Juan Garcia Abrego
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Juan Garcia Abrego

Juan García Abrego
Juan Garcia-Abrego.jpg
FBI Ten Most Wanted Fugitive
Charges22 counts of drug trafficking
Born (1944-09-13) September 13, 1944 (age 76)
PenaltyLife in prison
StatusImprisoned at Hazelton USP[2]
AddedMarch 9, 1995

Juan García Abrego (born September 13, 1944) is a Mexican convicted drug lord and former leader of the Gulf Cartel, a criminal group based in Tamaulipas, Mexico. He started in the cartel under the tutelage of his uncle Juan Nepomuceno Guerra.

Criminal career

Reports date his trafficking career beginning in the mid-1970s, exporting marijuana from Mexico into the U.S. states of Texas, Louisiana and Florida. In the early 1980s he began incorporating cocaine into the cartel's trafficking operations.[3] United States intelligence reports state Guerra reared his nephew on car theft before passing down his criminal enterprise.[4] Garcia Abrego was involved in car theft activities since the 1970s along with his best friend Líctor Hazael Marroquín García.[5][6] The exact date of succession is unknown; however, law enforcement officials recall an incident on January 27, 1987, when Tomás Morlet, former officer in an elite Mexican police force turned national trafficker, exchanged harsh words with García Abrego and was later found, shot twice in the back in the doorway of Guerra's Piedras Negras Restaurant.[4]

García Abrego is widely known for innovating Mexican trafficking operations, turning them from smugglers into suppliers. By renegotiating deals with the Cali Cartel, García Abrego was able to secure 50% of every shipment out of Colombia as payment for delivery, instead of the US$1,500 per kilo they were previously receiving.[3][7] The renegotiating, however, brought a price: the cartel would have to guarantee any shipment from Colombia to its destination. This change forced García Abrego to begin stockpiling hundreds of tons of cocaine along Mexico's northern border in warehouses;[7] however, this allowed him to set up his own distribution network and expand his political influence.[3] By the end of the 1980s and into the early 1990s, it was estimated García Abrego was smuggling over 300 metric tons per year across the Mexico-United States border.[7]

Once the cocaine crossed the border into the United States it was believed to reach distribution networks across the country in cities such as San Antonio, Houston and New York City, with smaller elements in Dallas, Chicago, New Orleans, Oklahoma City, California and Arizona.[8]

In addition to transporting cocaine for the Cali Cartel, it was believed the García Abrego cartel would also ship large quantities of cash to be laundered. The United States Department of Justice would confiscate over US$53 million between 1989 and 1993 that was being laundered through two corrupt American Express employees as proof of such large scale operations.[9] In 1994, the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) believed García Abrego was making as much as US$10 billion per year in profit.[3] The following years Fortune Magazine estimated the García Abrego empire to be worth US$15 billion.[10]

García Abrego was also involved in providing protection to other cartels wishing to operate within corridors already claimed by his organization. In the mid-1980s, Carlos Reséndez set up a meeting between García Abrego and Gernando "El Aguacate" Martínez, regarding permission for Martínez to move cocaine through Matamoros. García Abrego permitted him to do so in exchange for US$200k per airplane flying through the region.

It was later revealed to García Abrego that Martínez began moving planes through the region without paying the fee. García Abrego reached out to an FBI agent, Claudio de la O., whom he was bribing, to have the men taken care of. Claudio de la O. alluded to having the men killed, however they were taken into custody.[11]

Corruption in Mexico

Juan García Abrego's web of corruption was believed to stretch to all aspects of the Ernesto Zedillo government. Upon García Abrego's arrest a book detailing the scale of bribery was located. From examining the contents it became known that the head of Federal Judicial Police (FJP) was receiving US$1 million, force operations chief was receiving US$500,000 and the federal police commander of the Gulf Cartels base of operations in Matamoros, was receiving US$100,000.[12]

The book categorized the payments not so much as bribes but rather as what García Abrego considered a tax on business.[12] In an article published in the Mexican daily El Financiero it was alleged García Abrego had infiltrated 95% of the Attorney General's Office.[3] It would later be revealed that a commander in the Attorney General of Mexico (PGR), López Parra, was receiving US$1.5 million per month in bribes; López Parra was the head of northern Mexico.[11]

