Florence Cassez, the truth kidnapped (translation from Nexos : La Verdad Secuestrada)

Nexos
Florence Cassez, the truth kidnapped

Translation

Original version : click here

Criminal charges against Florence Cassez – one of the most famous cases the Mexican justice had to handle recently- fill up thirteen volumes and thousands of pages. Nexos has had access to the entirety of the Cassez file. Héctor de Mauleon read them in search of the true story, trying to make sense of the facts.

After two months of studies, after reading and re-reading these files bursting with contradictory testimonies, after identifying crucial testimonies either forgotten or that were denied serious scrutiny by the judge each step of the way, Héctor de Mauleon’s story is not the chronicle of a criminal case but rather the metaphor of the blatant flimsiness of an accusation system which looks like a canvass of contradictions.

All that is said in these files could be true but most of it is contradictory notwithstanding. The whole thing is either truth marred with suspicious elements or lies prompting indignation.

What ultimately transpire are the systematic maneuvering, the total impunity in dealing with witnesses and defendants, and the use of media so that it spread an ad-hoc version of the facts.

Don’t expect from these pages to read the story of what happened.  You will only find a construction of half-truths and lies -delivered without witnesses- reinforcing each other, which the Mexican process of investigation and accusation generates.

The files of the trial do not allow you to know if Florence Cassez is guilty or innocent, if victims have been really kidnapped or if they have told the truth in their first, second or third statements. We cannot even figure out if the criminal organization, whose charges brought against Cassez depend upon, did exist or not, although it is clear that the kernel of this group is actually free, that there were victims and tormentors and moreover, that these very tormentors have often been investigators acting in the background, torturing and forcing statements, disguising the facts and staging them for the media.

The following is not the story of a kidnapping and the investigation of this kidnapping, but a story of an investigation that does not shed light on the truth of the files but on a truth that has been worked on – in other words, a “kidnapped” truth.

Valeria

 

Starting point: A kidnapping that took place in August 31, 2005, in a southern neighborhood of Mexico City. Valeria was driving to school when two men, on board of a “seemingly” white Volvo, cut her off, broke her windows and took the driving seat.  They drove a few blocks then put her in a van without windows and hid her under a blanket.

–   “How much would your mother pay to set you free?” they asked.

Valeria later remembered that the van had passed a few curves. Ten or fifteen minutes later, they pulled her out of the van, blindfolded her and sat her down on a chair. Then they asked her about the assets of her mother, who owns a textile mill. The man in charge of the whole operation asked her to call him “Humberto”, and he assessed she was worth 5 millions pesos (300,000 euros).

The very day of the kidnapping, around 9:00 pm, the special police force against organized crime – SIEDO- was recording the following conversation:

Humberto: Please relax Mam.

– Pardon?

– Try to calm down, to breathe, to slow your heartbeat down. Tell me, what happened? Why didn’t you get back to us sooner?

-I did what I could. I want to do my best, but this amount is beyond my reach. I come from a working class family.

-I am listening to you. We spoke to your daughter. She told us that you were going through hard times. We understand but don’t try to fool us.

-No.

– I don’t want to have to come to the point where I will have to threaten your daughter. You have to believe me. It turns out we have your daughter. If you were to do anything contrary to what we are asking you to…

– Sir, listen. I swear to God I do not have this money. If I had it, I would give it to you…

– We clearly see that you are not homeless. We know times are hard, we know it is difficult to get cash quickly. I only ask you (…) I wish there are only the two of us involved in this discussion.

-Sir, I am alone.

-Do bring 200, 500 and 1000 peso-bills.  Is that Ok?

There were only four men in the house where Valeria was locked up. A TV was on. This who was giving orders was called “boss” by the others.

– “Don’t worry”, said the boss to Valeria. “We are pros. You would not believe how many very important people sat on this chair: politicians, businessmen, very rich people.”

