Carreno said she was present at Casino Vallarta as inspectors slapped on the seals. At that moment, her cellular phone rang.
“The colonel from public security called me and he started shouting, ‘Councilwoman, take off the seals!’” Carreno said. “He yelled at me like I was his employee.”
A few weeks later, Carreno received a visit from the casino’s lawyers.
“They came here to ask me what I needed. How could they help me?” Carreno said, indicating that it was an underhanded offer of cash. “I told them, ‘What I need is for you to take care of this, because the day there are deaths, I will be responsible, too.’”
As in many countries, businesses shut down by health and safety inspectors in Mexico typically have a slog before they reopen – months, rather than 30 minutes.
“You have to go before a municipal judge. The judge issues you a fine. Then you have to fulfill the (safety) requirements. If you don’t fulfill them, you get your operating license revoked,” Carreno said.
Former senior officials of the Interior Secretariat, Mexico’s most powerful Cabinet-level ministry, are behind the casino operator, Producciones Moviles S.A., the former wife of one of the officials, Talia Vazquez Alatorre, has told McClatchy.
The company was the primary beneficiary of the Dec. 1 giveaway of new permits, winning in the final hours of the Calderon administration permits to establish 80 gaming halls and sports betting parlors in Mexico.
Among the onetime officials linked to Producciones Moviles S.A. are Juan Ivan Pena Neder, a former senior coordinator to the Interior Secretariat’s deputy secretary; Roberto Correo Mendez, who was chief of the gaming and lotteries bureau; and Guillermo Santillan, a onetime Interior Secretariat liaison to Mexico’s 31 states, Vazquez said.
All three men reported to Abraham Gonzalez, a deputy interior secretary close to Calderon. In fact, the relationship was so warm that when Calderon announced his candidacy for the presidency on May 29, 2004, he did so at Gonzalez’s Las Palmas ranch in Jalisco state.
Vazquez is at the heart of an unfolding scandal that is centered in the gaming and lotteries bureau of the Interior Secretariat. A corporate lawyer who was once married to a senior Interior Secretariat official, Vasquez has alleged that she witnessed Calderon’s personal secretary, Roberto Gil Zuarth, accept a backpack with $800,000 to help smooth over opposition to opening a casino in Queretaro, a prosperous city north of Mexico City. Gil Zuarth has denied the allegation.
Gonzalez, a former candidate for governor of Jalisco, is a big player in the state’s politics, including in Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco’s tourism magnet.
Indeed, Gonzalez helped Puerto Vallarta Mayor Ramon Guerrero win his post and has placed underlings in key positions throughout the city government.
Gonzalez, in a telephone interview, acknowledged he has close political ties to the mayor but denied having any connection to Casino Vallarta.
“I have no interest in it, I didn’t at the time and have none today,” he said. What’s more, he added, “I am not a friend of the industry. I don’t think casinos are good for the country.”
Neither Mayor Guerrero nor his chief of staff, Antonio Pinto Rodriguez, was available for an interview. Pinto agreed to speak to a McClatchy reporter, but after keeping him waiting for six hours he sent a secretary to say the interview would not take place.