Symington Family Partner Under Suspicion

U.S. authorities suspect a Mexican vegetable grower with business ties to the Symingtons is involved in drug trafficking

The congressional staffer says he was told by the visa officer at the U.S. Consulate in Hermosillo that Symington's office had made calls to the consulate concerning Canelos. Officials at the consulate declined to comment.

The staffer also says he was told Canelos reapplied for a 10-year visa on March 11.

Alejandro Canelos is the son of a Greek immigrant who illegally entered the United States and was deported to Mexico, where he built a produce fortune from scratch. The Canelos family operates a vast farming empire with properties in the Mexican states of Sinaloa, Sonora and Baja California.

The Caneloses' main company, Grupo Agricola Canelos, is based in the violent and drug-plagued city of Culiacan, located on Mexico's fertile western plains between the Sierra Madre and the Sea of Cortez. The city is the capital of Sinaloa and is a major warehousing and distribution center for narcotics smuggled into the United States.

Custom Service officials declined to discuss Canelos' operations--his trucking company, which hauls produce more than 1,000 miles to the U.S. border, and G.A.C. Produce, his distribution warehouse located in Nogales, Arizona.

The size of Canelos' trucking fleet, said to number more than 300, and the lengthy transit trucks must make from Sinaloa to the U.S. border make it possible that people may be loading drugs onto his trucks without his knowledge.

Federal sources indicate that the Custom Service has inspected Canelos' warehouses in Nogales and San Diego and temporarily impounded a jet aircraft belonging to the Canelos family after a hidden compartment was discovered in the craft. The dates of the inspections and aircraft impoundment were not known, and no illegal items were discovered, one of the sources says.

Rudy Cole, the U.S. Customs Service's Nogales port director, says Mexican truckers who are involved in narcotics shipping typically haul drugs to towns just south of the international border.

Once the narcotics reach Mexican-border towns, the drugs generally are removed from trucks and smuggled across the border via other means, including foot traffic, automobiles, horseback and commercial trucks, Cole says. After crossing the border, U.S. commercial trucks are occasionally used to transport the drugs to their U.S. destination.

Revelations that members of the Symington family are in business with a suspected narcotics trafficker come at a time when Governor Symington is lobbying Congress on drug issues. Symington has fought congressional efforts to penalize Mexico for that country's notorious government corruption in the war on drugs.

Last week, Symington traveled to Washington, D.C., and met with House Speaker Newt Gingrich and other key House members.

"I was giving my regional point of view as a governor who works with Mexico very closely in the Southwest. I said, 'What good would come from it [decertification]?' Mexico cooperates with us on a whole range of issues, including the drug war," Symington was quoted as saying.

The House, however, voted to give Mexico 90 days to begin fully cooperating with the United States on the drug war--or face decertification. The Senate is considering the bill this week.

Canelos is the second prominent Mexican with ties to Symington who has faced allegations of drug trafficking.

U.S. intelligence reports reportedly say that Sonoran Governor Manlio Fabio Beltrones attended meetings where drug lords paid off politicians who were protecting their operations.

Beltrones is a close friend and political ally of Symington's; the Arizona governor vigorously defended Beltrones after a story describing Beltrones' alleged narcotics ties appeared in the New York Times.

"It's not going to change our relationship," Symington told reporters.
Beltrones has denied being involved with Mexican drug figures and is suing the New York Times in Mexican courts.

If allegations against Beltrones and Canelos are true, Symington's association with the men would contradict his professed views on the importance of fighting the drug war.

"There are those today across the country, including some conservative Republican voices, who are saying that we're never going to win the drug war, and a lot of people are frustrated by where we are and the resources that have been expended," Symington said in December.

"I happen to disagree with them about that. I think we need to make a moral stand. It's an important battle to fight for our children, and I would fight it even if somebody told me we were going to lose it because I think the outcome is entirely unsatisfactory."

Yet such rhetoric comes at a time when the Arizona Department of Public Safety--whose director is appointed by Symington--is significantly scaling back its drug-enforcement efforts.

Critics contend that the governor has politicized the state police agency with his controversial appointments of administrators with strong personal ties to Symington. Undercover DPS narcotics agents tell New Times there has been little funding for months to purchase drugs and pay informants.

DPS Lieutenant Colonel Charles Warner has confirmed that funds are scarce and that narcotics officers are using other methods to do their work.

DPS also is eliminating its asset-forfeiture unit, which generated millions of dollars for narcotics enforcement, including undercover officers' drug purchases. Asset-seizure responsibilities will be transferred to the Maricopa County Attorney's Office.

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