Daniel Aguilar / Reuters file
Tomas Yarrington at a press conference in Mexico City in 2005.
A federal grand jury in Texas has charged a former governor in Mexico's ruling party with drug smuggling, bank fraud, racketeering, money laundering and working with drug cartels, according to an indictment unsealed on Monday.
Tomas Yarrington, ex-governor of Tamaulipas state, on Mexico's northeastern border with Texas, took millions of dollars in bribes from the Gulf Cartel and other traffickers, said the indictment, which was returned by the grand jury in Brownsville, Texas.
He is the third former politician in President Enrique Pena Nieto's Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) to be federally indicted in southern Texas in less than a week.
Yarrington, 56, who was governor of Tamaulipas between 1999 and 2005, has been at the center of criminal allegations since last year.
The charges are likely to raise pressure on Pena Nieto to bring corrupt officials to justice in Mexico after he won election last year pledging to root out graft in the PRI.
After ruling Mexico for 71 consecutive years, the PRI had become a byword for corruption when it was finally voted out in 2000.
Beginning in 1998, U.S. authorities said, Yarrington began taking bribes from the Gulf Cartel and other traffickers when he was mayor of Matamoros on the U.S. border.
The Gulf Cartel was long one of Mexico's leading drug gangs but has been weakened by a spate of recent arrests and a brutal turf war with its former armed wing, the Zetas.
The 11-count indictment also says Yarrington, who was suspended from the PRI in May 2012, was involved in the smuggling of bulk shipments of cocaine through the Gulf port of Veracruz into the United States between 2007 and 2009.
Also charged was Fernando Cano, 57, the owner of a Mexican construction company who allegedly received public contracts under Yarrington's administration in exchange for bribes and assets bought under his name in Texas.
Those assets included vehicles, land, airplanes, as well as a beachside condominium in South Padre Island seized by the U.S. government and sold for $640,000 in August at a public auction.
All told, the indictment accuses Cano and Yarrington of moving more than $7 million into U.S. bank accounts held by shell corporations.
Yarrington moved $300,000 in public money into a bank account in the United States that went toward buying a Sabreliner 60 aircraft in January 2005, according to the indictment.
If convicted of the most serious charges, each man faces up to 30 years in prison and significant fines. U.S. authorities say the whereabouts of Yarrington and Cano are unknown.
Yarrington last year denied allegations of taking drug traffickers' bribes and money laundering in the United States.
In Corpus Christi last week, Hector Javier Villarreal, ex-finance secretary in Coahuila state, and Jorge Torres, a former interim governor of the state, were charged with fraud, theft and the illegal transfer of funds.
As in Yarrington's case, both were charged in absentia.
The two men served under former Coahuila governor Humberto Moreira, a one-time ally of Pena Nieto. Moreira later became national chairman of the PRI but stepped down at the end of 2011 after it emerged he had left the state heavily in debt.
First published December 2 2013, 4:29 PM