Jordan Vonderhaar/The Texas Observer

Mexico’s Repo Man

After billions went missing, the Mexican state of Veracruz turned to a prominent trial lawyer to recover money that was allegedly laundered in the Houston suburbs. But the unusual quest appears to be foundering.

by and

A version of this story ran in the May / June 2022 issue.

Photo credit: Jordan Vonderhaar/The Texas Observer

Editor’s Note: This is the fourth part of the series Follow the Money.

In the first year of the Trump administration, one of Houston’s most prominent—and flamboyant—trial lawyers came up with an unusual litigation strategy with the potential to rake in tens of millions of dollars. It hinged on a series of scandals unfolding in Mexico, an independent nation that is normally beyond the reach of any United States civil court’s authority.

Tony Buzbee, a tough-talking Marine and veteran of the first Gulf War, is a high-powered attorney based on the 73rd floor of a Houston highrise with a sweeping view of Texas’ largest city. He’s brash and ambitious. Through his maritime law practice, he has experience handling complex international cases, which can involve tangling with multinational corporations with subsidiaries and hidden offshore accounts. He had also represented Mexican fishing associations and thousands of other clients in U.S. lawsuits against BP after the Deepwater Horizon disaster and massive oil spill in 2010. So when the newly-elected governor of Veracruz—an oil-rich state on the Gulf of Mexico—began a campaign to hold his predecessor accountable for allegedly embezzling $3 billion, it made sense for him to connect with Buzbee in 2017 about assets that might have been hidden in Houston.

Here was the plan: Ex-Governor Javier Duarte de Ochoa was already in custody for some of his alleged crimes in Mexico, so Buzbee would file lawsuits in Texas against property owners, mostly people and limited liability companies, accused of laundering money for Duarte in the United States. Under Texas law, victims of theft and fraud can sue to recoup their losses. Then, Buzbee would ask a judge to transfer the titles of the targeted real estate, mostly houses in the Houston area, to the state of Veracruz. The property would then be sold, reimbursing Veracruz taxpayers. As an experienced trial attorney with investigative chops, Buzbee would, of course, receive a cut for his services, which he did not disclose but is typically between 30 and 40 percent of the amount recovered. It seemed easy enough. 

“You just show the official took the money, and now there’s an asset in [a relative’s] name sitting in The Woodlands,” said Buzbee in an interview in January 2021. “It’s a much more simple case than trying to expose all the dealings in Mexico that aren’t my concern.”

In 2018, Buzbee filed seven lawsuits in Harris County district courts against a host of limited liability companies and business people from Veracruz who lived in the Houston suburbs. Those companies and individuals own dozens of properties. He alleged that a home purchased by Duarte’s sister-in-law; a golf club membership; and at least dozens of other pieces of real estate—including a list he supplied of 30 homes, empty lots, and a commercial building mainly owned by individuals and their real estate investment companies—were purchased with money stolen from Veracruz. 

Around the same time, Buzbee’s firm filed a similar lawsuit in Miami, targeting 41 more pieces of property. Other states and other lawyers got in on the action. In September 2021, Mexico’s federal government hired a private attorney to file a lawsuit in a Florida state court against a former secretary of public security and nearly 50 business people and companies with allegations resembling those Buzbee made on behalf of Veracruz.

It’s a bold strategy, but one that traditionally has been in the hands of the U.S. Justice Department. Under federal law and international treaty, if Mexico can show it’s the victim of fraud and theft, it can petition the U.S. government to return funds seized in the course of the Justice Department’s kleptocracy investigations. 

For years, Justice Department officials have used their authority to help recover billions of dollars that they said were stolen by dictators and kleptocrats abroad, and then hidden in Texas and other parts of the United States. If that money was invested in the U.S., or even passed through the U.S. financial system on its way to an offshore bank account, federal law allows prosecutors to file what’s called an asset-forfeiture lawsuit. Prosecutors can ask a judge to freeze accounts that contain stolen money or seize assets purchased with stolen funds, for the U.S. government. They don’t even have to file criminal charges.

