U.S. charges former Mexico police commander in El Chapo-linked cocaine probe

By Jonathan Stempel

By Jonathan Stempel

NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. prosecutors on Friday charged a former Mexican federal police commander with accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes from Mexican drug cartels to help them send cocaine into the United States, in a case linked to imprisoned drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman.

The defendant Ivan Reyes Arzate pleaded not guilty to three conspiracy charges at a hearing in the Brooklyn, New York, a spokesman for U.S. Attorney Richard Donoghue in Brooklyn said.

Reyes was arrested at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, where he was serving a 40-month prison term after pleading no contest in 2018 to obstruction charges in an Illinois case.

The defendant had been scheduled to be released on Jan. 27 and then deported to Mexico, before a federal grand jury indicted him on Thursday on the conspiracy charges.

Each charge carries a 10-year mandatory minimum prison sentence, and prosecutors want Reyes subjected to permanent detention, calling him a "significant flight risk." The defendant was returned to federal custody after the hearing.

A lawyer for Reyes did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Prosecutors said Reyes received bribes from the El Seguimiento 39 cartel in exchange for helping shield its drug trafficking activities.

Multiple cooperating witnesses, meanwhile, said other cartels including the Beltran Leyva Organization also paid bribes to Reyes for his assistance, according to prosecutors.

Reyes worked from 2003 to 2016 in the Mexican federal police's Sensitive Investigative Unit, and from 2008 to 2016 was its top officer, making him its main contact for sharing information with U.S. law enforcement.

Prosecutors said Reyes' case was "presumptively related" to their cases in Brooklyn against Guzman and Genaro Garcia Luna, formerly Mexico's top security official, because the facts arose from the same criminal schemes, transactions and events.

Guzman is serving life in prison without parole after being convicted in last year.

Garcia Luna pleaded not guilty on Jan. 3 to accepting millions of dollars in bribes to let Guzman's Sinaloa drug cartel operate with impunity.

Reyes' case is U.S. v. Reyes Arzate, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of New York, No. 20-cr-00030.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel; Editing by Alistair Bell)