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Former top Mexican police official pleads no contest in Chicago to leaking sensitive intelligence to cartel operatives

May 16, 2018  |  Posted by: Francesca Falzarano
Former top Mexican police official pleads no contest in Chicago to leaking sensitive intelligence to cartel operatives

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Ivan Reyes Arzate, the former top Mexican police commander who worked closely with U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency entered a unique no-contest plea in federal court in Chicago to charges of leaking sensitive intelligence to leading drug cartel operatives who were the targets of DEA-led drug trafficking investigation.

Arzate was a senior Mexican police official who was not only vetted but also trained by the DEA to work on sensitive investigations.

While pleading “nolo contendere” to the two-count indictment, Arzate recognized that prosecutors would be able to prove the charges at trial but that he did not confess to the allegations, the Chicago Tribune reported.

His attorney, Joseph Lopez, said Reyes Arzate opted to enter the plea — which needs the approval of the judge — because he didn’t want to take the risk of losing at trial even though he doesn’t think he did anything wrong.

“In Mexico, it’s not unusual to meet with targets of an investigation,” Lopez stated. “It happens all the time. The DEA gets frustrated with it, but it’s accepted under the Mexican model.”

The conspiracy and obstruction of justice convictions carry up to a combined 25 years behind bars, but preliminary sentencing standards addressed in court Friday suggest Reyes Arzate will likely face as little as two years in prison.

U.S. District Judge Amy St. Eve scheduled sentencing for August 29th.

Before his 2017 arrest, the 46-year-old Ivan Reyes Arzate, who used the alias “La Reina,” was the highest-ranking member of Mexico’s Sensitive Investigation Unit, a division of the Mexican Federal Police that works in conjunction with U.S. officials in drug trafficking investigations.

The former top cop leaked sensitive information to top cartel operatives

In his eight years with the team, Reyes Arzate was involved in many high-profile cartel probes, including infamous Sinaloa cartel boss Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman and the violent offshoot cell led by the Beltran-Leyva brothers.

The charges originate from an investigation involving Chicago and San Diego officials of a Beltran-Leyva-connected drug trafficking enterprise that was importing many tons of narcotics from Colombia to Mexico to distribute in the U.S., a criminal complaint filed in February 2017 revealed.

The complaint indicated that a DEA agent in 2016 asked Reyes Arzate to help with surveillance of several targets in Mexico City. The agent sent Reyes Arzate a surveillance picture that had been taken in Cancun to help him identify the players and gave him the address where they were believed to be residing and the name of a restaurant where they often convened.

In November 2016, Reyes Arzate secretly met with the primary target of the probe, and shared the surveillance photo with him along with other details about the probe, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Katherine Sawyer.

Authorities also caught texts between that target and an associate discussing how the cartel had an advantage over Reyes Arzate because his code name — La Reina — had already come up in investigative files as that of a corrupt law enforcement official.

“We can screw Ivan,” the unidentified individual said.

In February 2017, federal prosecutors and Mexican Police officials confronted Reyes Arzate at the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City. In the interview, he refused to admit that he was the source of the leak, but he did confirm that he met with the main target in November.

The complaint alleged that Reyes Arzate’s corrupt activities dated back almost a decade and that several informants, including other corrupt Mexican police officials, told authorities that Reyes was paid at least $3 million for his betrayal over the years.

While meeting with cartel head Arturo Beltran-Leyva in 2009, Reyes Arzate disclosed the identity of another informant who had been essential in securing an indictment against the cartel’s bosses.

On Beltran-Leyva’s request, cartel assassins later abducted, tortured and murdered the informant.

Beltran-Leyva was killed in a gunfight with Mexican officials in 2009 before he could be extradited to Chicago to face the myriad of narcotics trafficking charges against him. His brother, Alfredo, was found guilty in federal court in Washington last year and is serving life behind bars.

Lopez said after the hearing Friday that the DEA was informed of Reyes Arzate’s contacts with cartel associates and chose to work with him anyway, including training him at their headquarters in Virginia.

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