Valeria asked them if they would kill her. The boss answered the group was used to liberate their victims safe and sound. Yet, once, they had to kill a young man because his father had come up with 1 million only, and “that was peanuts for him.” Another time, they killed the son of a politician who had not been able to pay the ransom because “he could not justify this amount with the government.”

Valeria spent the first day sitting on this chair. When she asked to go to the bathroom, she was taken off her blindfold. She could thus memorize a few details – among others blue tiles on the floor. At sunset, when it was time for the news, they brought her to a room furnished with an individual bed, a nightstand, a fan and a small TV. She was told she had to cover herself with a blanket each time somebody would enter the room. The boss admitted to her once:

– You remind me of my daughter. I am not going to let anybody touch you.

Valeria would say later that on the second day, the boss went in her room, and ate cereal for breakfast with her. “He started telling me that he already wanted to let me go, that he would not ask for any ransom, because I was very brave. At some point I started crying. He took my hand, saying that he wanted me to leave, that he had already become attached to me, that it hurt him to see me here.”

On September 2 2005, SIEDO recorded a new conversation between Humberto and Valeria’s mother at 7:42 am.

Humberto: “We wanted to leave you alone yesterday, for you to have enough time to do what you had to.”

– Yes, sir.

– Tell me how it went.

– Well sir, yesterday I met with people that were willing to lend me money. With their loans and my savings, I was able to come up with 100,000 pesos.

-Ooh ma’am, this started badly. We trusted you would not give us bullshit.

– I am not.

– Too bad then. It was really a very pretty girl. What can I tell you, you took the wrong road, Mrs. Laura.

– No, no, Mr. Humberto. Don’t say that to me.

– You lent an ear to stupid people who are not even your own.

– No, no, don’t say that.

– It is tragic, really, to be back to square one. Yesterday I had a serious talk with your daughter, ma’am. Your daughter wants to live. We don’t have the right to take a life that has just started.

– Don’t tell me that, I do what you want me to do.

– Maybe, but let us agree on one thing: this 100,000-peso story is a lie, Mrs. Laura.

– It is not a lie, I swear to God.

– We checked on your situation a while ago but your daughter gave us new information, and we are going to take it into account.

– Well, sure.

Then Humberto goes over Valeria’s mother struggle to pay for tuition and for a new car. He goes on:

– Don’t keep telling us you do not have financial means… I hope you will not make that mistake in the future, Mrs. Laura. Believe me, Valeria is a beautiful girl, we respected her, she will tell you that, may God want it and shed light in your little head… Forget about the 5 million, we are talking here about your attitude, your cooperation and that you expect from those around you, who are telling you stupid things.

“The boss was coming only once in a while,” remembers Valeria, “in the morning, at noon or in the afternoon. When the guards were bringing me food, they were telling me they could not figure out why he was willing to set me free without getting a single dime, that he had broken the rules and that they did not know why. On Sunday September 4, he came to my room and told me I would live the next day.”

Humberto and Valeria’s mother had reached an agreement for the 5th. Here follows the SIEDO recording made this very day at 3:00 pm:

Humberto:

– You have black plastic bags, garbage bags?

– No, but I will get some immediately.

– This is what you are going to do: You will put together 100,000 pesos and put them in a black plastic bag, tightly closed. Then you will put this plastic bag in another one with a small amount of 60,000. You get it?

– Yes, I am writing it down.

-In one bag 120,000 pesos, and next to it 60,000 pesos in 500 and 1,000 bills.

-Gotcha.

– This very day your daughter is back home if you don’t fuck it up, Mrs Laura. Don’t write anything anywhere with a pen.

– No, no way I will do that.

– Be very patient and calm. Above all you must trust us. I try to trust you, do the same; we make sure that there is no problem, and our way of working is to do everything so that your daughter is guaranteed to come back safe and sound.

The chauffeur of the family got out of the house with his cellular phone on.  As prompted by the kidnappers over the phone, he dropped the bag with the money next to a taco stand in Tlalpan.

