Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Mexican Cops Kidnap LDS Mother Yanira Maldonado, Accuse Her Of Smuggling 12 Pounds Of Marijuana; Judge Releases Her After Reviewing Security Video Exonerating Her

The use of the term "kidnap" is justified by the fact that I consider Mexico to be a kleptocracy and assume every Mexican cop and public official is on the take until they prove otherwise. The massive immigration of Mexicans to the United States is not driven solely by economics. This post represents a composite of stories from KSAZ Channel 10 in Phoenix, the New York Daily News, and KNXV Channel 15 in Phoenix, and CNN. The story has gone international, with the Daily Mail picking it up. Update May 30th: A judge released Yanira Maldonado after viewing security footage which showed she and her husband did not carry the drugs aboard the bus.

Screenshot of the Maldonados
On May 22nd, 2013, Gary and Yanira Maldonado, who head up a family of seven kids from Goodyear, Arizona, traveled to Mexico to attend the funeral of Yanira's aunt. They were on their way back to Phoenix when the Tufesa bus they took was stopped at a checkpoint near Hermosillo. Mexican federales searched the bus and claim they found drugs under a seat that the Mormon couple was sitting in. Initially, the federales accused Gary of possessing the drugs. But after Gary contacted his father Larry Maldonado, who in turn contacted the U.S. Consulate in Hermosillo, the federales changed their minds and charged Yanira instead, claiming the pot was under her seat. The bus driver was briefly detained, but released. Yanira was taken to a women's prison in Nogales. Her interrogation included putting her in a non-air-conditioned room and waking her up several times in the middle of night to get her to sign documents that she said she couldn't read. At one point a Mexican attorney suggested that Gary Maldonado offer cash to the police, but when he raised $5,000 to hand over to a judge as a bribe, the money was refused, with the judge allegedly saying "Oh, it's not about the money anymore".

Yanira Maldonado appeared in court on May 28th in what can be described as a preliminary hearing. The hearing will continue of May 29th, when Yanira's husband Gary is expected to testify and say his 42-year-old wife, who is a U.S. citizen of 17 years, a devout Mormon and mother, had nothing to do with the marijuana allegedly found on the bus. The cops who claim they found the marijuana are also expected to testify. A final resolution is expected by Friday May 31st at the latest; the judge could either release her or send her to a prison in southern Mexico for four months until an actual criminal trial.

Update May 29th: During Day Two of the preliminary hearing, Yanira Maldonado's lawyer Francisco Benitez Paz argued that soldiers had presented inconsistent testimony about two packages of marijuana that they had recovered, with some saying both were found under his client's seat and others saying they were found under two separate seats. Benitez described the packets of drugs as attached to the seat bottoms with metal hooks, a task that would have been impossible for a passenger boarding normally as Yanira Maldonado did. Benitez also said he had requested a list of the bus passengers and video of the passengers boarding to show she was not in possession of drugs. He presented letters from people he described as prominent American officials vouching for Yanira Maldonado's character and said he was awaiting financial information proving she would have no need to earn cash smuggling drugs. In response, Mexican officials provided local media with photos that they said were of the packages Maldonado is accused of smuggling. Each was about 5 inches high and 20 inches wide, roughly the width of a bus seat. The marijuana was packed into plastic bags and wrapped in tan packing tape.

Update May 30th: Good news! After court officials reviewed security footage that showed Yanira Maldonado and her husband boarding a bus in Mexico with only blankets, bottles of water and her purse in hand, the judge determined that she was no longer a suspect and all allegations against her were dropped. She spoke briefly to reporters clustered outside the jail, saying she thanks God, her husband and her lawyer. With that she and her husband walked hand in hand to a waiting car, departing for the U.S. border several miles away. While there's no indication she's been barred from ever returning to Mexico, Yanira said on May 29th that it's unlikely she'll ever return back to Mexico after she is released.

