A compelling collection of stories by Jason Buch tells a gripping tale about embezzled money stolen from Mexican taxpayers making its way through a Texas bank and ultimately into extravagant assets such as real estate, cars, and various luxury items.
Buch’s investigative reporting begins by delving into the life of Luis Carlos Castillo Cervantes, also known as “El Dragón.” Castillo was a businessman in Mexico known for leasing road paving equipment, but his notoriety extended beyond legitimate business dealings—he was also known for using duffel bags full of cash to bribe Mexican officials and therefore ensure the smooth operation of his business. With the cash pouring in after funneling millions into the pockets of officials across Mexico by inflating the value of his contracts to conceals the illicit gains, Castillo did what many successful businessmen from Mexico do—moved northward to Texas, which has long been considered a safe haven for Mexico’s elites.
In Texas, Castillo became known for his extravagant lifestyle. With a garage adorned with a fleet of luxury automobiles and a sprawling 25,000-square-foot mansion complete with swimming pools and a massive event venue where he hosted musicians and threw private parties, he epitomized lavishness and excess.
Castillo was bringing in millions of dollars and was therefore a highly desirable customer to the local border banks in South Texas. Recognizing this, Castillo acquired a share of about 10% in the Inter National Bank in McAllen and set up an office there.
What many didn’t know is that Castillo maintained illicit ties to drug trafficking and bribery, and part of his wealth came from misappropriated funds from Mexican states. As organized crime-related violence continued spreading through Mexico, more wealthy Mexicans like Castillo sought solace in Texas, where—safe from peso devaluations, vengeful political rivals, and extortion plots—they began investing.
Sadly, corrupt individuals like Castillo abound. These cases are often downplayed as victimless, but the repercussions of their actions leave a trail of victims in their wake. As Buch’s reporting points out, Mexican elites play a pivotal role in fueling the activities of cartels and other criminal groups.
Jennifer Sanchez, a former DEA agent, put it best when she stated that “The evil of Mexico is not the narcos, quite simply they are its byproduct of evil. Narcos are opportunists. Each and every level of compromise and ill goes back to corruption. But corruption is promoted and developed by humans, and therein lies the greatest ill of México—apathy.”
Mexico recently ranked as the fifth-most corrupt country in the world, and Texas’ proximity to this corruption makes it a prime target for money laundering schemes orchestrated by Mexican elites.
The responsibility lies in the hands of the Texas Legislature to tackle this issue. The Northern Triangle Enhanced Engagement Act, commonly referred to as the Engel list, is an annual federal report that exposes the corruption in the Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, as well as Nicaragua. This report specifically targets individuals associated with corrupt government contracts, bribery and extortion, as well as acts of violence, harassment, or intimidation against investigators from governmental and nongovernmental entities.
Mexico is noticeably absent from this list, despite ample evidence showing the connection between Mexican elites and criminal organizations. Texas must address this oversight by establishing its own version of the Engel list, one that includes Mexico. A notable step to address this issue was made earlier this year during the 88th legislative session with the introduction of SB 1884. which aimed to do just that- create a Texas version of the Engel list. Had it passed, this crucial piece of legislation would have struck a blow against criminal organizations and the elites they depend on by hitting them where it hurts: their wallets.
It is vital for the Texas Legislature to recognize the gravity of the situation and seize the opportunity to curb the influence and power of corrupt Mexican elites, and dismantle their intricate systems of corruption and money laundering.
It is time for action. The ongoing battle against the Mexican cartels requires a united front, and by targeting their finances and disrupting their operations, we can gain the upper hand and make significant strides towards achieving victory in this war.