Nearby he saw a woman with reddish hair falling in waves. He did not stop to check if she was taking the bag tough.

Another phone call was recorded the same day at 5:44 pm.

Humberto:

– Mrs. Laura? I have news for you. You did your part of the deal, now it’s my turn.

– Yes, Humberto.

– I now trust you 100%. I will show you now that I am a man of my word. Take good care of your daughter and of your mother. Forgive me; may your mom stop worrying, don’t trust the assholes around you, ma’am.

– Yes, I will.

– Fucking envious people! I am not going to tell you whom I have in mind, a neighbor, a relative or a colleague. Take good care of your daughter. I am asking for your forgiveness for the thousandth time but in this story, my role was to be between you and your daughter.

Six days after her kidnapping, Valeria was left next to a store, after the 180,000 pesos were paid. From an investigation in SIEDO’s sound archives, it has been noticed that the chief negotiator could have been involved in five other cases, the kidnapping of two businessmen of Jewish origin and the killing of a salesman in the Central de Abasto (Mexico City’s sprawling food market). A voice analyst asserted that “it was the same ton of voice and he was using the same words.”

In her first testimony, Valeria stated she never was able to see her kidnappers’ faces. Several weeks later, the police had her walk on several directions from the place she was kidnapped. The police hoped she would see or remember something and signal it. One afternoon, they saw a grey Volvo (and not “seemingly white”) on the Viaducto Tlalpan, heading toward the road from Mexico City to Cuernavaca.

Valeria “felt” the driver of the Volvo was “one of those involved in her kidnapping, possibly the boss.” The police trailed him, and found out that the man – Israel Vallarta Cisneros- was deep down into fishy businesses. He was living alone in a secluded farm, called Las Chinitas, km 29 on the highway between Mexico City and Cuernavaca.

While the AFI (the Mexican FBI)’s investigation proceeded, Vallarta met with people in various neighborhoods of Mexico City – Iztapalapa, Xochimilco, Narvarte. Pictures were taken.

On December 3 2005, the AFI showed Valeria a sample of these pictures of cars, houses and people. Although she had stated she had not seen the faces of her kidnappers, she recognized Vallarta as “someone who was involved in her kidnapping” at this moment. She also recognized two brothers who were among the guests of her eighteenth birthday party that took place at her home. “They were friends of a guy I liked,” she said. Their names were Marco Antonio and José Fernando Rueda Cacho.

On December 4, Valeria went back to the prosecutor’s office to expand, or rather change her testimony. Her latest account of the facts would now fit her first ones, except for one detail: in a mirror that the boss had let her have in her room, she had been able to see “half the face” of the boss. This man, she added, was Israel Vallarta, the one with sunglasses and a leather jacket in the pictures shown by the police.

– Why didn’t you mention this mirror in your first testimony?” asked later a lawyer to Valeria.

Valeria replied:

– Because I was scared of talking.

On December 6, the AFI set up surveillance cameras near Las Chinitas.  According to police files, pictures of the ranch were shown to other victims of kidnappings, who recognized the ranch as the place where they had been kept. Yet the public prosecutor did not seem to mind very much that these very victims later identified a house on Xochimilco Avenue as the site of their detention.

The young Andrés Figueroa Torres was one of the persons who was able to see this set of pictures. One of his brothers, Abel Figueroa, a merchant working at the Central de Abasto, had been kidnapped in April of 2005. Although his family had paid the ransom for him, Abel was found dead in a street.

Andrés Figueroa too recognized on these pictures the brothers whom Valeria had identified as the friends of the kid she liked. He stated their names: “These are Marco Antonio and José Fernando Rueda Cacho. Andrés said that I got acquainted with José Fernandez Rueda in high school. According to Andrés, José was a not a good student. He has even been kicked out of school for having bought the answers of exams.