The Maldonado family vociferously denies that Yanira had anything to do with the drugs. There are witnesses who saw them board the bus without packages, and this is allegedly backed up by video. An unnamed Mexican official from the state of Sonora also thinks Yanira Maldonado was set up, telling CNN "A passenger by himself or herself would have been unable to carry almost six kilos of marijuana onto a bus without being noticed. She must've been framed." The local LDS network has mobilized in support of the Maldonados; church leaders at the state and local level have offered spiritual and material support to the family. A Facebook page (must log in to read) founded to support Yanira Maldonado had garnered more than 12,500 members as of Tuesday afternoon, many of whom are fellow Mormons. A number have offered to connect the Maldonados with Mormon leaders in Mexico or media in the United States. Some in the Facebook group said that they are refraining from eating and drinking for a day on the family's behalf.

Arizona U.S. Senator Jeff Flake, who is also LDS, is involved; a statement from his office says that he is personally monitoring the situation and has had multiple conversations with the deputy Mexican ambassador. U.S. Senator John McCain has also taken an interest. In response, the Mexican embassy said, "Mrs. Maldonado's rights to a defense counsel and due process are being observed. As the process is ongoing and a preliminary decision by the judge is due soon, no further comments will be made at this time."

Another reason to be concerned is because some American LDS members are required to go to Mexico to perform temple ordinances. The members of the El Paso Texas Stake and the El Paso Mount Franklin Texas Stake are assigned to the Ciudad Juárez México Temple District. This means they are required to go to Mexico to do temple work. While there have been no recorded instances of problems, Church leaders should allow the members of the two American stakes to go to an American temple if they so desire for personal peace of mind. A sampling of pertinent comments from the news websites (after the jump):

KathleenHanlon May 28th (KNXV): There is no rule of law in Mexico. The people leave to escape it, come here illegally, pray on Americans, steal our SS#, work but pay no taxes, use our services and spread the very thing that they sought to escape. They parade and camp out to get rid of Sheriff Joe who enforces our laws. They bring this garbage into my country and you expect me to stand by and agree just because you will call me a racist if I don't. Good luck with that. Deport them before this mess becomes what we have to live in.

James B. posted 8 hours ago (KSL): Since when has Mexico ever been concerned about drug smuggling? It's obvious, much of the Mexican military, police and politicians are as crooked as a dog's hind leg. They harass a busload of tourists--try to frame a young mother with no criminal background, of possession of marijuana--yet they turn a blind eye to the manufacture and distribution of drugs in their country and smuggling of drugs across the border into the U.S.?

Lloyd S. posted 5 hours ago (KSL): And people wonder why the Mexican people just won't stay in Mexico instead of wanting and trying to come to the United States. This incident may open the eyes of some.

getumout posted 5 hours ago (KSL): We lived in Bisbee, Az. for a couple of years. Around 50% of the people there were Latino. You would be hard pressed to find more honest, hardworking people anywere. 6 miles away was Sonora, Mx. It was a different world. Every little hamlet was controlled by the strongest. They have no clue between right and wrong. A large percentage of the people in Bisbee are LDS. Like the man said, it would be hard, if not impossible to smuggle that much pot onto a public buss without being noticed. Abby Candace • 15 hours ago (CNN):

It may not necessarily be the "corrupt" cops. I recently saw a documentary on what appears to be a new trend in Mexico -- The use of "unknowing" mules. Drug dealers break into cars of US citizens who fit an "honest, clean-looking" profile and stash their drugs along with a GPS. Once they cross the Mexico-US border, their local counterpart track down the vehicle and steal it to get their drugs. On this case, they may have broken into the bus or paid off the driver to take a long coffee break. However, I put much blame on their local police intel. Being aware of this ongoing trend, they should have let it go at the border, contacted DEA to monitor bus once emptied and they would had apprehended drug dealers on our side whom most likely would have provided intel on the other side. 20 guilty parties could have been arrested instead of a possible innocent one.

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