 600 million liters of diesel.

Import license obtained by Serv Energy Rag SRL for the introduction of 600 million liters of diesel.

In conclusion, one of the American branches of the organization (Serv Energy LLC) is also part a a much broader set of companies controlled from Mexico devoted both to the import and commercialization of fuel inside the country.

Introducing the hydrocarbons into Mexico: customs, criminals and two Governments

According to the public complaint received by Exsome Zapata, Nexoil introduces gasoline and diesel through the border entry points of Nuevo Laredo, Matamoros and Reynosa. For doing so, Nexoil relies on the complicity of certain authorities of the Cabeza de Vaca administration.

Tamaulipas has always been a hotspot for contraband activity. Its northern Texan border gives it a privileged access to one of the US main transport routes. Precisely for these reasons Tamaulipas has always been subjected to the whims and operations of a variety of criminal organizations that have used its territory as headquarters for dealing in any possible good: stolen oil, weapons, money, fayuca, stolen vehicles, drugs, human beings, etc.

Such illicit markets can´t be controlled without the complicity of political authorities, who are the ones administering the customs as well as the roads through which merchandise travels. Thus, every Federal and State Administrations has dealt with criminal organizations in some form, regulating illicit economies and benefiting from the kickbacks perceive in return.

The relationship between the public authorities and criminal organizations is symbiotic and simple: public officers grant impunity and facilitate illicit activities in exchange of a certain commission. 

The most interesting fact about the contraband market in the State of Tamaulipas is that it is far from being controlled by one single entity. In fact, the analysis of the available information suggests that there are several power groups trying to control this illicit area, competing between each other for taxing the dozens of smaller organizations dealing in smuggled good (fayuqueros, drug dealers, gun-runners, huachicoleros or classical smugglers)

When talking about the contraband of goods in Tamaulipas we can distinguish between two types of criminal organizations: the ones devoted to the import/export of goods (smuggling groups) and the ones which focus on granting free access (we could call them regulatory groups). Smuggling groups are composed by people trying to introduce or export goods illegally. For doing so they must contact regulatory groups, which are integrated by individuals (police officers, military, politicians, administrative personnel, etc) with the capacity of ensuring that the merchandise will cross the border without any problem.

The smuggling groups are very varied both in membership and product portfolio. They involve legal companies dealing in illicit goods (such as our smuggling organization), criminal organizations dealing in strictly illegal goods such as weapons, human beings or drugs and entities dealing in merchandise that is illicit since they are controlled by violent criminal groups.

This last type of organization would be the case of the incredibly wide range of cells devoted to the smuggling of fayuca and other consumer goods controlled by factions of the CDG and the CDN. For example, in Reynosa it seems that one of these multi-function smuggling groups is led by a man identified as Gilberto Salguero Valdez who in 2014 was Reynosa´s Municipal Finance General Coordinator during the mayorship of the PRI-linked José Elías Leal. 

Gilberto aka El Gil Salguero Valdez, alleged contraband kingpin operating in Reynosa

According to Exome´s complaint, our fuel smuggling organization uses three main crossing points: Nuevo Laredo, Reynosa and Matamoros. An it seems that there are at least two regulatory groups controlling such customs: one which we could call Federal-oriented and another one sided with State authorities.

To talk about the Federal-oriented regulatory group we must know its history. This organization was built thanks to the efforts of Ricardo Peralta Saucedo.

A lawyer and law professor graduated in the UNAM, Ricardo Peralta was nominated in December 2017 as director of the General Customs Administration (AGA), the agency in charge of administering Mexico´s 49 border crossing points. After taking office, Peralta started nominating its own custom officers with. Since then at least 32 have been removed for reasons linked to administrative corruption. 

Among such administrators, in January 2019 Peralta appointed a man called Julio César Carmona Angulo as administrator of Reynosa´s customs office. This mysterious man, who was rumored to have paid several million dollars for being nominated as Reynosa´s customs administrator, became very well known on the same month of his nomination when he issued a set of administrative decrees - SAT´s newsletters n. P006, P007, P008 and P009- that granted almost unlimited access to trucks carrying fuel through several of Tamaulipas customs posts.

Under Mexican legislation border crossing points are opened to merchandise for certain hours. In fact, it´s competence of the posts administrator to regulate the crossing schedules. The reasons for such decrees (which Julio César Carmona Angulo wasn´t authorized to issue) were linked to Mexico´s fuel supply shortage.

