Fifteen Eighty Four

Academic perspectives from Cambridge University Press


Partners in the War on Drugs: A Question of International Criminal Law

Bruce Zagaris

On Wednesday, President Obama hosted his second State Dinner at the White House, honoring Mexico’s President Felipe Calderón.  Prior to the engagement, Obama and Calderón held a joint press availability to discuss the common issues shared by the neighboring countries.  In addition to the highly controversial Arizona Immigration Law, the two leaders spoke of their mutual desire to confront and curb the violent influence of the drug cartels. President Obama spoke to this critical shared interest, stating:

President Calderón and I also reaffirmed our commitment to stand together against the drug cartels that have unleashed horrific violence in so many communities.  Mr. President, you and the Mexican people have shown great resolve in a fight for the security and safety of your country.  And as I’ve pledged to you before, Mexico can count on the United States as a full partner in this effort.

As your partner, we’ll give you the support you need to prevail.  Through increased law enforcement on our side of the border, we’re putting unprecedented pressure on those who traffic in drugs, guns, and people.  We’re working to stem the southbound flow of American guns and money, which is why, for the first time, we are now screening 100 percent of southbound rail cargo. And guided by our new National Drug Control Strategy, we’re bringing new approaches to reducing the demand for drugs in our country.

…I said the first time I met President Calderón and have said ever since that I greatly admire his courage, his dedication, his tenacity in trying to deal with the drug traffickers and cartels that have created such a public safety crisis in many communities within Mexico.


(Read the full transcript of remarks by the President here.)

Bruce Zagaris, author of the recently released International White Collar Crime: Cases and Materials, dissects one example of the crackdown on these cartels and shows the wide-ranging legal collaboration necessary to achieve a drug trafficking indictment.


International White Collar Crime

Mexico Extradites Alleged Drug King Quintero-Payan

to U.S.

by Bruce Zagaris


Volume 26, Issue 7, July 2010, p. 271

On April 23, 2010, the U.S. Attorney’s offices of Houston and San Antonio announced the extradition from Mexico of alleged drug kingpin Juan Jose Quintero-Payan, 68. (1)

Quintero-Payan contested extradition for eight years. Mexico extradited him to San Antonio to answer a four-count indictment alleging his responsibility for $20 million in various cash movements.  Although he would be eligible for a life sentence, Mexico stipulated as part of the extradition order that he would not be sentenced to life imprisonment. (2)

The indictment alleges Quintero was the head of a criminal enterprise whose operations included South America, Mexico, the United States and the Cayman Islands during the years of approximately 1978 to 2002, when the superseding indictment was filed. The indictment charges him and his enterprise with moving many large loads of marijuana from the U.S. to Mexico, in amounts of up to 15,000 pounds at a time, user tanker trucks. In addition, the indictment charges him with trafficking cocaine shipments as large as 700 kilograms from unnamed foreign sources by airplane for re-shipment to the U.S. (3)

The indictment charges that Quintero-Payan and other unindicted co-conspirators made extensive use of banks in Texas, California, New York, the Cayman Islands, and elsewhere to launder, disguise, hide, convert and protect their illicit profits and proceeds from the enterprise. (4)  The indictment charges Quintero-Payan and unindicted co-conspirators with using false names and the names of other persons to conceal their own participation in the enterprise. (5)

The indictment shows the use of the racketeering statute against kingpins. The extradition shows how prosecutors keep indictments under seal in order not to notify fugitives of the indictments, so that they can take steps to avoid being arrested. The extradition is an example of the continued success the U.S. has had in the last five years or so in obtaining drug kingpins from Mexico. The indictment’s allegations illustrate how Mexican drug traffickers transitioned in the 1970s from trafficking marijuana to cocaine. With respect to the cocaine, Mexican traffickers entered into arrangements with Andean cocaine producers to take a share of the cocaine in exchange for downstream distribution. The arrangement helped Mexican traffickers to expand their business and wealth.

On May 8, 2010, the Mexican government extradited former Quintana Roo governor Mario Ernesto Villanueva Madrid to answer charges of drug trafficking and conspiracy pending in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. (6)

From 1993 to 1999, Villanueva Madrid is alleged to have furnished state and federal assistance to the Juarez Cartel controlled at the time by Amado Carrillo Fuentes, also known as the Lord of the Skies. The latter brought hundreds of tons of cocaine from Colombia to Cancun, Quintana Roo, for transport to the U.S.

During the U.S. drug enforcement investigation, Ramón Alcides Magaña coordinated the payment to police and state officials of Quintana Roo, in particular Villanueva Madrid, who received between US $400,000.00 to $500,000.00 for each shipment of cocaine imported by the Amado Carrillo Cartel.

Villanueva Madrid allegedly issued the orders to permit the unloading and storing of cargos of cocaine at the ranches in Quintana Roo, for subsequent transfer to the U.S. by land or air. (7)

Villanueva Madrid has been detained since June 21, 2007.  Mexico has now extradited 347 persons, including 326 to the United States.

Villanueva Madrid was convicted in Mexico of money laundering and sentenced to six years in prison. In 2007, he was released, but immediately re-arrested on the U.S. extradition charge. (8)

The charges against Villanueva Madrid reflect the allegations of political corruption that has occurred and has fueled drug trafficking in Mexico and most countries.


1. Richard Connelly, Drug Kingpin Jose Quintero-Payan Extradited t 1 o Texas, HOUSTON PRESS, April 27, 2010.

2. Id. U.S. v. Juan Jose Quintero-Payan, U.S. District Court, Western District of Texas, San Antonio Division, Crim. No. SA-85-CR-329, Superseding Indictment, Mar. 14, 2002.

3. Id.

4. U.S. v. Juan Jose Quintero-Payan, Superseding Indictment, ¶ 5.

5. Id.

6. Mexican Attorney General’s Office, Mexico Delivers a Fugitive for Extradition to the United States (México Entrega en Extradición al Gobierno de Los Estados Unidos de América de la Justicia de Aquel Pais), Boletín 550/10, May 8, 2010.

7. Id.

8. E. Eduardo Castillo, Mexico extradites ex-gov. to U.S. on drug charges, Associated Press, May 9, 2010.

About The Author

Bruce Zagaris

Bruce Zagaris is the author of International White Collar Crime: Cases and Materials (2010). He practices criminal trial and appellate work as a partner with the law firm of Berlin...

View profile >

Latest Comments

Have your say!