Family of Mexican Casino Kingpin Donated to Obama Campaign

The relatives of a Mexican casino kingpin, who is accused of a range of crimes from drug trafficking, murder, to running a luxury car theft ring, donated more than $200,000 to President Obama’s political campaign, reports the New York Times.

Juan Jose Rojas Cardona, known as “Pepe,” is one of the largest casino operators in Monterrey, Mexico. He is wanted on fraud charges inside the US; he also pleaded guilty to smuggling marijuana in 1994, but fled to Mexico before serving his prison sentence. According to the Times, his two brothers, Alberto and Carlos, both based in Chicago, donated $30,800 each to the Democratic National Committee; another two relatives donated an additional $25,600. The brothers also reportedly raised at least another $100,000 from other donors outside the family.

An Obama campaign official told the Times that all the contributions will be returned. There are no records of any direct donations from Juan Jose Cardona himself.

InSight Crime Analysis

The Mexico gambling industry is permeated by organized crime, as casinos are a useful outlet for laundering dirty cash. And Juan Jose Cardona is one of the most public faces of the industry. A cover story by Proceso magazine last year labeled him the “Czar of gambling.” According to a 2009 US State Department cable, Juan Jose and his brother Arturo were behind the assasination of a rival strip club and casino magnate, in order to consolidate their control of the business in Monterrey.

The cable also states that Cardona and his brother Arturo have “close ties to the Beltran-Leyva Cartel.” The brothers’ support from National Action Party (PAN) politicians created a “self-protective triangle” which allowed them to run their casinos in Monterrey, traditionally Gulf Cartel territory, the cable adds.

Given these accusations, as well as Juan Jose Cardona’s status as a wanted felon, the Obama campaign made a politically sound move when they chose to return the donations before the Times published the report. Even though there is no indication that any of the contributions were dirty cash, according to the Times article, the associations with Cardona cast too dark of a shadow over what may have been well-intentioned donations from his US-based family members.

But while there is no evidence that Pepe Cardona was a donator to political campaigns in the US, Mexico is a different story. As Proceso reported, in elections past Carona was the financial backer of several PAN and Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) politicians. This includes Monterrey’s former mayor Adalberto Madero, arrested in 2011 for accepting monthly bribe payments from Casino Royal, where 52 people died in an attack by the Zetas last year.

A version of this article appeared on the Pan-American Post.