During the first 5 days of such special period nearly 2.000 tanker trucks carrying oil crossed the border while the average during normal periods is around 800 per week.

SAT´s internal P006 decree issued by Julio César Carmona Angulo on January 2006 authorising the crossing of fuel through customs posts during a 24 hs. time span

The extent of Carmona Angulo´s mismanagement of Reynosa´s customs office must have been so great that before the summer of 2019 he was dismissed and substituted with José Luís Avendaño Salinas, who in April 2021 started being investigated by the FGR as member of an organization composed by active and former customs administrators devoted to protecting huges schemes of contraband.

Signature of Julio César Carmona Angulo proving his possition as General Administrator of Reynosa´s customs office. From there he would facilitate the crossing of tons of contraband, mainly illicit fuel

The most interesting fact is that even after Julio César Carmona Angulo was dismissed in 2019 he and his brother Sergio have retained control of much of the border crossing points of Tamaulipas, controlling the flow of illicit merchandise through the customs posts and charging quotas to those willing to enter contraband into Mexico.

According to several versions they control the crossing points of Nuevo Laredo (monpolized by the Treviño´s criminal group, the Cártel del Noreste), Piedras Negras (shared by the Cártel del Noreste and remnants of the Gulf Cartel) and Matamoros (headquarters of the CDG faction allied to the Cárdenas family remnants). For doing so they have been linked to the funding of politica candidates most of whom are prominent MORENA figures in the State such as Ciudad Madero´s mayor Adrián Oseguera Kernión, Matamoros´ mayor Mario López Hernández or Federal Deputy Erasmo González Robledo.
The Carmona Angulo brothers (Julio César on the left and Sergio on the right), alleged contraband kingpins in charge of regulating smuggling quotas in the customs posts of Tamaulipas

As it´s known -and as Borderland Beat has closely investigated- the Government of the State of Tamaulipas is currently subjected to the designs of the Cabeza de Vaca clan, led by the current Governor Francisco Javier García Cabeza de Vaca, who has conducted an international operation for the gathering of resources (legal and illegal) commanding in the process a vast criminal organization that participates in multi-faceted criminal operations such as administrative corruption, money laundering, theft of public resources, drug trafficking and, of course, contraband of fuel.

The State authorities can´t manage the customs directly since that´s a Federal exclusive prerogative exercised by the AGA through the SAT. Thus, they have to content themselves with extorting smuggling organizations after they have paid to the Federal regulatory groups in the customs.

This secondary extortion is done through two ways: by granting import authorizations or by stopping the trucks in checkpoints operated by State authorities and demanding a payment for releasing the merchandise in situ.

The first type of extortion -the administrative one- is done through at least one agency: the State Commission for the Prevention of Sanitary Risks (COEPRIS), and specifically through the Sanitary Operative Directorate which is in charge of enforcing the implementation of the State sanitary programs. On November 2017 -just after taking office- Cabeza de Vaca nominated his cousin Marco Antonio Guerra García as head of the Sanitary Operative Directorate.

Marco Antonio had been a member of the Policía Judicial Federal (PJF) and is linked to the Grupo Palma, a special unit commanded by the once head of the PJF and later reconverted into contraband kingpin Guillermo González Calderoni. Interestingly enough, another individual linked to Cabeza de Vaca -his first security chief- was also a member of the same units, most of whose members have been killed or have disappeared.

Marco Antonio Guerra García, former member of the PJF´s Palma Group and cousin of current Governor Cabeza de Vaca. He would be appointed to the COEPRIS, from where he would be accused of dealing in importing licenses

Another interesting fact about Marco Antonio Guerra García is that his brother, Víctor Hugo, is the current Autonomous University of Tamaulipas´ Secretary of Administration. Last month, he was accused by the UIF of pocketing at least 442 million MXP through and scheme involving fake administrative contracts and shell companies. 

From his office inside the COEPRIS, it was rumoured that Marco Antonio Guerra García dealt with import licenses in exchange of kickbacks that were later re-directed towards the hard-core clan led by the Governor himself- Nevertheless, at some point there was a conflict between them and Marco Antonio was fired and replaced on December 2019.

This incident was possibly linked to the capture by personnel of the Finance Secretary of 23 trailers filled with 155,200 liters of gasoline and 289,500 liters of fuel, all of them brought illegally into Mexico through the method of altering import licenses.