Corruption in the United States

García Abrego's ties however extended beyond the Mexican government and into the United States. With the arrest of one of García Abrego's traffickers, Juan Antonio Ortiz, it became known the cartel would ship tons of cocaine in United States Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) buses between the years of 1986 to 1990. The buses made great transportation, as Antonio Ortiz noted, since they were never stopped at the border.[13]

It also became known that, in addition to the INS bus scam, García Abrego had a "special deal" with members of the Texas National Guard who would truck tons of cocaine and marijuana from South Texas to Houston for the cartel.[13]

García Abrego's reach became known when a United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agent named Claude de la O., in 1986, stated in testimony against García Abrego that he received over US$100,000 in bribes and had leaked information that could have endangered an FBI informant as well as Mexican journalists. In 1989, Claude was removed from the case for unknown reasons, retiring a year later. García Abrego bribed the agent in an attempt to gather more information on U.S. law enforcement operations.[14][15]

García Abrego's arrest was even subject to allegations of corruption. It is believed the Mexican government knew all García Abrego's whereabouts all along and had refused to arrest him due to information he possessed about the extent of corruption within the government. The arresting officer, an FJP commander, is believed to have received a bulletproof Mercury Grand Marquis and US$500,000 from a rival cartel for enacting the arrest of García Abrego.[16]

Further theories put forward allege the arrest of García Abrego was to satisfy U.S. demands and meet certification, from the Department of Justice (DOJ), as a trade partner, the vote set to take place on March 1. García Abrego was apprehended on January 14, 1996, and Mexico shortly after received certification on March 1.[17]


It is believed that on May 16, 1984, García Abrego ordered a hit on rival trafficker Casimiro Espinosa. The murder attempt failed, leaving Casimiro injured. The following day gunmen shot their way into Raya Clinic, a private hospital, looking for Casimiro. In the ten-minute shootout that followed, 300 rounds were fired and multiple innocent people were killed, including a security guard, a husband and child, and a bedridden woman. Casimiro died the following day due to injuries sustained in the shoot out.[15]

Two years after the 1984 clinic shoot out, Ernesto Flores, an editor for the Mexican daily newspaper El Popular, was executed. It is believed García Abrego ordered the hit after being aggravated with their coverage of the cartel's deeds. Flores car was sprayed with gunfire by gunmen waiting at the entrance to the newspaper's offices. Norma Morena, a reporter for the newspaper, was also killed in the attack.[15]

In 1991, a principal member of the Gulf Cartel, Tomás "Gringo" Sánchez, ordered the killing of a Colombian drug trafficker in a prison in Matamoros. The killing was not authorized by García Abrego, and a riot subsequently broke out, killing two members of the Gulf Cartel who were also incarcerated there. García Abrego, furious with the media attention that followed the riot, ordered the killing of Sánchez for overstepping his authority and bringing unwanted attention to the cartel.[11]


Juan García Abrego had grown to such lengths that he was placed on the FBI Top Ten Most Wanted List of 1995.[8][14] He has the distinction of being the first drug trafficker to ever be placed on that list. He was arrested on a ranch outside of Monterrey on January 14, 1996.

He was quickly extradited to the United States, where he stood trial eight months after his arrest. García Abrego was convicted on 22 counts including money laundering, drug trafficking, intent to distribute and running an ongoing criminal enterprise. After a four-week trial, a jury needed only 12 hours to convict García Abrego on all charges. He was sentenced by presiding judge Ewing Werlein, Jr., to 11 consecutive life terms, and is currently incarcerated at USP Hazelton in Preston County, West Virginia.

In addition to the prison sentencing, García Abrego was forced to turn over millions in illegal proceeds. The United States Government requested US$1.05 billion but the jury, after an hour of deliberation, agreed to only US$350 million. García Abrego's lawyer, Mr. Canales, stated it was "a symbolic grab at nothing" since García Abrego did not reside in the United States nor have any assets in the country.[18]

Prior to García Abrego's arrest he had been discussing terms in which he would surrender to authorities. Those terms included medical treatment for his jailed brother's diabetes, one last trip to Colombia before his surrender, conjugal visits from his mistress, to be jailed in Guadalajara with some of his lieutenants for his own protection, and to allow himself to be taken in by the police commander of his choice. Mexican government officials however denied the requests.[19][20]

Following the arrest of García Abrego, Osiel Cárdenas Guillen took over the cartel. Cárdenas was known for founding the para-military group Los Zetas as enforcers for the Gulf Cartel. Cárdenas was captured by the Mexican Army after a battle on March 14, 2003 in Matamoros.[21]