Between 2012 and 2018, federal prosecutors working in South and West Texas filed asset-forfeiture lawsuits targeting real estate, airplanes, vehicles, and bank accounts worth tens of millions of dollars that they said were purchased with funds stolen by former public officials from the Mexican states of Aguascalientes, Coahuila, Tabasco, and Tamaulipas. But it’s unclear whether U.S. officials returned any of the money they recovered from previous money laundering cases that was stolen from the Mexican taxpayers.

And yet the feds seemed to have abandoned these efforts in 2018 under the administration of President Donald Trump. It’s still not clear whether U.S. authorities, now under President Joseph Biden, ever intend to prosecute Duarte, the former Veracruz governor, or seize assets connected to him in the United States. After populist Andrés Manuel López Obrador became Mexico’s president in December 2018, the two countries began talks on how to develop a comprehensive strategy to go after money laundering. But those discussions seem to have gone nowhere. 

“There’s so much impunity that some Mexican government officials have begun to think that taking advantage of your power [to launder money] is part of the privilege of political office,” said Rodrigo Montes de Oca, a research scholar at the Baker Institute’s Center for the United States and Mexico, who participated in binational talks on asset recovery and has spent years studying these issues. 

“And it seems to me that real estate is the best way to hide money under everyone’s noses—especially in Texas,” he added.

For Buzbee and other trial lawyers attempting a similar strategy, the timing for pursuing civil money laundering lawsuits should have been perfect, given the lack of any further U.S. government action on tracking Mexican kleptocrats in 2018. Yet, even when Buzbee spoke to the Texas Observer in January 2021, he was already seeing how difficult it would be to navigate an international repo effort.

“We realized this is going to be a lot tougher than we thought,” Buzbee said. “You have to prove that the official who lives in this house is the only shareholder of the company that owned this house. We have to show that even though he was making $1,200 a month, there’s no way he could have purchased a $1 million home in the U.S. You have to show that the money was stolen. You have to get bank records. Getting bank records is incredibly difficult. The bank fights you tooth and nail. … The next thing you know, you have eight cases on appeal.”


It has been described as the most audacious case of official theft ever carried out in Mexican history: The systematic looting of as much as $3 billion from the coffers of the Free and Sovereign State of Veracruz de Ignacio de la Llave by former Governor Javier Duarte de Ochoa, whose lawless tenure from 2010 to 2016 in the oil-producing state with a population of more than 8 million also included a huge spike in forced disappearances and a string of lethal attacks on journalists. 

To carry out those thefts, Duarte and his allies allegedly created a network of phantom companies in order to divert funds from at least 10 different government agencies, according to an investigative report first published in 2016 by two Mexican nonprofits, Animal Politico and Mexicanos Contra la Corrupción y la Impunidad. So much public funding was missing that, in 2017, some state hospitals reported that sick children had been given distilled water in place of chemotherapy.

While the allegations in Buzbee’s lawsuits focus on embezzlement and theft of public funds, Veracruz has for years been dogged by a different type of corruption. The state’s Gulf ports—the city of Veracruz is home to the largest port on Mexico’s eastern coast—are important entry points for South American cocaine smuggled into the U.S. by Mexican drug cartels. In the early 2000s, the Zetas—a cartel led by former Mexican Army soldiers who initially worked for the Gulf Cartel in states along the border with Texas— pushed south into Veracruz. Criminal gangs like the Zetas, who have since splintered into competing factions, have developed other revenue streams, including theft of petroleum products, human trafficking, and public works fraud.

The state saw its homicide rate increase from nine homicides per 100,000 residents in 2009, to a peak of 22 homicides per 100,000 residents in 2017. Veracruz reported 1,145 homicides last year, or about 14.1 per 100,000 residents. (Texas, by comparison, has a homicide rate of 7.6 per 100,000 residents.) Of the nearly 5,000 people who were reported missing in the state since 2006, 3,662 remained missing as of February, according to the Mexican federal government.

