The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration has released records revealing that a company controlled by a business partner of Governor J. Fife Symington III's family has been under scrutiny by the agency for more than two decades.
The company, GAC Produce Company, Inc., is controlled by Alejandro Canelos Rodriguez, a Culiacan, Mexico, agriculturalist who operates one of the largest produce growing and distribution companies in Mexico. GAC Produce is one of the oldest and largest shippers of fresh tomatoes through Nogales.
The Canelos family has significant business and personal ties to the Symingtons. Symington's wife, Ann, has invested between $25,000 and $100,000 in Melones Internacional SA de CV, a Mexican corporation headed by Canelos.
A "J. Fife Symington" is also on the board of directors of Melones Internacional, incorporation documents show. The governor's attorney says the board member is the governor's eldest son, J. Fife IV, but has provided no documents to support the statement.
The governor's son and Canelos' son, Alejandro Nicolas Canelos, are partners in at least two Arizona corporations; they were roommates when both attended Harvard University.
The documents released by the DEA were heavily censored. None of the information released specifies that any illegal activity or evidence was detected.
The DEA released portions of a nine-page, August 26, 1994, investigative report showing that someone used a GAC Produce telephone to call an unidentified phone number that "is being used to coordinate the financing and distribution of narcotics." The GAC Produce number identified in the DEA report is the main switchboard number for the company.
DEA records also show that GAC Produce was raided by a multiagency task force on November 3, 1995. The company agreed in writing to the inspection, which included dogs trained to detect drugs. No drugs were found during the inspection, according to the DEA report, which is classified under the heading "Major Traffickers."
The DEA also released portions of two other investigative reports. A report dated August 5, 1974, indicates that an unidentified person could be contacted at a public telephone located at GAC Produce Company. The public telephone number has been disconnected.
The agency also prepared a nine-page investigative report on GAC Produce on January 27, 1994. DEA released four heavily redacted pages of the report to New Times. The material that was not censored lists only general information about GAC Produce.
Canelos also has been under scrutiny by the U.S. Customs Service, which in 1990 seized an aircraft owned by a company in which Canelos is an investor. The jet was released after nothing suspicious was found on the plane.
Investigations by federal agencies have resulted in delays, restrictions and denials of Canelos' requests for visas to enter the United States. Government sources tell New Times that the DEA asked the U.S. consul in Hermosillo, Mexico, in 1995 to restrict Canelos' entry into the United States.
On June 22, 1995, the Hermosillo consul issued Canelos a restricted three-month visa allowing a single entry into the United States. When that visa expired, a six-month, unlimited-entry visa was issued to Canelos on November 29, 1995. The six-month, unlimited-entry visa was renewed in June 1996.
Canelos attempted to obtain a standard 10-year visa in December 1996, but the State Department denied his request, records from that agency show. A congressional source tells New Times that DEA officials in Mexico did not want the State Department to issue Canelos a long-term visa.
Sources also say someone from Governor Symington's office has repeatedly contacted the U.S. consul in Hermosillo on Canelos' behalf, urging the consul to issue Canelos a standard 10-year visa. Officials from Senator John McCain's office also contacted the State Department on behalf of Canelos. A federal source says McCain made no further inquiry after being told that Canelos and his companies were being monitored by the DEA and Customs Service.
McCain's spokeswoman, Nancy Ives, confirms that the senator's office made a single inquiry to the State Department on March 21, 1995, after Canelos' son asked McCain's office to determine why his father's visa was not renewed.
Canelos applied for a 10-year visa in March and, once again, his request was denied. Instead, the consul issued Canelos a one-year visa.
Canelos' attorney, John Dowd, says Canelos was denied a 10-year visa in March because Sandra Salmon, the U.S. consul in Hermosillo, "mistakenly concluded that Mr. Canelos owned" the aircraft seized by Customs in 1990.
Salmon, however, tells New Times she issued the more restrictive visa because the State Department was still attempting to verify information Canelos has provided to the consul. Salmon says she has reviewed information compiled on Canelos from several government sources she declined to identify.
"I took all the information under consideration, and that's why I limited the visa to that 12-month period for right now," Salmon says.
Canelos has denied being involved in narcotics trafficking and has demanded New Times retract a March 20 story that revealed his troubles getting visas and disclosed that federal agencies suspected that he was involved in drug trafficking.
Editor Jeremy Voas says New Times stands by the March 20 story ("Symington Family Partner Under Suspicion") and an April 17 story ("Visa Granted") about Canelos.
Dowd, who is representing Symington in his federal criminal trial set to begin on May 13, says New Times incorrectly reported that Canelos could not enter the United States in October 1995 when Symington traveled to Culiacan on a state trade mission and held a private meeting with Canelos.
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"Your allegation that Governor Symington traveled to Mexico in October 1995 to meet with Mr. Canelos because Mr. Canelos could not enter the United States is absolutely false," Dowd states in an April 15 letter to New Times. "As the holder of a valid visa, Mr. Canelos was perfectly free to enter the United States."
The State Department says Dowd is mistaken. A spokeswoman says Canelos did not have a visa in October 1995. Canelos' three-month, one-entry visa expired on September 22, 1995. He was not reissued a new visa until November 29, 1995.
The governor's visit with Canelos at his Culiacan farm came less than two months after a "J. Fife Symington" joined Canelos on the board of directors of Melones Internacional. The governor flew to Culiacan on the Arizona Department of Public Safety's turbojet plane.
Accompanying the governor were his son, J. Fife IV, and Canelos' son, Alejandro Nicolas Canelos. The state bore expenses for the younger Symington and Canelos even though they were not on state business.