March 16, 1997 in Nation/World

Ex-Mexican Official Loses Money Case Jury Says U.S. Can Seize $7.9 Million From Bank Account

Associated Press

The U.S. government can seize $7.9 million from the bank account of Mexico’s former top drug prosecutor who was accused of taking bribes from drug traffickers, a jury decided Saturday.

The verdict means the jury agreed the money came from drug proceeds or was used in the promotion of drug trafficking. However, the jury said Mario Ruiz Massieu legally obtained the other $1.1 million in the $9 million account and may keep it.

Ruiz Massieu, 46, was not charged with a crime. He was asked in the civil forfeiture trial to prove that the money was earned legally. To determine which side got to keep the money, jurors had to decide whose evidence was more credible.

Defense lawyers said they would appeal. “We would have liked to have received, of course, all the money. We did not,” Tony Canales said.

Prosecutors were were happy with the verdict.

“Any time we find what we believe to be drug proceeds, we’re going to go after it and do our best to get it,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Jesse Rodriguez.

Federal prosecutors claimed the money in the Texas Commerce Bank account in Houston was payoffs from drug traffickers trying to avoid prosecution.

Ruiz Massieu, a former Mexican deputy attorney general, denied ever taking a bribe as a prosecutor and said he was not working to protect drug traffickers.

He testified he obtained the money legally - from bonuses from former Mexican President Carlos Salinas de Gortari, his brother’s estate and family business dealings.

Ruiz Massieu said his brother, Jose Francisco, contributed $5 million to the account before he was assassinated, and his father added another $2 million. He said he put in $600,000 and another brother, Arturo, contributed $1 million.

Ruiz Massieu’s father testified that $1.1 million came from the sale of a house in Mexico. The prosecutor said jurors let Ruiz Massieu keep that amount because they apparently believed his father’s testimony.

The key witness was a police bodyguard who testified he placed two suitcases filled with money - thought to be drug proceeds - in the trunk of a navy blue Grand Marquis parked in front of Mexico’s attorney general’s offices in August 1994.

Raul Macias testified that in the 10 seconds it took him to unload the suitcases, he spotted Ruiz Massieu in the passenger seat. Macias said he recognized Ruiz Massieu from a picture hanging in the office of a police commander.

Ruiz Massieu denied ever owning a navy Mercury Grand Marquis or riding in such a vehicle in August 1994. When a U.S. attorney produced documents showing he owned a 1995 black Grand Marquis, Ruiz Massieu responded: “The color blue is different.”

The government’s evidence also showed that his brother Arturo wrote more than $1 million in bad checks at the same time he was supposedly contributing $1 million to the family.

Ruiz Massieu testified he became the overseer of his family’s money in 1993 because his brother Jose Francisco, the No. 2 man in Mexico’s ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party, was too busy with politics.

Jose Francisco was assassinated in 1994, the same year Ruiz Massieu resigned from the attorney general’s office. Mexican authorities have accused Ruiz Massieu of obstructing justice in the probe into his brother’s death. They charged Raul Salinas de Gortari, the brother of the former president, with masterminding the killing.

Ruiz Massieu was arrested in 1995 in New Jersey en route to Spain after failing to declare $46,000 in cash he was carrying. He is awaiting a deportation hearing.

© Copyright 1997 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Thoughts and opinions on this story? Click here to comment >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email