Mexican Ex-Governor Sentenced in NY to 11 Years

A former governor of a Mexican state who admitted to conspiring to launder money in a New York drug case was sentenced Friday to just under 11 years in prison, but may face as little as three more years behind bars in the United States.

Mario Ernesto Villanueva Madrid, 64, was sentenced in U.S. District Court in Manhattan to 10 years and 11 months in prison after he pleaded guilty last year to conspiracy to commit money laundering. He was originally accused of conspiring to import hundreds of tons of cocaine.

Villanueva Madrid, a former governor of the Mexican state of Quintana Roo, has been jailed since 2001, when he was first charged with similar crimes in Mexico.

Outside court, defense attorney Richard Lind said he was pleased with the sentence, saying it was likely that Villanueva Madrid will serve only about three years in prison once he is credited with time he has already served in Mexican and U.S. prisons and gets additional credit for good behavior.

Carlos Villanueva, Villanueva Madrid's son, said outside court that his father faces a 23-year sentence in Mexico once he is freed from U.S. prison, but was likely to be credited for some of the time he has already been in custody. He said the case in Mexico was under appeal.

Carlos Villanueva, the mayor of Chetumal, Quintana Roo, said his father was "absolutely" innocent of charges that he worked with drug cartels and was victimized by political foes, including a former president of Mexico when Villanueva Madrid was a governor in the 1990s.

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said in a news release after the sentencing that Villanueva Madrid was "entrusted to serve the public in Mexico, but instead, in return for millions of dollars in bribes, he provided safe passage to a brutal drug cartel allowing it to move massive amounts of cocaine through the state he governed."

Prosecutors said Villanueva Madrid, who had previously served as mayor of Cancun, was elected governor of Quintana Roo in April 1993. They said he entered into an agreement with the Juarez Cartel to ensure cocaine shipments were not interrupted by law enforcement authorities.

They said the cartel paid him millions of dollars in narcotics proceeds from 1994 through 1999, money he eventually transferred to bank accounts in the United States, Switzerland, the Bahamas, Panama and Mexico, many of which were held in the names of British Virgin Islands shell corporation.

Prosecutors said he fled in April 1999 shortly before his term as governor was to expire, remaining a fugitive for over two years. They said he liquidated millions of dollars in drug proceeds he had deposited at Lehman Brothers Inc. through a series of wire transfers totaling over $11 million.

Carlos Villanueva said his father had gained the millions of dollars through various businesses he had dealings with and from an inheritance from his father.

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