The seizure took place at kilometer 30 of the Federal Reynosa-Monterrey highway. Although all the photos of the trailers that were taken by the media at the time were conveniently blurred to disguise the corporate logos printed on the truck´s tankers,

Borderland Beat has confirmed that the company in charge of the smuggling operation was Ästron, a medium-level fuel provider operating in the States of Coahuila and Chihuahua which, interestingly enough, are also an operating field for our contraband organization. The trucks came from Houston, Harlington and Brownsville and the fuel had Monterrey, Chihuahua, Durango and Zacatecas as destinations.

On the top, one of the trailers carrying smuggled fuel seized to the Ästron company on December 2019 by elements of the Tamaulipas State Government. Interestingly enough, the logo of Ästron wass blurred in all the photos taken by the media. On the bottom, one of Ästron´s tanker trucks. The image was obtained from their corporate webpage

Apparently, the seizure was linked to the fact that Marco Antonio Guerra García had pocketed some money that wasn´t perceived by the Governor´s inner circle, which detonated both the seizure and the sack of Guerra García.

The second type of extortion conducted by the State authorities is conducted through the Revenue Subsecretary -an agency dependent on the Finance Secretary- and the Government General Secretary.

The Revenue Subsecretary is in charge of collecting money for the taxes levied by the State Government. In 2017, Cabeza de Vaca nominated Arturo Soto Alemán as head of the Revenue Subsecretary. From there, Arturo Soto make him for the hunting of considerable loads of fayuca (a kind of contraband composed by second hand clothing purchased in the US and smuggled into Mexico) around Reynosa.

Arturo Soto left office on February 2019. Since then there have been several reports suggesting that Arturo Soto´s successor, Mauricio Guerra Martínez, also charges quotas (reaching even $800 per truck) to the smuggling groups introduing fuel into the country.

The Government General Secretary is only after the Governor himself in the administrative structure of the State of Tamaulipas. It has always been in the hands of César Augusto Verástegui Ostos (aka El Truco) The kind of extortion practiced through this agency will be analyzed in the second part of this report since it is connected directly with the smuggling organization we are describing.


  1. It's that's why the president put the army in charge of customs? You never know with this guy Kamala wasted her time in talking to him it's like talking to the wall.

    1. I know on the reals.

    2. Kamala is just as dirty. Probably even dirtier

  2. Excellent article. Well written. I live on the Frontera and see the tankers crossing. When go to matamores service stations advertise U.S. fuel.

  3. Please stop blaming the cartels that don't even have enough maruchan to feed their sicarios, private security corporations are the criminals, followed by state policuicos and polizetas

    1. Behind every cartel ' figure head' such as Muncho or Mayo, there is a bigger, much, much more powerful invisible man calling the shots that could not care less if the sicarios cannibalize themselves or eat Ramen Noodles. As long as the cash register rings, this is what counts. Yes, it's me, H

  4. excellent article as always, red. just finished reading it and learned a lot. can't wait for Part 2.

    whats next after this series?

    1. Thank for all your compliments. Appreciated as always.

      Regarding your question, next article is going to be about the use of companies and corporate strategies by CJNG

  5. There is something very wrong with the base assumption of this article!

    Statements like 'These groups, experts say, are the ones to blame for Mexico´s current tragedy' and 'Mexican violent organized crime is the cause of the country´s present troubles' are blatant attempts to deflect attention from the REAL underlying problem: top level corruption.

    The corruption of the very top of the Mexican society is THE real underlying CAUSE of Mexico'S troubles. The cartels and the violence have grown up as a consequence of the corrupt elite.

    1. As always criticism and suggestions are welcomed.

      But if you had read more than the very first paragraph you´d have realised that those statements are nothing more than a methaporical resource.

      In fact, all the article is based on corruption being Mexico´s biggest problem.

      You´re the perfect example of those readers who think that after buyinga few books about Mx. and reading some articles you´re qualified to write an extense comment about the work of others.

      Next time try bringing something sharper into the debate, my friend

    2. Exacto! Very well written!
      It's a top to bottom system...
      Politicians and army and police are each a cartel. It's pretty much a Mafia State at this point.

  6. Red, appreciate the in-depth article. Much needed and appreciated. H

  7. The time and effort you put into these articles is very much appreciated @Redlogarythm. I feel like I should be paying to read this type of content !


Comments are moderated, refer to policy for more information.
Envía fotos, vídeos, notas, enlaces o información
Todo 100% Anónimo;