In February 2010, Los Zetas engaged in a violent turf war against its former employer/partner, the Gulf Cartel, in the border city of Reynosa,[22][23][24] rendering some border towns "ghost towns".[25]

Personal life

One night in August 1993, U.S. authorities in Brownsville managed to get an interview with Francisco Pérez, the cousin and long-time crime partner of García Abrego who decided to turn himself in and declare high-profile information of the cartel in exchange for protection.[26]

He had charges pending in the United States that could have meant spending a life behind bars, but Pérez wanted to make a deal. Behind close doors and with a tape-recorder, the Customs and FBI began the interrogation that lasted until sunrise the next morning.[26] According to the FBI, Pérez talked about García Abrego's personal life: his tales of assassinations, bribes, love affairs, and recollections of García Abrego in tears. He also drew photographs identifying García Abrego and pinpointed with a map some of the ranches, businesses, and houses he owned in the northern states of Nuevo León and Tamaulipas.[26]

As federal agents pressed him for details, Pérez declared that García Abrego liked drinking tequila and Carta Blanca beer, preferred boots with zippers, always wore a V-neck T-shirt, and followed baseball, the sport he played when he was a young boy. He also described how García Abrego used to buy shopping goods in McAllen, Texas--as much as US$80,000--for Mexican officials and their families.[26]

While García Abrego usually made deals, he was also described as a short-tempered man who was not hesitant to kill people that stood in his way. Reportedly, he once ordered his bodyguards to kill his mistress' ex-lover because he would not leave her alone.[26] He also allegedly killed the former boyfriend of one of his three sisters for always calling his family's house number and murdered an air-conditioning repairman for failing to fix a newly installed unit. True or false, Pérez's stories were in line with García Abrego's "allegations of bloodshed."[26]

To ensure that he was not captured, García Abrego reportedly moved from place to place with an entourage of bodyguards, using secret cellphone number codes that constantly changed. But this lifestyle as the top drug kingpin in his criminal underworld kept him under huge stress; Pérez recalled that his cousin took "tranquilizers like candy" to help him sleep at night.[26] Through an intermediary, García Abrego helped pay the bills of his ill mother in hospitals throughout Brownsville and Houston, Texas.

Reportedly, García Abrego was a spiritual man, and there were unconfirmed suspicions that he was involved with a group of devil-worshipers in the 1980s, although he was never reported to have ties with a cult.[26] Pérez indicated that García Abrego had scars over his left eye and on his wrist, and said that he might have possibly undergone plastic surgery to change his appearance.

He also said that his cousin had many mansions with pools, and at one time or another he would invest his drug proceeds in legitimate businesses across northern Mexico, including a steel industry, a truck line, and a meat-packing company in Monterrey.[26] García Abrego, however, was not openly ostentatious; he never travelled with large sums of money, dressed modestly, and his only hint of his riches was his diamond-encrusted Rolex.[27]

Reports say that he liked to buy around five trucks a week and preferred tinted windows.[26] He also reportedly once gave US$50,000 to former FBI agent Claude De la O. - not as a bribe, but as a Christmas present. Moreover, García Abrego allegedly never formally married but had two common-law wives, a number of lovers, and several children. The Brownsville Herald stated in 1995 that he adopted a child who may still live in Brownsville.[26]

Pérez said that García Abrego would change telephone numbers constantly and would be suspicious of anyone who was not where they were supposed to be when they were supposed to be there. The drug lord protected his family, preferred to speak face-to-face, and always carried a pistol.[26]

Media portrayals

In Narcos: Mexico, García Abrego is portrayed by Flavio Medina.

