MCALLEN, Texas (Reuters) - U.S. authorities seized $2.2 million from a bank account they said was controlled by a former Mexican official-turned-fugitive who is accused of stealing public funds in a scheme that involved hundreds of millions of dollars in fraudulent bank loans, according to court papers released Wednesday.
Federal authorities seized the money from the Bermuda bank account believed to have been controlled by Hector Javier Villarreal Hernandez, a former finance secretary in Mexico’s Coahuila state on the border with Texas.
He is wanted by authorities in a criminal case in Mexico, Kenneth Magidson, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Texas, said in a statement.
Hernandez siphoned the money from fraudulent bank loans issued to Coahuila into a Brownsville, Texas, bank account before transferring the money to the account in Bermuda, according to a civil forfeiture complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Corpus Christi, Texas.
Activity in Hernandez’s bank account has included more than $3.9 million in deposits and more than $1.9 million in withdrawals that went to purchase real estate in Texas, the court filing said.
Hernandez’s salary as Coahuila’s finance secretary was about $100,000 per year, the complaint states.
“(Hernandez) laundered these ill-gotten gains from the state of Coahuila with the assistance of family members, including his wife,” the complaint said.
Hernandez’s relatives are accused of opening the U.S. bank accounts, establishing businesses and buying real estate in the names of those companies in San Antonio, Brownsville and South Padre Island, Texas, the complaint states.
Beyond his family, authorities say Hernandez’s mistress opened a bank account on his behalf in Texas linked to the alleged money laundering.
Hernandez served as finance secretary in Coahuila between June 2008 and August 2011, when he resigned and the Mexican government began an investigation into $246 million in fraudulent loans he obtained through forged state documents under his direction, Magidson said.
Hernandez, who had full authority over where the loan money was dispersed, funneled as much as $35 million into bank accounts in the United States, the complaint states.
A judge in Coahuila charged him in the case in October 2011, when he was arrested and released on bond. He later fled and remains a fugitive wanted in Mexico.
Mexican investigators found Hernandez obtained the $246 million from three fraudulent loans from two Mexican banks between July 2010 and March 2011, the complaint states.
Hernandez worked with Mexican treasury officials, alleged to be co-conspirators in the case, to falsify the bank loan contracts making the money available to the state of Coahuila, the complaint states.
Attempts to reach Hernandez’s lawyers were unsuccessful.
Hernandez is not the first Mexican official to face the U.S. government seizing assets in money laundering cases.
Tomas Yarrington, the former governor of Tamaulipas, which borders Coahuila and Texas, had a condominium on South Padre Island seized by the U.S. government after investigators said he purchased the property with bribes from Mexico’s Gulf Cartel. Yarrington remains a fugitive wanted in Mexico.
Editing by Edith Honan, Kevin Gray, Tim Dobbyn and Jackie Frank