The relatives of a Mexican casino kingpin, who is accused of a range of crimes from drug trafficking, murder, to running a luxury car theft ring, donated more than $200,000 to President Obama’s political campaign, reports the New York Times.
An Obama campaign official told the Times that all the contributions will be returned. There are no records of any donations from the brother with a criminal record, Juan Jose Rojas, known as “Pepe.”
Evidence indicates that Pepe has a far more troubled history of shady political donations and links to organized crime inside of Mexico. Proceso magazine labeled Juan Jose the “czar of gambling” in a cover story by veteran crime reporter Ricardo Ravelo last year. Pepe’s involvement in the gambling industry is inherently suspicious, as it is widely believed to have been permeated by organized crime, as casinos are a useful outlet for laundering dirty cash. A US State Department cable, released in 2009, stated that Cardona and his brother Arturo have “close ties to the Beltran-Leyva Cartel.” The brothers’ support from National Action Party (PAN) politicians created a “self-protective triangle” which allowed them to run their casinos in Monterrey, traditionally Gulf Cartel territory, the cable adds.
In order to obtain licenses to operate casinos, or to otherwise convince authorities to look the other way, casino magnates like Juan Jose Rojas frequently bribe local politicians, promising them a monthly percentage of the revenue from the casinos. As the Proceso report details, despite the fact that “Pepe” Cardona was wanted by the FBI in the US, this did not prevent the PAN’s Secretary of Government from granting him some 30 licenses to operate gambling houses. In 2005, the DEA and the FBI filed an expedient for Cardona’s arrest, but Mexican authorities took no action.
Juan Jose Cardona may have been able to operate with impunity inside Mexico for so long, thanks to his fundraising for Mexican politicians. According to a 2009 US State Department cable, Pepe and another brother, Arturo, each donated $2.5 million to Adalberto Madero, Monterrey’s PAN party mayor until 2009. Madero was arrested in 2011 for accepting bribes from Casino Royale, where 52 people died in an arson attack last year. Juan Jose and Arturo Cardona also donated money to the political campaign of PAN politician Zeferino Salgado, who also accepted free campaign advertising and a helicopter as a gift from the two brothers, according to the cable.
The Cardonas’ political allies reportedly extended outside of the PAN party. The Proceso report details the Cardona brothers’ support from Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) politicians, in particular state representative Felipe Enriquez Hernandez, a current candidate for mayor of Monterrey.
Given this long history of shady dealings inside of Mexico -- “Pepe” Cardona was also accused of killing off a rival casino and strip club operator, in order to create a monopoly over Monterrey’s gambling industry -- the Obama campaign made a wise move when they chose to return the donations. Even though there is no indication that any of the contributions were dirty cash, according to the Times report, the associations with Pepe cast too dark of a shadow over what may have been well-intentioned political donations from his US-based family members. But while there is no evidence that Pepe Cardona had a direct influence over campaign politics in the US, Mexico is quite a different story.
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