Guatemalan Presidential Candidate Arrested in U.S. on Cartel Cocaine Trafficking Charges

Mario Estrada - Twitter Photo
Photo: Twitter

A DEA investigation led to the arrest of a Guatemalan presidential candidate in Miami, Florida. The investigators allege that he conspired to provide assistance to the Sinaloa Cartel with importing planeloads of cocaine into the United States in exchange for millions of dollars for his failing presidential campaign.

The United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York Geoffrey S. Berman and Adolphus P. Wright, Special Agent in Charge of the Miami Division of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), announced the arrest of Guatemalan Presidential Candidate Mario Amilcar Estrada and political party leader Juan Pablo Gonzales Mayorga in Miami earlier this week. The two men were charged with conspiring with the Sinaloa cartel to jointly import cocaine into the United States. The conspirators offered Guatemalan government support in drug smuggling shipment activities destined to the U.S. in exchange for cartel funding for Estrada Orellana’s presidential campaign.

According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the DEA began investigating a conspiracy involving Guatemalan Presidential candidate Estrada in December 2018. He allegedly attempted to solicit $10-12 million dollars in campaign funding from the Sinaloa cartel in exchange for cooperation from the Guatemalan government in transporting ton loads of cocaine through Guatemalan airports and maritime shipping locations. The conspirators’ reportedly planned to ship the drugs to the United States. During the DEA-led investigation, investigators introduced two cooperating confidential sources who posed as Sinaloa cartel operatives. They negotiated with Estrada and Gonzales in Guatemala City and in Miami, prosecutors stated. The two sources later reportedly introduced an undercover DEA agent who posed as a cartel hitman who Estrada and Gonzales were going to hire to eliminate political rivals in Guatemala prior to the June election. They said this would help the chances of a successful presidential campaign.

During negotiations, Estrada allegedly proposed that if he won the election with cartel funding, he would ensure that the Sinaloa cartel would have a direct influence on key appointments to run the police and department of defense which is responsible for the Guatemalan armed forces. The U.S. Attorney’s Office stated that Estrada also offered to provide firearms to include AK-47’s which would be used to carry out hits on political rivals. During a later meeting, Estrada reportedly told a cooperating confidential source and undercover DEA agent that he no longer wanted the political rivals murdered and that someone else was going to carry out the hits.

During one meeting, a confidential cooperating source and undercover DEA agent “flashed” $5 million dollars in supposed drug proceeds to Gonzalez at a warehouse in Miami, Florida. Gonzalez then placed a video call to Estrada who was at a secondary location and the phone was then handed to the source who videoed the supposed bulk drug proceeds stashed in the warehouse which was a payment intended for the Estrada presidential campaign.  Estrada was led to believe that the Sinaloa Cartel would send approximately six airplanes per month loaded with multi-tons of cocaine through Guatemala and for his cooperation would be receiving 10 percent of the approximate value of each load.

Estrada, 58, and Gonzalez, 50, were later arrested in Miami and charged with “two counts–conspiring to import cocaine into the United States and conspiring to use and carry machine guns and destructive devices during, and to possess machine guns and destructive devices in furtherance of, the cocaine-importation conspiracy”.

The DEA led investigation is being prosecuted by the United States Attorneys Office for the Southern District of New York.

Robert Arce is a retired Phoenix Police detective with extensive experience working Mexican organized crime and street gangs. Arce has worked in the Balkans, Iraq, Haiti, and recently completed a three-year assignment in Monterrey, Mexico, working out of the Consulate for the United States Department of State, International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Program, where he was the Regional Program Manager for Northeast Mexico (Coahuila, Tamaulipas, Nuevo Leon, Durango, San Luis Potosi, Zacatecas.) You can follow him on Twitter. He can be reached at robertrarce@gmail.com

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