State and federal authorities arrested a Mexican-born, Texas-based rancher for links to powerful drug cartels, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration said in a criminal complaint.
The complaint states that Antonio Peña Argüelles, 56, was arrested Wednesday morning at his home in the Stone Oak area of San Antonio for allegedly laundering money he received from Mexico’s Gulf and Los Zetas drug mobs.
It alleges, citing a confidential source, that Peña served as a conduit between powerful drug-gang leaders and Mexican politicians - in particular Tomas Yarrington, who governed the northeastern state of Tamaulipas between 1999-2004.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Nancy Nowak ordered Peña - who faces up to 20 years in prison for money laundering if convicted - held until a bail hearing set for Feb. 21.
According to the complaint filed by the DEA, Peña had been in hiding since November, when members of the Los Zetas cartel, which used to serve as the armed wing of the Gulf mob but have since branched out on their own, killed his brother Alfonso in Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, and left a threatening banner next to the body.
The banner alleges that Antonio Peña pocketed $5 million that he had received from Los Zetas No. 2 Miguel Treviño Morales in exchange for political protection.
It also refers to him as a money launderer living in the United States and blames the brothers for the death of Rodolfo Torre Cantu, a candidate for governor of Tamaulipas who was killed in 2010, according to the complaint.
On the day Alfonso Peña was killed, according to the DEA’s complaint, Antonio received a threatening text message from Treviño Morales.
“All right, don’t pay, however let’s see where you’ll hide because you well know you are not going to have a place to hide,” Treviño Morales, who demanded that Peña return the $5 million, wrote.
The Peña brothers came into contact with the Zetas because of a ranch they owned south of the border city of Nuevo Laredo, the DEA complaint said, citing another confidential source who said the gang paid the siblings a fee to use the ranch to smuggle drugs and bypass a federal checkpoint.
The relationship between the detainee and the cartel continued to grow and he became “involved in money laundering and political corruption activities by acting as a middle man between the Zetas and politicians in Nuevo Laredo,” the complaint said.
Peña, according to one of the confidential sources cited in the complaint, “conducted bulk money pickups” in the cities of Brownsville, Roma and Laredo, Texas, and in Las Vegas, Nevada, “estimated to be several million in drug proceeds derived from the Zetas.”
He later moved to the United States, where he founded several transportation companies and began moving in political and business circles.
Founded by deserters from an elite special forces unit, Los Zetas began as the armed wing of the Gulf cartel, but ended that relationship in March 2010 to go into business for themselves.
Hundreds have died in the ensuing turf battles between the aggressive upstarts and the established drug trafficking organizations.
Mexico is mired in a wave of organized crime-related violence that left 47,515 dead between December 2006 - when President Felipe Calderon took office and militarized the struggle against the country’s heavily armed, well-funded drug mobs - and Sept. 30, 2011, according to official figures.