This Tomball house was formerly owned by a woman identified as the sister-in-law of Javier Duarte, the former governor of Veracruz, according to public records and media reports. Jordan Vonderhaar/The Texas Observer

Duarte, a former Veracruz legislator rooted in Mexico’s establishment Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI), resigned before his term ended in 2016 and went on the lam in the wake of national publicity about his alleged embezzlement. But, in April 2017, Duarte was arrested and later extradited to Mexico from Guatemala, where he had been hiding in a lakeside tourist hotel. Under intense public pressure, the PRI-controlled federal government and his successors in Veracruz both went after the former governor. He was subsequently convicted of both money laundering and illegal association with criminals in Mexico and sentenced to nine years in prison. 

But a bigger mystery remains: Where did the billions go that Duarte allegedly stole from his state’s Commission on Water and other important entities dedicated to public health and social welfare? 

Amid public outcry and press attention, the Office of the Mexican Attorney General froze bank accounts and seized a sprawling ranch in a picturesque wooded area west of Mexico City that was filled with art, including 17 paintings believed to be by Mexican masters David Alfaro Siqueiros and Rufino Tamayo, and Spanish surrealist Joan Miró; a safe full of cash; and dozens of other properties, including condos in the beachside suburb of Boca del Rio. The highly-publicized seizures were billed as a historic stand against money laundering.

Mexicans’ attention quickly turned to Houston, where former Governor Duarte had been photographed hobnobbing with wealthy Mexican millionaires at a golf club in The Woodlands—an upscale, planned community near Houston’s Intercontinental Airport that became popular for expatriate business people in the mid 2000s, at a time when violence was increasing in Mexico and its government was deploying troops to some states. Through friends, Duarte apparently obtained a golf club membership, according to the published photograph and court records. Public tax records from 2017 revealed that the rogue governor’s sister-in-law had purchased a sprawling mini-mansion in the Tomball area. 

At least two other ex-Veracruz government officials and other friends of Duarte’s owned dozens of additional properties in The Woodlands and in adjacent communities under various corporate names—some of which were apparently purchased in cash, according to court and property records. The details were soon splashed across all of Mexico’s major magazines and newspapers and featured in national TV reports.

Duarte’s outspoken successor, Governor Miguel Angel Yunes—a flashy conservative from the rival Partido Acción Nacional (PAN)—began holding press conferences and filming videos filled with allegations about Duarte’s activities in the United States. Yunes repeatedly claimed that Duarte and his wife, Karime Macias Tubilla, had exported most of the funds stolen from the state using multiple straw buyers to purchase properties in upscale Houston suburbs, allegations that later became part of Buzbee’s civil lawsuits. 

During his two-year term from 2016 to 2018, Yunes personally traveled first to Houston and, later, to London, after Duarte’s wife and children relocated there. During one visit to Texas, Yunes, a photogenic man with a high forehead and the confident bearing of a career politician, filmed his allegations of money laundering as he toured homes and businesses that were listed in Harris County and Montgomery County deed records as belonging to other private citizens or corporations—not to Duarte himself. Yunes posted videos on YouTube of places he claimed had been purchased by prestanombres—people lending their names—to help hide Duarte’s dirty money. 

“Today is a great day for Veracruzanos—and also for me,” he said in one clip that featured a two-story brick mini-mansion on a cul-de-sac in what he called “Los Woodlands.” “Because we have fought with everything to recover properties for Veracruz.”

In May 2018, after Buzbee filed a lawsuit in Florida seeking additional assets, Yunes himself made the announcement during a news conference in the Veracruz capital of Xalapa.

