Life sentence against Gerardo González Valencia, the narco who hid cocaine in shark corpses 

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The news travelled all round the world. It was June 16, 2009, when dogs trained by the Mexican Navy found something that disturbed them in a shipment of frozen sharks. The crew members of the boat assured that there was nothing out of the ordinary and that the substances that drew the attention of the canine team were preservatives. After passing the merchandise through X-rays, held in a town on the Yucatan peninsula, the suspicions of the Navy were confirmed: they opened up more than 20 sharks and seized around a ton of cocaine hidden in the corpses. 

The controversy was forgotten over the years, which marked the beginning of the war against drugs in Mexico. And it revived until May 2020, when the extradition from Uruguay to the United States of Gerardo González Valencia, alias Lalo or Silverio, head of the Los Cuinis organization and brother-in-law of Nemesio Oseguera El Mencho, leader of the Jalisco Nueva Generación Cartel, was announced. The “shark incident of 2009”, as it is called in the judicial summary of the US authorities, went from being a criminal anecdote to becoming one of the main pieces of evidence in the case of the Washington D.C. Court against the capo, accused of devising the unusual hiding place for the drug. 

In mid-2021, the capo’s lawyers tried to exclude the evidence from the case, arguing that the prosecutors were looking to strike a blow against their client and make him look bad. They also complained that the US authorities could not establish the chain of custody after the seizure of the Mexican Navy and assured that the seizure was a failure because most of those involved were exonerated. “The Prosecutor’s Office seeks to demonstrate that the reason for presenting the evidence is to demonstrate how the defendant participated in the shipment of cocaine inside the shark carcasses through the testimony of cooperating witnesses,” the prosecutors responded.  

Many of these testimonies did not come to light because before the trial began, Lalo González Valencia pleaded guilty to cocaine trafficking at the end of 2022. After months of waiting and multiple postponements, the capo was sentenced last week to life imprisonment. “His sentencing of him shows that the cartels and criminals will be held accountable and brought to justice,” Ken Salazar, the US ambassador to Mexico, celebrated Monday. 

The United States’ battle against Lalo lasted for decades. Long before the Jalisco Nueva Generación Cartel, the Sinaloa Cartel’s main rival today, was formed, González Oseguera had already been arrested in March 1998 on a methamphetamine distribution charge. They gave him four years in jail and served part of his sentence in a California jail and in a prison between Texas and New Mexico. Still in prison, the authorities allowed the drug lord, a dual Mexican and US national, to go out and look for a job on the condition that he return to his cell later. He left one day at nine in the morning through the main door of a correctional facility in the Californian city of Oakland and never returned. The escape was unveiled in January 2001. 

He was on the hunt for 15 years. Between 2003 and 2016, González Valencia was part of the management of Los Cuinis, a family clan closely linked to the Jalisco Cartel of El Mencho. Abigael González Valencia, his brother, was identified for years as the leader of the group and was arrested in Mexico in 2015. His extradition to the United States has since been requested, but the criminal boss managed to stop the process, despite facing charges of organized crime, drug trafficking, possession of firearms and murder. 

After Abigael’s arrest, Lalo assumed leadership along with another of his brothers, José La Chepa González Valencia. The alliance between the Jalisco Cartel and Los Cuinis, which have operated as its main armed wing and its financial operators, was sealed when Nemesio Oseguera married Rosalinda González Valencia, the older sister among the women. Mexican authorities estimate that there are at least 18 siblings in the family, almost all of whom are targeted by authorities in Mexico and the United States. But the siege has not only been against his in-laws. El Mencho’s children, brothers and wife, for their part, have been in and out of prison in recent years, largely to tighten the fence against the capo, one of the most wanted by Washington. The DEA is offering a $10 million dollars reward. 

Lalo was in charge of coordinating and investing in various drug shipments that were sent to the United States and Europe from Mexico, Central America, and South America. Also to obtain the weapons of the criminal group and to launder their profits. The Cuinis have stood out for their solvency in moving huge amounts of narcotics and for their intimidation tactics against their rivals. “It is an extremely violent organization and its members routinely commit murder, kidnapping, robbery and other attacks,” authorities said. “The Prosecutor’s Office has information that personally implicates the defendant in these acts,” the file reads. 

In 2016, Lalo was captured in Uruguay, following investigations by local authorities that pointed to money laundering and an extradition request from the United States. At the time of his arrest, González Valencia slammed his iPhone to the ground so that the Uruguayan authorities would not have access to the information on his phone. Agents discovered that one of his cars was full of suitcases, important documents, fake IDs and birth certificates, electronic equipment, and 75 pieces of jewelry and watches. He had everything ready to run away again. 

He spent four years in the South American country before being sent to Washington, where a death threat was attributed to Eduardo Bonomi, the then Interior Minister. “Let them find the highest bridge in Uruguay and I will hang it from there,” he wrote from prison. He also threw chlorine at a guard and threatened to hang another with his handcuffs. For his part, La Chepa was arrested in 2017 in Brazil, at the request of the same court, which has led the hunt against Los Cuinis and the Jalisco Cartel. José González Valencia also followed in the footsteps of his brother and pleaded guilty last December to drug trafficking. 

Authorities followed the brothers’ trail, convincing their former associates to rat them out, intercepting their communications and linking them to other sophisticated methods of smuggling cocaine, including the use of semi-submersible boats and mobile satellite broadcast units, like those used by television stations. Others were cruder, but effective, such as the shipment of drugs on commercial flights. “González Valencia also ordered the killings of rival drug traffickers and used and supplied weapons to further the drug conspiracy,” read a statement from the State Department. Under his leadership, US authorities say, Los Cuinis shipped “massive amounts” of cocaine to the United States. 

Among the murders attributed to the González Valencia brothers is a former partner accused of stealing a shipment of cocaine valued at $12 million. After being accused of treason, he was shot at his ranch in Chiapas along with six other men. Another of his victims was a member of Los Zetas, who was assassinated in 2007 at the end of a horse race. It was a revenge against the rivals for throwing three grenades at them during a cockfight. A brother-in-law of Lalo, one of his emissaries to move the drug in Europe, was also killed by order of Los Cuinis, as well as relatives of members of La Familia Michoacana who were not involved in criminal activities. A witness stated that Lalo had been drinking and did not think about the consequences of having a couple and their small children killed. 

Given the precedent of his escape more than 20 years ago, Lalo was considered a high-risk prisoner and they doubted the possibility of catching him again if he returned to Mexico. “The Jalisco Cartel and the Cuinis exercise a high level of corrupt control over various municipalities and states of Mexico, and could help him remain free if he returned to the country,” the prosecutors warned, asking for extreme security measures and for him not to face trial in freedom. 

When Lalo confessed, there was no plea deal involved to reduce his sentence. He denied until the end that he is the leader of Los Cuinis and the acts of violence that are attributed to him. “Only a life sentence will be enough to protect the public from the defendant reoffending,” prosecutors asked the judge, who handed down the sentence on Friday. The sentence against La Chepa, his brother, is scheduled for next September. 

 Source: El Pais