Port Isabel, Texas — The former governor of the Mexican state of Tamaulipas, and former candidate for the office of president of Mexico, entered a guilty plea Thursday for accepting more than $3.5 million in illegal bribe money that he used fraudulently to purchase property in the United States.
Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) special agents assigned to the Brownsville office assisted by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the IRS’s Criminal Investigations Division (IRS-CID) and the FBI investigated this case.
Tomas Yarrington Ruvalcaba, 64, who has been in federal custody since 2018, pleaded guilty in U.S. district court. He admitted to conspiracy to commit money laundering in a pay-to-play type of scheme.
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As part of the plea, Yarrington admitted he accepted bribes from individuals and private companies in Mexico to do business with the state of Tamaulipas while he served as governor. Yarrington was in that position from 1999 to 2005 and was an Institutional Revolutionary Party candidate for president of Mexico in 2005. Yarrington used the bribery money he received while governor to purchase properties in the United States. He had prestanombres – nominee buyers – purchase property in the United States to hide his ownership and the illegal bribery money used to purchase them.
According to court documents, Yarrington admitted one of the illegally purchased properties was a condominium in Port Isabel, Texas. He also acknowledged he knew it was against the law in Mexico to take the bribes and to hide the more than $3.5 million in illegal bribe money in the United States by buying real estate, cars and other personal items.
Yarrington faces up to 20 years in federal prison. He has also agreed to forfeit the Port Isabel condominium. A date for his sentencing has not been set yet.
In April 2017, authorities captured Yarrington in Italy while traveling under an assumed name and false passport and other identification documents. He was taken into custody on a provisional arrest warrant based on a Houston indictment returned in May 2013. Although Yarrington contested extradition, Italian authorities eventually authorized his extradition to the United States. He arrived in April 2018 and has remained in federal custody since then.
HSI led the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) operation dubbed Operation Green Tide. The Texas Attorney General’s Office as well as federal agents and officers in Brownsville, San Antonio, Houston, Corpus Christi and New York assisted in the investigation. The Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs handled the extradition in this case.
The U.S. government also acknowledges with gratitude the significant assistance received from the government of Mexico in the course of this investigation. Additionally, the United States acknowledges the assistance of the U.S. Marshals Service, HSI-Rome, HSI-Mexico City, the Italian Ministry of the Interior, specifically Interpol-Rome and the Central Operations Service of the Italian National Police, and the Italian Ministry of Justice in Yarrington’s extradition.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Julie K. Hampton, Jody Young, Karen Betancourt and Jon Muschenheim, with the Southern District of Texas, are prosecuting the case.
HSI is a directorate of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the principal investigative arm of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), responsible for investigating transnational crime and threats, specifically those criminal organizations that exploit the global infrastructure through which international trade, travel, and finance move. HSI’s workforce of over 10,400 employees consists of more than 7,100 Special Agents assigned to 220 cities throughout the United States, and 80 overseas locations in 53 countries. HSI’s international presence represents DHS’s largest investigative law enforcement presence abroad and one of the largest international footprints in U.S. law enforcement.