Videos tie mayor's brother to Mexico fire bombing


McClatchy Newspapers

MONTERREY, Mexico — A probe into the deadly firebombing of a casino took a dramatic twist Wednesday with evidence the brother of the city's mayor may be entangled in shakedowns at gambling parlors suspected of being at the root of the attack that claimed 52 lives.

The newspaper El Norte, considered one of Mexico's best, posted videos of Mayor Fernando Larrazabal's brother, Jonas, entering local casinos, sitting down at tables, meeting employees and receiving wads of cash.

In the most recent video, which El Norte said was taken Aug. 19, the brother received what the newspaper estimated was the equivalent of $33,000 in cash.

The release of the videos jolted this industrial hub, coming just six days after gunmen stormed the Casino Royale, poured gasoline inside and set the crowded facility ablaze. Most of the people who died were middle-aged women wiling away the afternoon.

In a hastily called news conference, Larrazabal said he had no knowledge of the payoffs even as he conceded that his brother was the man shown in the videos.

"My brother will have to clear up questions that have arisen about this," the mayor said. "None of my brother's activities have, or have had, anything to do with this city administration."

The videos immediately raised questions whether gangsters from a transnational crime syndicate accused of shaking down casinos are in collusion with politicians.

Gov. Rodrigo Medina of Nuevo Leon, the state that surrounds Monterrey, immediately called for an investigation, saying prosecutors should arrest those behind the casino payoffs. "Let fall who may," he said.

Medina reiterated Wednesday that gangsters from Los Zetas, a gang involved in narcotics smuggling, extortion and a gamut of other criminal activity in Mexico and abroad, were behind the Aug. 25 attack.

Five of the alleged assailants were arrested over the weekend.

El Norte said the videos show Jonas Larrazabal entering other casinos in the Monterrey area on May 30, June 20 and Aug. 19 to collect packets or wads of cash.

In the most recent video, Jonas Larrazabal, wearing a blue shirt unbuttoned to his mid-chest, and with folded sunglasses hanging from a gold chain, arrives at a casino at 4:27 in the afternoon.

Five minutes after sitting down at a blackjack table, another man appears and fans bills on the table in the style of a card dealer. The video shows Jonas Larrazabal putting the cash in a red-and-black case and walking out of the casino a minute later.

El Norte said he climbed into a gray Nissan Sentra with license plates registered in his name.

The earliest video taken May 30 came just five days after armed commandos burst into four Monterrey casinos and caused destruction, apparently retaliation for the casino operators not making extortion payments.

It remained unclear on whose behalf — politicians or gangsters — Jonas Larrazabal was collecting cash at the casinos, and the blurring of lines only underscored disgust at the spread of corruption in the region.

One local activist predicted that Larrazabal, who a member of President Felipe Calderon's National Action Party, would be forced to step down.

"Monterrey's mayor will fall very soon," said Miguel Trevino de Hoyos, head of the Civic Council of Nuevo Leon Institutions, an activist group. "If the mayor isn't capable of knowing that his own brother is extorting casinos, he shouldn't be mayor."

Since the lethal firebombing last week, politicians in the state have traded charges over who was responsible for irregularities at Casino Royale, including locked exits, and at other casinos, many of which lack permits but have been allowed by elected officials to operate anyway.

According to the Proceso newsweekly, some 550 casinos operate in Mexico, nearly all of them opened within the past decade and as few as 126 operating legally. Gangsters are believed to control some casinos for laundering illicit streams of money while subjecting others to extortion.

Monterrey's mayor isn't the only one on a hot seat from videos.

Two other videos taken by people driving near the Casino Royale when it was firebombed show police in nearby cruisers not responding to the crime. The videos were posted earlier this week by another newspaper, Excelsior.

The state security chief for Nuevo Leon, Jorge Domene, told Milenio Television that the mid-level Zetas gangster behind the firebombing remains at large in the metropolitan area.

Domene also said one of the main owners of Casino Royale, Raul Rocha Cantu, had fled the country.

"We think that he is in the United States," Domene said.

Rocha Cantu owns property in Texas and has multiple business partnerships established in Texas, Florida and Maryland.


U.S. drug thirst, gun sales must share blame for fire tragedy, Mexico says

Violent Mexican drug gang, Zetas, taking control of m minus mouseclick igrant smuggling

Troubled gun sting renews suspicions of U.S. role in Mexico's violence

Check out this McClatchy blog: Mexico Unmasked

McClatchy Newspapers 2011

Read more World Wires stories from the Miami Herald

Malaysia Army soldiers carry one of the bodies of the downed MH17 flight on the arrival at Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Sepang, Malaysia, Friday, Aug. 22, 2014. The bodies of 20 victims' of the ill-fated Malaysia Airlines flight that was shot down over eastern Ukraine last month, returned home from Amsterdam on Friday.

    Malaysia receives bodies from Flight 17 crash

    The bodies and ashes of 20 Malaysians killed when Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down over Ukraine in July have arrived in Kuala Lumpur, the first repatriation of victims from the flight to the country.

  • Mexico increases number of missing to 22,322

    The Mexican government has increased its calculation of the number of people who have disappeared since the start of the country's drug war in 2006 and now lists 22,322 as missing, officials said Thursday. It had said in May that 8,000 people were missing.

  • Mexico nabs suspects with 10,000 sea turtle eggs

    Environmental prosecutors in Mexico say three suspects have been detained in the southern Pacific coast state of Oaxaca with more than 10,000 illegally harvested eggs from protected sea turtles.

Miami Herald

Join the

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category