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Mexican prosecutor under payroll of Riviera Maya gang

ATM, Mexican, Mexico, Riviera Maya gang, ATM-skimming, Crime group

International

Mexican prosecutor under payroll of Riviera Maya gang

A former member of the Riviera Maya gang was stabbed in Mexico by his onetime comrades. The Mexican prosecutor who led the investigation didn’t even look into them as suspects. Now, it turns out, they may have been paying him off. By Attila Biro, Lilia Saúl Rodriguez and Jonny Wrate

A Mexican prosecutor who was allegedly paid off by the head of a Romanian gang also investigated two major criminal cases involving its members, including a murder and an attempted murder.

OCCRP has been investigating the ATM-skimming crime group — which it dubbed the Riviera Maya Gang, after the region in Mexico from which it operated — since 2020.

Gang leader Florian Tudor is now awaiting possible extradition from Mexico, while six of his associates have been convicted on various charges in Romania — three of them for trying to kill a former gang member on Tudor’s orders.

They are now appealing their convictions, and their defense has relied on reports by former Mexican state prosecutor Jonathan Medina Nava, which pinned the attempted murder on other people, to cast doubt on their guilt.

But according to documents from Mexican investigators, as well as the words of a former Tudor associate who spoke with reporters, Medina Nava had been receiving money from the Romanian crime boss.

“[Medina Nava] was getting presents, maybe 5,000-6,000 [U.S. dollars] a month at first,” said the former gang member.

In addition, Medina Nava had his bank account frozen by Mexican financial investigators in 2021 because they observed transactions linked to the gang. His name appears on a Financial Intelligence Unit report listing 79 people and entities tied to the gang.

In the courtroom at Bucharest’s ornate Palace of Justice on November 8, gang members, their relatives, and an army of lawyers sat through final arguments. Also present was the family of a former gang member the men were convicted of trying to kill.

The defense has claimed the three are innocent, saying they were previously absolved by a criminal investigation in Mexico, which found that Tudor’s allies were not to blame.

However, when the defense lawyers presented these criminal investigations as evidence, they revealed that the investigation was led by Medina Nava.

Not only that, the files show Medina Nava also investigated the former gang member’s murder, which took place two months after the attempt on his life.

Without naming Medina Nava, a Romanian judge previously said the Mexican probes could in “no way” be considered “a final judgment” on the attempted murder case.

Asked for comment on the allegations of being on the gang’s payroll, Medina Nava initially offered to sit for an interview, but then stopped responding to messages.

Medina Nava’s connections with Tudor’s gang have not been proven in court, and he has not been charged with a crime related to the gang in Mexico or elsewhere.

Crossing Tudor

The two key cases involving Florian Tudor that Jonathan Medina Nava investigated both had their roots in the fissures that began appearing in the Romanian crime group in 2018, when its ATM skimming operations were flourishing.

One man who had crossed Tudor was Constantin Sorinel Marcu, a former friend whose relationship with the gang turned sour. After he fell out with Tudor, Marcu began sticking warnings about the group’s skimming activities onto Mexican ATMs to warn users.

Tudor henchmen followed Marcu through Cancun on April 2, 2018, on Tudor’s orders, according to a Romanian indictment against the gang. When they caught up with him outside of a DHL courier’s office in the city, “they stabbed me in the back,” Marcu would later tell one of his friends.

Two months after this attack, Marcu was found dead in the driver seat of an SUV, fatally shot just meters from Tudor’s Cancun mansion, which served as a headquarters for the gang.

The gang members suspected of involvement in the first attack on Marcu have since been convicted in Romania. In a long-running courtroom drama followed by OCCRP in Bucharest, the three men — Gabi Alin Poenaru, Răzvan Alin Ghiță, and Mihai Adrian Mincă — were sentenced from three to ten years in prison in March 2021. Their appeal began in June 2021.

During court hearings, lawyers for two of the men produced documents from Mexico, arguing that their clients could not be punished for the 2018 stabbing and attempted murder of Marcu because Medina Nava had already investigated the crime and absolved them.

The documents, made public for the first time during the Romanian legal proceedings, show that Medina Nava pinned the attempted murder of Marcu on a dead man rather than looking to the Riviera Maya gang for potential suspects.

Medina Nava drew on the words of a single witness, a security guard nearby the DHL office where Marcu had been attacked. The guard gave a statement to police at the scene of the crime, saying two Mexicans had set upon Marcu. One, he said, had a tattoo with a green skull on his arm.

A few days later, on May 17, 2018, a young man with a similar green skull tattoo was shot dead. The documents presented in court also show Medina Nava waited eight months — until January 25, 2019 — before summoning the security guard, the sole witness he would ever interview about Marcu’s assault. He then quickly concluded that the now-dead tattooed man had been the perpetrator in the DHL attack.

In a hearing conducted at midnight in Cancun, the guard was presented with several photos of the man with his tattoo, and asked if this was the same man he had seen at the DHL. After he confirmed he recognized the man, Medina Nava closed the case.

The criminal file Medina Nava compiled notes that police officers went to the hospital, questioned Marcu, and then wrote that he said two Mexicans had stabbed him. But Marcu did not sign that statement, with the policemen saying he was unable to because of his injuries.

Marcu himself contradicted his alleged statement in WhatsApp messages and photos sent to a friend from the hospital, in which he said he had been attacked by four of Tudor’s men.

In contrast to the Mexican probe, the Romanian criminal investigation into the murder attempt relied on several witnesses who mentioned that right after the attack, Marcu told them that Tudor’s men had come for him.