But Yunes, whose party lost power at the end of 2018, has been criticized for mixing politics with the pursuit of prosecutions, and for using ethically questionable methods to recoup state funds— including an allegation that he attempted to extort money from one of the wealthy Veracruz families accused of money laundering in Buzbee’s lawsuits in Houston, court records show.

This home is one of many owned by a limited liability company established by José Bandin and Monica Babayan, a married couple accused in lawsuits of money laundering for Duarte. They deny the allegations. Jordan Vonderhaar/The Texas Observer

The decision by Veracruz and other Mexican state officials to enlist Tony Buzbee as a hired gun to help recover embezzled funds hidden in the United States deviated from the usual path that foreign government officials use to recoup stolen money. Usually, they employ diplomatic channels, rely on mechanisms used to detect rogue companies and suspect bank accounts devised by the U.S. Department of Treasury, and eventually seek action from prosecutors at the U.S. Department of Justice. 

According to documents obtained from an attorney whose clients were among those targeted in Buzbee’s lawsuits, Mexico’s attorney general wrote to the U.S. Justice Department in November 2017 asking the U.S. government to seize 32 properties. A U.S. official responded that a seizure order for the property “does not meet the U.S. statutory requirements that would permit a seizure.” (A Justice Department spokesman wouldn’t comment on the letters for this story).

Rather than continue to attempt to use diplomatic channels to convince the Justice Department to act, Yunes and other Veracruz officials bypassed both their own federal government and U.S. federal authorities to hire a Texas-based legal eagle to be their personal repo man.

Court records show Buzbee and his team had access to Veracruz’s own criminal investigation. But even wealthy and powerful trial attorneys like Buzbee lack the power and the resources of a U.S. federal prosecutor to subpoena records or ask for search warrants before seizing assets

At one point, Buzbee also met with Ryan Patrick, who served as the U.S. attorney for the Houston-based Southern District of Texas under the Trump administration. But, in an interview, Patrick said he could not comment on any aspect of the government’s review of money laundering allegations made against Javier Duarte, or anyone else associated with the former governor of Veracruz.

Without the Justice Department’s help, Buzbee had to use civil lawsuits—and court-ordered discovery to gain the proof needed to convince a court that U.S. properties had been purchased with stolen funds—and then ask judges to give them assets or bank accounts. In doing so, Buzbee employed a scattershot litigation strategy that essentially threw everything at the wall.

“You end up suing every person associated with the alleged corrupt official, every entity those people are involved in,” he said in the January 2021 interview. “You scour the secretary of state’s records. You end up getting a lot of pissed-off people.”

But lawyers for some people he sued claim Buzbee’s strategy wrongly targeted several Veracruz business owners in the Houston area, which has been a haven for people fleeing the violence of Mexico’s drug wars, as guilty by association. Dennis Sanchez, an attorney representing a client who countersued the state of Veracruz, described Buzbee and the state’s indiscriminate strategy as “We’re going to sue every rich Mexican we can find. Those guys that did something wrong will settle.”


Arturo Bermúdez Zurita, a former Veracruz official, was one of many people Buzbee accused of laundering money for Duarte in Texas, according to interrelated lawsuits filed in Harris County in 2018. 

In Mexico, Bermúdez Zurita, a career bureaucrat who served as the Secretary of Public Security during Duarte’s tenure as governor, has been accused by state authorities and by human rights groups of being involved in forced disappearances as Duarte’s “strongman,” according to El Universal and other press outlets. During the time both men held office, Veracruz’s public debt and kidnapping rates both rose rapidly. The state became one of the world’s most dangerous places for reporters, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, which logged 17 murders of journalists during Duarte’s tenure.

During his time in public office, Bermúdez Zurita and his wife Sofía Mendoza Hernández invested in at least five properties: suburban homes and a rental office space in cul-de-sacs and leafy, tree-lined corridors in both Harris and Montgomery counties. In 2016, Bermúdez Zurita resigned after Mexico’s national news outlet, Arestegui Noticias, revealed that he and his wife had accumulated properties in Texas worth about $2.4 million—far more than he could afford on his government salary. 