See also


  1. ^ Martinez, Laura B. (August 27, 2014). "Reputed drug kingpin fights for citizenship". Valley Star.
  2. ^ "Federal Bureau of Prisons Inmate Locator". Federal Bureau of Prisons. United States Department of Justice. Retrieved 2020. Register Number: 09935-000
  3. ^ a b c d e Cockburn, Alexander; Jeffrey St. Clair (1998). Whiteout: The CIA, Drugs and the Press. Verso Publishers. pp. 361. ISBN 1-85984-139-2.
  4. ^ a b Dillon, Sam (February 9, 1996). "Matamoros Journal; Canaries Sing in Mexico, but Uncle Juan Will Not". New York Times. Archived from the original on November 6, 2012. Retrieved 2012.
  5. ^ "En los pasados seis años, el Cártel del Golfo introdujo cerca de 750 toneladas de cocaína pura a Estados Unidos". Proceso (in Spanish). January 20, 1996. Archived from the original on March 30, 2018.
  6. ^ Thomas, V. Bailey (1978). United States of America v. Lictor Hazael Marroquin-Garcia. Brownsville, Texas: United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas.
  7. ^ a b c Lupsha, Peter (Spring 1995). "Transnational Narco - Corruption and Narco - Investment: A Focus on Mexico". Public Broadcasting Service. University of New Mexico. Archived from the original on September 10, 2012. Retrieved 2012.
  8. ^ a b "Mexican Drug Fugitive Named To FBI's "Most Wanted" List". United States Department of Justice. March 9, 1995. Archived from the original on September 26, 2012. Retrieved 2012.
  9. ^ Constantine, Thomas A. (August 8, 1995). "International Drug Trafficking Organizations in Mexico". Washington, D.C.: Drug Enforcement Administration. Archived from the original on August 29, 2010. Retrieved 2012.
  10. ^ Gray, Mike (2000). Drug Crazy: How We Got Into This Mess and How We Can Get Out. Routledge. pp. 230. ISBN 0-415-92647-5.
  11. ^ a b c UNITED STATES of America v. Juan GARCIA ABREGO. United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit. May 6, 1998.
  12. ^ a b Farer, Tom J.; Jon R. Stone (1999). Transnational Crime in the Americas: An Inter-American Dialogue Book. Routledge. pp. 204. ISBN 0-415-92300-X.
  13. ^ a b Weinberg, Bill (2000). Homage to Chiapas: The New Indigenous Struggles in Mexico. Verso Publishers. pp. 371. ISBN 1-85984-372-7.
  14. ^ a b "At Drug Trial, Mexican Suspect Faces Accuser". New York Times. September 20, 1996. Archived from the original on November 6, 2012. Retrieved 2012.
  15. ^ a b c Dillon, Sam (February 4, 1996). "Mexican Drug Gang's Reign of Blood". New York Times. Archived from the original on November 6, 2012. Retrieved 2012.
  16. ^ Bailey, John J; Roy Godson (2001). Organized Crime and Democratic Governability: Mexico and the U.S.-Mexican Borderlands. University of Pittsburgh Press. p. 48. ISBN 0-8229-5758-2.
  17. ^ Harrison, Lawrence E. (1997). The Pan-American Dream: Do Latin America's Cultural Values Discourage True Partnership with the United States and Canada?. Westview Press. pp. 227, 228. ISBN 0-8133-3470-5.
  18. ^ "U.S. Jury Convicts Mexican on Drug Charges". New York Times. October 17, 1996. Archived from the original on November 6, 2012. Retrieved 2012.
  19. ^ Dillon, Sam (January 20, 1996). "Accused Mexican Narcotics Trafficker Is Said to Offer to Answer All Questions". New York Times. Archived from the original on November 6, 2012. Retrieved 2012.
  20. ^ Golden, Tim (August 23, 1995). "A Drug Figure Is Said to Offer To Surrender To Mexicans". New York Times. Archived from the original on November 6, 2012. Retrieved 2012.
  21. ^ "Drug boss captured in Mexico". BBC News. March 15, 2003. Archived from the original on June 11, 2011. Retrieved 2012.
  22. ^ "Drug Wars in Tamaulipas: Cartels vs. Zetas vs. the Military". Center for Latin American and Border Studies. MexiData. March 1, 2010. Retrieved 2010.
  23. ^ Robin, Emmott (March 5, 2010). "Mexico drug gang rift spurs new burst of killings". Reuters. Vision. Retrieved 2010.[permanent dead link]
  24. ^ Jaime, Hernández (March 4, 2010). "EU: alarma guerra "Zetas"-El Golfo" (in Spanish). El Universal. Retrieved 2010.
  25. ^ Video: Narco deja pueblos fantasma en Tamaulipas Archived July 20, 2010, at the Wayback Machine (March 4, 2010).
  26. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Schiller, Dane (September 3, 1995). "Cocaine King: FBI and Customs documents piece together a profile of the elusive Juan Garcia Abrego". The Brownsville Herald. Archived from the original on September 18, 2012. Retrieved 2012.
  27. ^ "La moda a través del narcotráfico". El Universal (in Spanish). September 17, 2012. Archived from the original on September 3, 2011. Retrieved 2012.

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