Rafa Marquez has led Mexico in the past four World Cups. (Henry Romero/Reuters)

The U.S. Treasury announced Wednesday that it was sanctioning Rafa Marquez, along with 20 other people, for providing support to a Mexican drug trafficking organization with ties to a pair of major cartels. Marquez, 38, is a longtime captain of Mexico’s national soccer team and is viewed as one of the greatest defensive players in the country’s history.

The Treasury alleged that Marquez (full name: Rafael Marquez Alvarez) and a popular Mexican singer named Julion Alvarez “have acted as front persons” for an organization headed by Raul Flores Hernandez. Assets of theirs held in the United States or controlled by Americans have been frozen, and they and the 19 others could face civil penalties of over $1 million or criminal penalties for violations of the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act, also known as the Kingpin Act.

The announcement was the result of what the agency called a multiyear investigation undertaken by its Office of Foreign Assets Control in coordination with the Drug Enforcement Administration, Homeland Security Investigations, U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the Mexican government. “This action marks the largest single Kingpin Act action against a Mexican drug cartel network that OFAC has designated,” the Treasury said.

Flores Hernandez was alleged to be an independent operator, one who has been active in the drug trade since the 1980s and who has “strategic alliances” with Mexico’s Sinaloa and Jalisco New Generation cartels. The Treasury also designated 42 Mexican entities as providing support for Flores Hernandez’s organization, including a soccer team, Club Deportivo Morumbi.

Marquez began his career with Atlas, a club based in Guadalajara, where Flores Hernandez was alleged to operate, and he returned to the team in 2015. In between, Marquez played for Monaco, with whom he won a Ligue 1 title; Barcelona, where he won La Liga four times and the Champions League twice; the New York Red Bulls and Italy’s Verona.

For much of that period, Marquez was the only Mexican playing in Europe’s top leagues, and he was also the captain of the Mexican team in four World Cups from 2002 to 2014. He earned the ire of U.S. fans, as well as a red card, in the 2002 tournament for hitting Cobi Jones with his cleat studs and his head in a midair tackle.

The Treasury also cited a soccer academy and health and rehabilitation clinics owned by Marquez as having ties to the drug-trafficking organization. “Raul Flores Hernandez has operated for decades because of his long-standing relationships with other drug cartels and his use of financial front persons to mask his investments of illegal drug proceeds,” OFAC Director John E. Smith said in a statement.

A former chief of international operations for the DEA, Mike Vigil, told the Associated Press that “it would be difficult to imagine Marquez didn’t know who he was dealing with because Flores Hernandez has been around for so long.” The singer, Alvarez, posted a video to his Facebook page saying “absolutely nothing is going on.”

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