In February 2018, Bermúdez Zurita was the highest-ranking of a group of 31 police officers publicly accused by a Mexican judge of being involved with the disappearances of 15 people between April and October 2013. In 2017, Bermúdez Zurita had also been briefly jailed in Mexico on a criminal charge of abuse of office, but a judge ordered his release. He denied wrongdoing at the time: Bermúdez Zurita tweeted that he had never broken any laws, and that “​all of my properties are products of my work as a civil servant, income from outside of the government and from credit.”

He could not be reached for comment for this story, and it’s unclear where he’s living today. 

In fact, when Buzbee attempted to sue the couple for money laundering in 2018, he was never able to find and serve Bermúdez Zurita or his wife with the court papers. The civil litigation filed against them was therefore dismissed.


Another former Veracruz official Buzbee sued was José A. Mansur Jr., an expat whose family still lives in The Woodlands area. His family owns a baseball team, among other investments. The Mansurs also have an impressive real estate portfolio in the U.S., investments they began to make before Duarte became governor of Veracruz. Like many other wealthy Mexicans, the Mansurs purchased property in The Woodlands prior to Duarte’s rise to power.

José A. Mansur Jr. returned to Mexico to serve in Duarte’s gubernatorial administration for about a year as his undersecretary of finance, but left in March 2012. He later said in court that he resigned “because of differences between he [sic]and then-Governor Duarte and the Veracruz secretary of finance.” 

“Your name gets in the paper … because you’re being accused by the Mexican government of laundering illegally obtained funds. That sort of trashes your career if you’re clean.”

One of Buzbee’s January 2018 lawsuits named Mansur Jr. and three Texas companies managed by members of his family as alleged money launderers, but, in 2021, a judge dismissed the case against them all based on a motion that argued Buzbee had “no evidence” to back his claims.

This year, Mansur filed a counterclaim against the State of Veracruz and made serious allegations about Yunes, the governor who hired Buzbee. 

“In June 2018, Yunes spoke one time directly with Mansur and three times directly with Mansur’s father,” Mansur’s lawyer wrote in the court filing. “In those meetings Yunes threatened to have Mansur and family members arrested in Mexico and placed in jail for charges which Yunes admitted and knew were false. Yunes told Mansur that if Mansur did not have his family turn over some of the Woodlands properties, Mansur and another family member would be arrested and jailed; however, if those properties were transferred to Yunes’ designated representative, then Mansur and his family would be cleared of all wrongdoing in Mexico, and this lawsuit would be dismissed.”

A judge has ordered a bench trial this summer to resolve legal issues that still affect family properties. In court filings, Mansur’s lawyer said that as a result of the litigation his client has struggled to find employment, family companies have had difficulty finding buyers for real estate, and that “Mansur and members of his family have been asked to resign from certain positions of honor.”

“What’s really more damaging than anything is the notoriety,” said Mansur’s attorney, Dennis Sanchez, who is based in Brownsville. “Your name gets in the paper … because you’re being accused by the Mexican government of laundering illegally obtained funds. That sort of trashes your career if you’re clean.”

Sanchez said Mansur is a victim of the “shotgun approach” Buzbee and Veracruz took with the lawsuits.

In fact, as of April 15, 2022, nearly all of the people accused by Buzbee of money laundering for Duarte in Harris County had the claims against them dismissed.

By then, the only remaining claim was against one couple: José Antonio Bandín and his wife Mónica Babayan, who are also seeking dismissals of the cases against them, claiming there’s “no evidence” they or their companies were involved in laundering money for Duarte either.


At one time, José Antonio Bandín and his wife Mónica Babayan both lived in Texas and ran their businesses out of a virtual business space in a brick-and-glass office building surrounded by pine trees at 8350 Ashlane Way in The Woodlands—the home address for several virtual companies located in the airy suites. 

