On Tuesday, the Mexican government extradited Mauricio Sanchez Garza, an alleged financial operator in Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán’s Sinaloa cartel.
Sanchez Garza has been indicted in western Texas on charges of laundering drug-money proceeds and of committing an extortion scheme that involved a Hollywood screenplay, a production billed as a prequel to the 2004 film “The Passion of the Christ.”
Clad in handcuffs, Sanchez Garza arrived in San Antonio, Texas, on Tuesday, where has been accused of using dirty money to purchase a home and several plots of land on which he planned to build apartments, according to MySanAntonio.com.
A ‘key piece’
In addition to the charges filed in Texas, Sanchez Garza was allegedly involved in the financial network related to the autobiographical film that Guzmán wanted to make with Mexican actress Kate del Castillo, according to Mexican news magazine Proceso.
Guzmán exchanged messages with del Castillo about the film and to arrange his meeting with Sean Penn while he was on run late last year. His communications with her are thought to have helped authorities track him down.
The Mexican attorney general’s office said Sanchez Garza’s arrest in January this year was part of an investigation that started when Mexican authorities learned that Guzmán, while jailed, wanted to produce books and a movie about his life.
Sanchez Garza was a “key piece” in understanding del Castillo’s and Penn’s role in the possible use of funds of illicit origin, according to Proceso.
Sanchez Garza’s involvement with the screenplay to “Mary, Mother of Christ” — the prequel to “The Passion of the Christ” written by the same screenwriter, Benedict Fitzgerald — turned violent when he and a partner orchestrated the kidnapping of a business partner’s brother in order to force that partner to sign over his rights to the script, according to the San Antonio Express-News.
A long history of involvement
While Sanchez Garza was indicted in the US in 2010 and 2011, he is accused of having ties to longstanding members of Mexico’s narco underworld.
He is accused of laundering money on behalf of Juan José “El Azul” Esparragoza, one of the current leaders of the Sinaloa cartel who has been active in the drug trade since the 1970s.
And the US Treasury department has accused him of laundering money for Rafael Caro Quintero, an original member of what is now the Sinaloa cartel who was jailed from 1985 to 2013. Caro Quintero has returned to the narco scene in recent weeks.
According to the US Justice Department, from 2005 until July 2011, Sanchez and two associates conspired to transport proceeds derived from illegal drug trafficking into the US and conduct financial transactions with them in order to conceal their nature and to obscure the involvement of drug traffickers in the transactions.
Sanchez Garza’s involvement with Hollywood began in 2006, when Fitzgerald had been working for two years to get his prequel to “The Passion of the Christ” made. According to an Esquire profile by Luke Dittrich, Fitzgerald, who was seeking financing, was introduced to Sanchez Garza through several intermediaries.
“Fitzgerald wondered a little bit about the source of the Mexicans’ wealth,” Dittrich writes, “but he didn’t wonder too much.”
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