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story.lead_photo.caption FILE - In this Sept. 16, 2016 file photo, Defense Secretary Gen. Salvador Cienfuegos, left, and Mexico's President Enrique Pena Nieto, salute during the annual Independence Day military parade in Mexico City's main square. Mexico's top diplomat says the country's former defense secretary, Gen. Salvador Cienfuegos, has been arrested in Los Angeles. Foreign Relations Secretary Marcelo Ebrard wrote Thursday, Oct. 15, 2020 in his Twitter account that U.S. Ambassador Christopher Landau had informed him of Cienfuegos' arrest. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell, File)

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Mexico's former defense secretary helped smuggle thousands of kilograms of cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine and marijuana into the United States in exchange for bribes, according to court documents unsealed Friday.

Gen. Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda, 72, acted on behalf of the H-2 cartel while defense secretary from 2012-18 under former President Enrique Pena Nieto, authorities said.

Thousands of intercepted Blackberry messages show the general ensured military operations were not conducted against the cartel, and operations were initiated against rivals, according to prosecutors. Cienfuegos allegedly introduced cartel leaders to other corrupt Mexican officials.

Cienfuegos is also accused of alerting cartel leaders to a U.S. law enforcement investigation into its operations and the use of cooperating witnesses and informants, which resulted in the murder of a member of the cartel that leaders incorrectly believed was assisting U.S. law enforcement authorities.

Intercepted communications between Cienfuegos and a senior cartel leader discussed the general's historical assistance to another drug trafficking organization, as well as communications in which the defendant is identified by name, title and photograph as the Mexican government official assisting the H-2 cartel, authorities said.

Mexico authorities don't identify any drug cartel as H-2, which, according to U.S. officials, was led by Juan Francisco Patrn Snchez. Instead, Mexican officials alleged Patrn Snchez was a regional leader of the Beltrn Leyva drug cartel. He was killed in 2017 in a shootout with Mexican marines.

U.S. authorities said in court documents the cartel had numerous distribution cells in the U.S. when Cienfuegos led the Mexican military, including Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Ohio, Minnesota, North Carolina and New York.

In Mexico, the cartel is accused of trafficking hundreds of firearms and committing "countless acts of horrific violence, including torture and murder, in order to protect against challenges from rival drug trafficking organizations, fight for territory and silence those who would cooperate with law enforcement."

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