According to lawsuits and allegations made by Buzbee, the couple, who are originally from Mexico, met former Veracruz Governor Javier Duarte through a member of the Mansur family.

In 2012 and 2013, Bandín and Babayan established more than two dozen Texas limited liability companies or LLCs and bought properties listed under various company names, state records show. Most of their companies were named for the addresses of places they owned, like 18 Shallowford Place, LLC—named after a five-bedroom suburban home now worth more than $800,000, according to tax records.

In several of Buzbee’s civil lawsuits, the couple was listed as part of a web of co-conspirators who helped set up shell companies and enabled the ex-governor to launder millions: “After much investigative work, Veracruz authorities revealed a global conspiracy, spanning several continents, but based in Houston. This conspiracy involved hundreds of individuals and entities, all engaged in one purpose—the stealing of funds rightfully belonging to Veracruz and its people,” alleged one of four Texas lawsuits that named their LLCs or them as individuals.

That stolen money was then transferred to shell companies and “used to make investments and purchase luxury homes and cars all over the United States,” another of the Veracruz lawsuits against a different Texas group alleged.

By the summer of 2018, Babayan and Bandín had left behind their Texas real estate empire and abruptly relocated to Valencia, Spain—a sunny coastal city that, like Veracruz, is known for its oranges. U.S. judges don’t normally order depositions in foreign countries. But, based on rulings by a Texas judge, in August 2018 one of Buzbee’s associates, Christopher J. Leavitt, traveled to the Hotel Blu Radisson Prado in Madrid to meet with the couple and one of their attorneys, Jas Brar, also of Houston. After polite introductions were captured on videotape, Leavitt asked Bandín: “We’re taking this deposition in Spain, sir, because you have been indicted in Mexico, correct?”

Bandín’s response was terse: “I refuse to answer that question under the counsel of my lawyer, and I take the Fifth Amendment to protect my rights.”

In other questions, Leavitt painted a picture of the couple as major players who helped create shell companies for Duarte in both Mexico and in Texas that were then fed dirty money via fake invoices submitted to Veracruz state officials. 

Bandín kept supplying the same stock response: “I refuse to answer that question under the counsel of my lawyer, and I take the Fifth Amendment to protect my rights.”

Leavitt got the same answer when he asked whether the couple had met with Yunes in a hotel room in Mexico, negotiated a plea deal, and then agreed to return funds before moving to Valencia.

The couple still live in Valencia, but as the litigation dragged on for four years, their properties in Harris and Montgomery Counties—homes and office suites that today are worth millions of dollars—have been essentially frozen. In 2020, the pair made an offer to Buzbee to settle the case, court records show. But by then, Buzbee had fallen out of touch with his clients in Veracruz, and negotiations stalled, court records show. 

Despite claims and documents included in the civil lawsuits against the couple, attorney Murray Fogler, who is a partner with Brar at their Houston law firm, said his clients do not face charges related to money laundering either in the United State or in Mexico: “We’re not aware that there have been any charges filed anywhere against my clients.”

As of late April, it appeared likely that Buzbee’s lawsuit against them in Harris County would be dismissed. The efforts to recoup money on behalf of the state of Veracruz in Texas were falling apart.


As a result of the state’s electoral reforms, Yunes’ term as Veracruz governor lasted only two years. His son ran to succeed him for a full six-year term, but lost in July 2018 to a member of the populist party founded by Mexico’s current president, López Obrador. The new governor initially promised to continue the U.S. lawsuits, but, in 2021 and 2022, Buzbee had asked a judge in the remaining Houston cases to let him withdraw as counsel, citing a lack of communication and “fundamental differences” with the Veracruz government.

After his January 2021 interview with the Observer, Buzbee asked for time to respond to additional questions and provide information about the work he’d done on behalf of Veracruz and other Mexican states. Neither he nor Leavitt responded to follow-up emails or phone calls later in 2021 or in 2022.

