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US says Viejo Luis tequila is a front for Guadalajara drug gang

September 24, 2013


The U.S. Treasury Department has designated six companies – including a prominent tequila producer – under the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act for laundering money for a Guadalajara-based drug cartel.

Five individuals, said to be key family members and associates of the leaders of local drug-trafficking organization Los Gueros, were also designated by the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) on Tuesday.

The businesses designated were local tequila firm Casa El Viejo Luis; its two parent companies, Grupo Comercial Rool and Rancho El Nuevo Pachon; German distribution company ROOL Europe; and two related administrative entities based in Jalisco. The Treasury Department says these firms were “owned or controlled by Los Gueros, and/or by individuals acting on their behalf, and are suspected of being used by the group to launder their illicit proceeds.”

The Kingpin Act prohibits individuals or businesses in the United States from conducting financial or commercial transactions with designees, while any assets they hold under U.S. jurisdiction will be frozen.

“Today’s designation of Los Gueros’ business network follows the arrest and extradition to the United States of two of its leaders. This action will further damage Los Gueros’ business empire and impede its ability to reap benefits from the drug trade,” said OFAC Director Adam J. Szubin.

Founded in Guadalajara by four brothers from Tecatitlan, Jalisco, Los Gueros were initially aligned with the powerful Sinaloa Federation and were accused of smuggling large quantities of cocaine from Colombia and Peru into the United States and Europe. The group later split with the Sinaloa Federation, relocated to Leon, Guanajuato, and forged an alliance with Los Zetas, according to the U.S. State Department.

In May 2009, Los Gueros leaders Esteban and Luis Rodriguez Olivera were indicted in New York for trafficking over 100,000 kilograms of cocaine into the United States between 1996 and 2008. The pair were also charged with drug trafficking in the District of Columbia in 2007, in relation to a Mexican Navy seizure of over five tons of cocaine the previous year.

Esteban Rodriguez, 49, was arrested in Mexico City airport in December 2008 and Luis, 41, was then detained in the same airport terminal in December 2011. Both have since been extradited to the United States, while a third brother, Miguel, was killed in an inter-gang dispute in a Cancun shopping mall in August 2011 and the fourth brother, Daniel, 39, remains at large.

“Drug trafficking organizations’ main motivation in the illegal drug trade is making money, and they will go to any length to hide, disguise and safeguard their drug profits,” said Brian McKnight of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) on Tuesday. “Today’s designations will have a direct impact on the businesses owned by Los Gueros and the flow of illicit money. It strikes a powerful blow at the illegal proceeds and exposes the international businesses they used to hide their drug profits.”

“By using aliases and listing close family members and associates on the deeds of their companies, Los Gueros has been able to hide ownership interest in companies and properties for many years,” the Treasury Department added.

While Mexico’s drug gangs frequently invest their earnings in otherwise-legitimate businesses, Casa El Viejo Luis is one of the more high-profile companies to be exposed as a front for money laundering in recent years.

A popular, high-quality tequila, El Viejo Luis has been well received in the United States and Europe and was even promoted in South Africa during the 2010 World Cup. Texas was identified as the first market for distribution in 2009, when Rool-USA became the first and only company completely owned by Mexican investors with a license to import and distribute tequila in Texas. Neither Grupo Comercial Rool or Rool-USA responded to the Reporter’s calls this week.

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