McALLEN — A day after a former Tamaulipas governor and one-time Matamoros mayor was captured, U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela called for his extradition back to the United States.
Tomas Yarrington Ruvalcaba, who is accused of taking millions in bribes from the Gulf and Zeta cartels, among other charges, and was wanted by both Mexican and U.S. authorities, was arrested Sunday in Florence, Italy, according to Mexico’s attorney general.
Yarrington, who was captured by Interpol officials, served as mayor of Matamoros from 1993 to 1995 and governor of Tamaulipas from 1999 to 2005.
He was indicted in 2013 in Brownsville on bribery and federal bank fraud charges but had yet to appear in court to face charges after evading capture. Mexican officials are asking for his extradition back to their country.
Vela, in a series of tweets Monday afternoon, commended the Mexican government on their capture of the fugitive.
“Yarrington’s detention is an important milestone in efforts to prevent corrupt government officials from facilitating the conduct of cartel traffickers,” Vela said via Twitter. “The prosecution of high ranking government officials, even years after the crimes were committed, is critical to disrupting cartel trafficking and the violence with which it is associated.”
Vela added that Yarrington’s capture and prosecution will help restore peace to Tamaulipas.
Yarrington, 58, a Matamoros native, is charged along with Alejandro Cano Martinez, the owner of a Mexican construction firm, with violating the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization (RICO) statute, conspiracy to launder money, conspiracy to defraud and conspiracy to make false statements to federally insured banks.
Cano was captured just a few months ago in February in San Pedro Garza Garcia, Nuevo Leon, but was released the same night by authorities after he posted bail, government officials said.
Cano was leaving a restaurant in Nuevo Leon when he noticed the police presence and fled, but agents from the Public Prosecutor’s Office chased him a couple of blocks and arrested him, according to government officials.
Yarrington was also charged with conspiracy to violate provisions of the Controlled Substances Act, two bank fraud charges and conspiracy to structure currency transactions at a domestic financial institution, while Cano is separately charged with three counts of bank fraud, according to court records.
According to the 2013 unsealed indictment against Yarrington, the former governor reportedly took numerous bribes, totaling millions of dollars from the Gulf and Zetas cartels to allow the organizations to operate freely in the state.
The indictment alleges that in 2007 Yarrington agreed with representatives of the Gulf and Beltran Leyva cartels to allow unimpeded access for large cocaine loads to the Port of Veracruz, Mexico, in exchange for a percentage of each load. That cocaine was then shipped by boat to the United States, according to the indictment.
The USAO alleges those drugs were sold in the United States and the proceeds brought back to Mexico, some of which were used to bribe Yarrington.
At the time the bribes allegedly were taken, the Zetas were still working as the Gulf Cartel’s armed wing, although it has since broken off as a separate cartel.
When the allegations became public in early 2012, Yarrington’s political party, the Institutional Revolutionary Party — known as the PRI — distanced itself from him and revoked his membership.
In his political career, Yarrington traveled to cities across the Rio Grande Valley and Texas, and had been photographed with former Texas Gov. Rick Perry as well as several local mayors.
U.S. authorities have said he also laundered money into properties in South Texas not in his name, but through other entities, north of the Rio Grande.
The federal government filed and won civil forfeiture claims on Yarrington’s South Padre Island condo at the upscale Bridgepoint Oceanfront Condominiums tower, and other assets — a private plane, a north McAllen house and $2 million in cash linked to a Bermuda bank account.
The seized airplane is a 2005 Pilatus aircraft that was registered to Premier International Holding LTD, which is named in the case against Fernando Cano and others who have been investigated in connection with the case.
Fernando Cano, who was the leading construction contractor in Tamaulipas during the time the allegations became public, was indicted in May 2012 on money laundering charges and is listed as a front man who laundered Yarrington’s cartel bribes.
Feds also seized a property connected to Yarrington in San Antonio, according to court documents.
Records state the properties, the one in Hidalgo County and the one in San Antonio, belonged to a woman named Sindy Chapa — a professor at Texas State University — but federal authorities seized the assets under a money-laundering statute, saying the woman was a romantic liaison of Yarrington.
Federal authorities eventually auctioned off the 1,946-square-foot, three-bedroom, three-bath condo that purportedly belonged to the former Tamaulipas governor for more than $600,000 in the summer of 2013.
An attorney familiar with federal cases like the one related to the former Mexican state governor said Yarrington would most likely end up in Mexico first, and then transferred to a courtroom in the United States to face the several pending against him.
The RICO and money laundering charges each carry sentences of up to 20 years in prison, while conspiracy to commit bank fraud carries a possible punishment of up to 30 years.
The drug conspiracy charges carry a term of imprisonment of at least 10 years and the currency structuring charges carry a possible five-year prison term, according to the USAO.