Fugitive Mexican Politician Mounts Social Media Campaign to Clear His Name

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Former Tamaulipas Gov. Tomas Yarrington Ruvacalba
Courtesy of Immigration and Customs Enforcement
Former Tamaulipas Gov. Tomas Yarrington Ruvacalba

Former Tamaulipas Gov. Tomas Yarrington Ruvacalba was once considered presidential material, but now both Mexico and the United States have issued warrants for his arrest.

In early December, the United States indicted Yarrington on 11 counts of drug trafficking, money laundering and racketeering. Most Mexican politicians under indictment typically keep a low profile, but Yarrington—a fugitive in two countries—has taken to social media to build his case of innocence.

Yarrington served as mayor of Matamoros from 1993 to 1995 and governor of Tamaulipas from 1999 to 2005. In 1999 he was honored with a Texas Senate proclamation. On his website, which features the 56-year-old hooking a prized game fish, Yarrington says his troubles in Mexico stem from “political persecution from the past administration,” referring to the presidency of Felipe Calderon, which ended in December 2012. Calderon is from the National Action Party, which ousted Yarrington’s Institutional Revolutionary Party from the presidential palace in 2000. On Twitter the politician said the accusations against him were coerced and false. “…I’m going to reveal the inconsistencies and contradictions of the protected witnesses who have accused me falsely,” he tweeted.

Allegations in the U.S. against Yarrington first surfaced in February 2012 after authorities arrested wealthy Mexican businessman Antonio Peña Arguelles at his home in an upscale neighborhood in San Antonio. An affidavit filed by the DEA alleged that Peña Arguelles had funneled millions of dollars from the Zetas cartel to Yarrington and other elected officials. In May of 2012, another wealthy businessman, Fernando Alejandro Cano Martinez, was indicted in absentia on money laundering charges. Agents allege that Cano funneled millions from the Gulf Cartel and Zetas to Yarrington and helped him launder money through land and property purchases in South Texas and San Antonio.

After the indictment announcement in December, Yarrington hastily called a press conference in Mexico City where his Mexican and U.S. lawyers presented his defense. The legal team told reporters they had no idea where Yarrington might be hiding. U.S. authorities revoked his visa in February 2012 and asked him to leave the country, said his U.S. attorney Joel Androphy. “I fully expect Governor Yarrington to be acquitted. He’s done nothing wrong,” Androphy said. “We have a saying, ‘In the United States you can indict a ham sandwich,’” he told the room of Mexican reporters. “But in our country you are also innocent until proven guilty.”

But first Uncle Sam will have to find Yarrington, who wisely turned off the geo-locator on his Twitter account. If he is detained or turns himself in, his trial will likely take place in federal court in Brownsville.

Yarrington isn’t the only disgraced Mexican politician on the lam and hiding from U.S. authorities. Texas plays a crucial role as both a place of refuge (world-class gated communities!) and a place to funnel the hundreds of millions gathered through dubious means while serving in public office.

In November, U.S. attorneys indicted Hector Javier Villarreal Hernandez, 42, former Secretary of Finance of the State of Coahuila, and Jorge Juan Torres Lopez, 59, former Interim Governor of Coahuila. The two men are charged with money laundering and bank fraud.

Last year police in Tyler pulled over Villarreal, his wife and kids as they were passing through town in a Mercedes SUV. A deputy found a rifle and more than $67,000. Villarreal and his wife were detained. But the Department of Homeland Security let the couple go because they had legal visas to be in the country, according to KLTV News. Texas Congressman Louie Gohmert opined that the two probably left Texas immediately. “I’m going to talk to someone in Washington … because they are giving awfully bad directions to law enforcement who actually knows what they’re doing.”

To date, neither man has been found—either in Texas or on Twitter.

Melissa del Bosque joined The Texas Observer staff in 2008. She specializes in reporting on immigration and the U.S.-Mexico border. Her work has been published in national and international publications including TIME magazine and the Mexico City-based Nexos magazine. She has a master’s in public health from Texas A&M University and a master’s in journalism from the University of Texas at Austin.