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Mayor of Cancun, Mexico, charged with drug trafficking, money laundering

By William Booth
Thursday, May 27, 2010; A19

MEXICO CITY -- The smooth-talking mayor of Cancun, Mexico's top resort destination and world-famous party town, was arrested by federal police Wednesday on charges of drug trafficking, money laundering and serving as a go-between for violent drug cartels.

Gregorio Sánchez, who calls himself "Greg" but speaks little English, was arrested at the Cancun airport upon his return from Mexico City.

"He was moving so much money, and it just didn't match up with the amount he made as a public servant," the prosecutor's office said in a statement.

Sánchez favors moving around Cancun in a convoy of Cadillac Escalades, surrounded by bodyguards with good tans, slicked-back hair and bulging jackets hiding their sidearms. He is running for governor of the coastal state of Quintana Roo, and his allies denounced the arrest as misguided political mischief by President Felipe Calderón and his prosecutors.

Critics of the arrest also described it as no different from the controversial sweep last year that netted 10 mayors in Michoacan state before they were released. The mayors were all accused of aiding the cartels, but the government lacked evidence to continue with prosecutions.

Cancun, a golden goose for Mexico's tourism industry, has mostly avoided drug-related bloodshed; cartels instead are waging war against each other and the government in other states. But Cancun is a popular transshipment point for Colombian cocaine; it is also known for retail drug sales to happy-go-lucky tourists and as a center of money laundering at restaurants, bars and hotels.

The former chief of Cancun police, Francisco Velasco, known as "the Viking," was arrested last year shortly after retired Brig. Gen. Mauro Enrique Tello was abducted, hauled into the jungle and riddled with bullets. The former military leader had been hired to create a special SWAT unit that would answer to no one but Sánchez.

This month, Mexico extradited the former governor of Quintana Roo, Mario Villanueva, to the United States to face charges of conspiring to ship tons of cocaine and laundering millions of dollars in bribes through Lehman Brothers in New York and other financial institutions.

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