A protected witness had told Romanian prosecutors that three Mexican policemen showed them several pictures from a nearby CCTV camera that caught not only the murder attempt but also the faces of the three Riviera Maya gang members. The witness claimed the police asked for a bribe in exchange for handing over the CCTV evidence implicating the gang.

Two months after the attempt on his life outside the DHL, Marcu was found slumped in the driver’s seat of the SUV just down the street from Tudor’s Cancun mansion. Suspicion naturally fell on his former boss, with whom he had fallen out.

But once again Medina Nava was appointed the lead investigator into the murder, files obtained by OCCRP show.

And just as he had done before, Medina Nava found an unexpected suspect. This time, he concluded that Marcu had gone to the area to kill another Romanian, Gabriel Alin Stroe, and that a security guard working for Stroe had killed Marcu in self-defense.

Yet in Medina Nava’s file, a document mentions that the security guard’s hands showed no trace of gunpowder when tested after the shooting. An earlier OCCRP investigation found a number of other inconsistencies in the case file. A judge ruled that the security guard had killed Marcu lawfully, and the case was formally closed.

One year later, as the trial of Tudor’s men was underway in Romania, Medina Nava bought a condominium in a gated community in Cancun for 754,000 Mexican pesos (US$38,665) in August 2019. (OCCRP is not aware of any direct evidence that the purchase was made with money from Tudor’s gang).

‘Operación Caribe’

Mexico’s Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) announced in 2021 that it had frozen dozens of bank accounts related to Tudor’s skimming operation.

Appearing on the list of “79 individuals and legal entities belonging to a criminal group of people of Romanian and Mexican nationality,” who were “dedicated to cloning credit and debit cards in the tourist destination of Cancún” was Jonathan Medina Nava’s name.”

The FIU investigation, called Operación Caribe, identified a total of 463 million pesos ($23 million) in what investigators described as gang operations international transfers of more than 483 million pesos ($24 million), and the issuance of checks and inter-bank transfers worth 4.64 billion pesos (US$227 million).

The FIU did not release any other details about Medina Nava, but OCCRP learned that he filed two amparos — a type of lawsuit — against the Mexican Treasury and prosecutors in Quintana Roo in a bid to recover his funds. Authorities rejected the suits, and he is appealing the rejections.

Medina Nava left his prosecutorial job in 2021, though it is unclear whether he stepped down or was fired. He is now a member of the opposition Partido Movimiento Ciudadano (Citizen Movement Party), based in Quintana Roo. According to a source in the FIU, investigations into him remain ongoing.

A source who worked closely with Tudor’s gang, speaking on condition of anonymity because he now collaborates with law enforcement, told OCCRP that Medina Nava and Tudor had met when Tudor was arrested for an earlier crime and developed a relationship that quickly saw Tudor giving him “presents” of $5,000-$6,000 a month. He said Tudor would sometimes pay more depending on what kind of help he needed, sometimes as much as $10,000 per month.

“It was good to have a prosecutor on your side,” he said. “The D.A. knows in advance if you’ll get a warrant. The D.A. will let you know.”

A filing submitted by Marcu’s family’s lawyers to the Romanian court also claimed that Tudor had visited a gang member in jail in 2017 accompanied by Medina Nava, who had also been involved in that gang member’s case. The gang member interpreted the visit as a way for Tudor to show that he had power in Mexico and could make things happen.

Tudor’s Other Mexican Connections

Medina is not the only high-ranking Mexican official to have been in contact with Tudor’s gang.

The policeman who took Marcu’s statement in hospital after the attempted murder was also named as part of Operación Caribe and had one of his own bank accounts frozen.

And another prosecutor who investigated Marcu’s murder alongside Medina Nava is also alleged to have gang links. This prosecutor, Moisés Méndez López, was found driving one of Tudor’s business partners through Cancún in 2019. According to documents obtained by the Mexican newspaper Reforma, the car was stopped by police on suspicion that two of the passengers inside had murdered a policeman, though they were never charged with the crime.

In 2021, Méndez López was arrested by the prosecutor’s office after a raid on his home, and accused of stealing confidential files related to his work. The current status of the case against him is unclear. He could not be reached for comment.

“A Big Boss” From the Prosecution

In a recent court hearing, the judges heard from another Marcu acquaintance who once more contradicted Medina Nava’s version of events surrounding the attempted murder.

Marcu had never told him he was stabbed by two Mexicans, he said. Instead, Marcu said that as he went to pick up a package, Poenaru and another man slashed the tires of his Porsche and then stabbed him. Marcu tried to run, but another man blocked him and stabbed him in the spleen, the witness said.

The witness told the court a former Tudor employee had reached out to him and passed on some recordings of the gang leader. OCCRP has obtained those recordings, which were also submitted to the Romanian court by Marcu’s family.

In one, a man believed to be Tudor can be heard instructing a former associate on what to tell prosecutors when they asked about the attempt to murder Marcu.

“I will give you the questions beforehand,” Tudor told the man. “You tell them Mexicans beat him. You say that you came when he was in the hospital.”

In the recordings, Tudor can even be heard threatening Romanian prosecutors. After becoming aware that one former associate was sending the WhatsApp audio messages to third parties, he appeared to fly into a rage.

“I’m gonna fuck you and film it and put the video on YouTube so people will see I have balls,” he said. “You can send this to whomever you want, even to the prosecutors in Romania, but you can tell them I’m gonna fuck them up too.”

In other recordings, Tudor can be heard bragging about meeting “a big boss from the Fiscalia”, using the Spanish word for the district attorney’s office.

News Desk

Contents published under this byline are those created by the news team of BLiTZ

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