Legendary Mexican soccer player Rafael Marquez Alvarez and a well-known band leader are among 22 people sanctioned for alleged ties to a drug trafficking organization, the U.S. Treasury Department announced Wednesday.
The sanctions are the result of a multi-year investigation of the drug trafficking organization allegedly headed by Raul Flores Hernandez, the department said in a statement.
It will also sanction 43 entities in Mexico, including a soccer team and casino.
It is the single largest such designation of a drug trafficking organization ever by its Office of Foreign Assets Control, the statement said.
Marquez, 38, is a former defender for Barcelona, Monaco and New York Red Bulls who currently plays for the Mexican soccer club Atlas in Guadalajara and is captain of the Mexican national team. He did not practice with Atlas on Wednesday.
Messages left for Marquez’s agent, Enrique Nieto, seeking comment were not immediately answered.
Flores Hernandez allegedly operated independently in the northern city of Guadalajara but maintained alliances with the Sinaloa and Jalisco New Generation cartels. According to federal court records, Flores Hernandez was arrested July 20 and is pending extradition.
Mike Vigil, former chief of international operations for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and author of the book “Deal,” said Flores Hernandez has been in the business since the 1980s.
“He is extraordinarily crafty in the way he strategizes and the way that he navigates between cartels,” Vigil said.
But, the former agent added, Flores Hernandez has remained a mid-level drug trafficker, never forming what one would call a cartel, and of late had aligned himself with Nemesio Oceguera of Jalisco New Generation.
Vigil said Flores Hernandez had a real talent for laundering drug proceeds by setting up front companies. He said it would be difficult to imagine Marquez didn’t know who he was dealing with because Flores Hernandez has been around for so long.
Drug traffickers have long been interested in soccer stars and musicians, Vigil said.
The Mexican Attorney General’s Office also seized related assets Wednesday, including the Grand Casino near Guadalajara, according to the U.S. statement. That office did not respond to a request for comment.
“Raul Flores Hernandez has operated for decades because of his longstanding relationships with other drug cartels and his use of financial front persons to mask his investments of illegal drug…