Court records show he is no longer representing Veracruz in the cases that are still pending in Harris County. The claims against almost all the defendants Buzbee named in his Miami lawsuit on behalf of Veracruz have also been dismissed.

Meanwhile, Duarte remains in prison in Mexico, and Mexican officials continue to pursue criminal charges against his wife, Karime Macías Tubilla, who was arrested in 2019 in the United Kingdom. This year, a British senior district judge ruled in favor of her extradition based on evidence that Macías Tubillia helped her husband loot money from Veracruz’s National System for the Integral Development of Families (DIF) during the time that her husband was governor, and that she served in a largely honorific leadership role at DIF. That entity is “responsible for providing humanitarian aid to the poorest and most vulnerable members of the Veracruz community.” 

On February 17, 2022, the Crown Prosecution Service announced that “a suspected fraudster could be the first person extradited to Mexico from the U.K. after a court ruling thanks to the collaborative work between the two countries’ legal teams.” The U.K’s home secretary will determine the next move.

Meanwhile, there’s been more bad news on Mexico’s own attempts to recover money laundered domestically by Duarte and other associates. The federal government has kept control of the ranch in Mexico’s Valle del Bravo they seized, though Duarte has denied being the owner, but a Mexican judge ordered the government to return 40 other seized properties because Duarte’s money laundering conviction was not tied specifically to those other pieces of valuable real estate. 

The implosion of the civil lawsuits in the United States means the people of Veracruz have lost another chance to recover the billions of dollars stolen during the Duarte administration.

Similar lawsuits have stalled too.

In 2019, the Washington, D.C., law firm Lewis Baach Kaufmann Middlemiss filed lawsuits in Cameron and Hidalgo Counties on behalf of the state of Tamaulipas, and in Miami on behalf of Quintana Roo state. The lawsuits, which made allegations similar to those Buzbee made on behalf of Veracruz, have been dismissed.

Another lawsuit Buzbee filed in 2020 in El Paso on behalf of the state of Chihuahua in an attempt to recoup funds allegedly laundered by its former governor, César Duarte Jáquez, is on hold while an appeals court decides a jurisdictional issue. U.S. prosecutors have asked a judge to extradite Duarte Jáquez (no relation to Veracruz’s Javier Duarte de Ochoa) to Mexico to face corruption charges. But the U.S. hasn’t indicted Duarte Jáquez or seized property that Chihuahua’s government says he bought in Texas, New Mexico, and Florida. 

The 2021 Florida lawsuit filed on behalf of the Mexican federal government is the only money laundering case that seems to be moving forward. In that case, a private attorney filed suit in a Florida state court against former federal Public Security Secretary Genaro García Luna, who is accused of laundering more than $250 million in stolen public funds. The Justice Department is separately prosecuting García Luna on drug trafficking charges. 

Even in 2021 and 2022, as Buzbee began to request to exit from the litigation involving Veracruz, he never backed away from claims that Javier Duarte had carried out a $3 billion swindle, that the “global conspiracy” to hide the stolen money had been “centered here in Houston, Texas,” and that the money stolen by Duarte rightfully belongs to the people of the State of Veracruz,“ court records show.

But in April 2022, as he asked in a hearing to be allowed to withdraw as Veracruz’s legal representative in his last major Harris County case. Buzbee has admitted he hadn’t been in contact with his client for over a year, court records show. It’s unclear if Buzbee, working for four years on this legal quest, made or lost money, since not all information on his efforts is public. In another Veracruz lawsuit, he cited “fundamental differences that exist between counsel and Plaintiff. These fundamental differences are protected by attorney-client privilege. At this time, there is no attorney to be substituted.” 

This story is part of Reporting the Border, a project of the International Center for Journalists in partnership with the Border Center for Journalists and Bloggers. It was produced in partnership with Type Investigations.