U.S. consul's cable paints dark picture of Hank Rhon

Confidential cable was released by WikiLeaks

TIJUANA – One person who should not have been surprised that Jorge Hank Rhon was detained Saturday was the former U.S. consul here.

On July 8, 2009, then Consul General Ronald Kramer wrote a confidential cable to the U.S. Secretary of State that said the grounds of the Agua Caliente racetrack, owned by Hank Rhon, were still "secure havens for organized crime on the border."

The cable is part of a cache of 250,000 classified diplomatic communications from embassies and consulates around the globe obtained by WikiLeaks and released to news organizations. The cables offer the candid assessments of U.S. diplomats working in some of the world's hot spots. This cable was one of several released to the Mexico City daily newspaper La Jornada, which published news about them last month.

Hank Rhon and ten other men were arrested around dawn on Saturday by a team of soldiers and federal agents who burst into his exclusive mansion, located on the racetrack grounds.

The team seized 40 rifles, 48 guns, nearly 10,000 rounds of ammunition, 70 chargers and a gas grenade at the house, according to Mexico's Attorney General's Office, known as the PGR.

Hank Rhon's attorney, Oscar Téllez, said his client was flown Saturday night to Mexico City, where he faces charges that he violated federal weapons and explosive law, which does not permit bail. The PGR has not commented on the case, other than to announce the detention.

Kramer's cable was titled "Law enforcement high jinks in TJ: how narcotraffickers evade authorities."

He wrote that despite impressive actions by Mexican law enforcement against organized crime, drug traffickers could still ply their trade. And he cited one example that involved the Caliente Casino, and its owner.

"Hank is widely believed to have been a corrupt mayor and to be still involved in narco-trafficking," he wrote.

Kramer wrote about an incident he said occurred on June 30, 2009, when a U.S. citizen (not named) went to the U.S. consulate to renew his passport. He said that the U.S. security staff discovered that he had an arrest warrant in the United States for drug trafficking.

The consulate immediately alerted the State Preventive Police, known as PEP, so the man could be arrested after he left the consulate. He wrote that state agents arrived in an unmarked car and waited for the man to leave the consular building.

When he left, he got into a Crown Victoria, with two armed guards, he wrote. The vehicle took off at top speed driving directly to the parking area of the Agua Caliente racetrack, located in front of the consulate, the cable said.

"It's unclear if the bodyguards inside the Crown Victoria were policemen offering protection to the subject or part of Hank's security apparatus, but the Crown Victoria is a typical car used by policemen who provide protection for drug traffickers or government officials," the cable said.

"As soon as the vehicle entered the racetrack, the PEP forces stopped their (half-hearted) pursuit and told (the consulate) that they 'could not enter' the racetrack.

And that was that," the cable said.

Kramer lamented that the local authorities did not have the will to challenge Hank Rhon.

"Despite Hank's political defeat in the 2007 Baja California gubernatorial race, he still enjoys wide influence in Tijuana, and state law enforcement officials appear unwilling to meddle on areas considered his turf," the cable said.

Hank Rhon was mayor of Tijuana from 2004 to 2007. He took a leave in the last year of his term to run for governor, a race he lost to José Guadalupe Osuna, who still holds the state's top job.

The cable ended with information about another incident.

"This is not the first time law enforcement agencies from outside Tijuana have rubbed up against Hank," the cable concluded. "Just a month ago, Mexican military forces were involved in a standoff with local security at Hank's racetrack. There are still plenty of safe havens for organized crime in the border region."

SanDiegoRed.com asked the U.S. consulate in Tijuana about this cable and others related to that office. A spokeswoman, Lorena Blanco, responded, "The U.S. State Department does not comment about materials, including classified documents that may have been leaked."

For months, SanDiegoRed.com has requested an interview with Hank Rhon. A spokesperson for his firm has responded that he was not available for interviews.

María Elvia Amaya de Hank spoke Sunday about the raid on her home. David Maung/SanDiegoRed.com



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