(NewsNation) — The man who once served as Mexico’s top law enforcement leader, who oversaw the country’s strategy against drug cartels, faces the possibility of life behind bars for allegedly accepting millions of dollars in bribes in exchange for helping the Sinaloa Cartel smuggle 50 tons of cocaine into America.
Opening arguments in Genaro García Luna’s trial are set to start Monday inside a Brooklyn courtroom. The trial could shed some light on the inner workings of how Mexican cartels have been able to operate so openly for so long: by bribing Mexican police and military right up to the top ranks.
García Luna served as Mexico’s secretary of public safety from 2006 to 2012, but investigators with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration said they began uncovering evidence after he left office.
Prosecutors say García Luna accepted tens of millions of dollars, often stuffed in briefcases, in exchange for helping cartel members avoid capture. The evidence against him includes pay stubs, though whether they are from official jobs, private sector consultancy, cartel payments or other bribes is unclear.
They say he continued to live off his ill-gotten proceeds even after he moved to the United States, where he was arrested in 2019, though the defense says he was a legitimate businessman. Jury selection was scheduled to continue Wednesday in the trial scheduled to unfold over the next eight weeks.
The trial begins just days after U.S. President Joe Biden met with Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador in Mexico City. The two governments pledged continued cooperation against the drug cartels, especially against the scourge of the synthetic opioid fentanyl, which contributed to more than 107,000 drug overdose deaths in the U.S. in 2021. López Obrador scrapped the civilian federal police force that García Luna once led and put the military in charge of much of the country’s security.
García Luna has pleaded not guilty to drug trafficking charges and a continuing criminal enterprise.
What he will face in a Brooklyn courtroom is a parade of government witnesses, including high-level cartel members of a kind not seen in Brooklyn since Sinaloa boss Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán was convicted there in 2019 and sentenced to life in prison. Some accusations against García Luna surfaced at the Guzmán trial.
In exchange for the bribes, García provided the Sinaloa Cartel with “safe passage for its drug shipments, sensitive law enforcement information about investigations into the cartel, and information about rival drug cartels,” Peace wrote. “These payments allowed the cartel at times to receive warnings in advance of law enforcement efforts to apprehend cartel members and to allow cartel members to be released if arrested.”
Before convicting Guzmán in 2019, jurors in his New York trial heard former cartel member Jesús Zambada testify that he personally made at least $6 million in hidden payments to García Luna on behalf of his older brother, cartel boss Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada.
The cartel is now believed to be run by Zambada and at least three of Guzmán’s sons, one of whom was arrested earlier this month on an extradition request from the United States.
García Luna isn’t the first top Mexican official arrested for involvement with drug traffickers. Gen. Jesús Gutiérrez Rebollo was made Mexico’s drug czar by President Ernesto Zedillo in 1996. He was arrested the following year after it was discovered he was living in a luxury apartment owned by the leader of the Juarez cartel, Amado Carrillo Fuentes.
NewsNation contributed to this report.