Andrés saw José again in 2003: “He took me to cockfighting, to bars. We were going out a lot, among others with one of his cousins, Edgar, who never shut up. Edgar kept talking about José Fernando, who was a role model for him. He said José was a man, including with kidnappings. From time to time, Marco Antonio would come with us. The two brothers were carrying guns in the street; there were weapons on the glove box of the car. They spent a lot of money; they could spend from 10,000 to 15,000 pesos (600 to 900 euros) in one night…

Andrés put some distance between him and the Ruedas. That’s when his brother Abel got kidnapped.

Andrés recalls: “As instructed by the AFI, I didn’t tell anything to anybody, I did not leave my house. After three days, while nobody was supposed to know anything, José Antonio called me to lament what had happened. I made believe I did not know, and he tried to cheer me up. I asked him who had told him about my brother, and he replied he had heard rumors in the Mercado. There was one bug with this story though: nobody in the Central de Abasto had been made aware of the kidnapping of my brother a month before it happened.”

One afternoon, José Antonio told Andrés he knew a big shot at the AFI and he proposed to introduce him to Andrés, so that he could “do something”.

Andrés answered that he was trying to solve the problem “within the family.”

From this point on, José Antonio started to call him two to three times a week for news and to ask him if “they had told the police.”

When Abel’s body was found out, José Antonio stopped calling. A month and half later, he invited Andrés to go with him for a trip.

Andrés:

“We had drinks, we looked for a band. As I was half drunk, I started crying over the death of my brother. To comfort me, he told me not to worry, that as long as I would be with him, nothing would happen to me, he would take good care of me. He had not been able to do anything for my brother; he would have had problems.”

At the end of 2005, Andrés, along with the AFI officers whom he introduced as his friends, attended a party in a house where José Antonio was raising cocks. Here were many cars, including a white Volvo. Andrés had heard the Rueda brothers saying they had gotten this car from “a person who owed them money.” The police checked the cars coming in and out.

Andrés told the AFI that José Antonio might also be involved in the kidnapping of a merchant of the Central de Abasto, who went blind after he had Kola Loca glue put in his eyes. Andrés explained that José Antonio was in the cockfighting business with the son of this man.

On December 9 2005, the TV has aired the arrest of a couple –Israel Vallarta and a French woman, Florence Cassez- presented as the heads of a group of kidnappers called Los Zodiaco.

Andrés told the AFI he met with the Rueda brothers in a restaurant after this arrest. They then told him that they were going on vacation in the US.

Nobody ever saw them again and the AFI didn’t do anything to look for them. According to the journalist Anne Vigna, the investigation against José Antonio has been canceled.

The Rueda brothers have not been asked to testify in the group Los Zodiaco’s investigation, although their name appears again in the network of the relations of another victim, Cristina Ríos Valladares.

The aforementioned stories are the preamble of a thirteen -volume and thousand-page proceedings that has been flawed by so many contradictions, lies and improprieties that it is difficult to figure out what really happened, even less about what matters the most: whether or not all of those who were kidnapped were really so, and all of these who were arrested were really involved in the crimes they were suspected of having committed.

The AFI’s former director, Genaro García Luna, gave me a copy of the Cassez’s file, because he was sure I would find in there evidence supporting Florence Cassez’s guilt. So did Florence’s lawyer, because he did not have any doubt that I would not fail to discover proof of her innocence.

I read the file from beginning to end, and I wound up empty handed: only a few scarce truths surface from it. Here follows a depiction of the justice system, a labyrinth that the Mexican people are doomed to deal with.

Israel Vallarta

The AFI file ((DGIP/12498/05) states that on December 9 2005, at 5:30 am, one of the officers who was watching what was going on in the ranch Las Chinitas, warned his colleagues by radio that Vallarta was coming out.

A group of officers that was waiting for this information around Topilejo then headed towards the ranch. According to the testimony of a female officer, Vallarta’s arrest had been planed the day before, after a neighboring pharmacist had told the police that somebody had just bought from him what was necessary for an amputation.

As Vallarta’s jeep was approaching, the police pulled him over. According to the file, the driver bent down “as if he wanted to look for a weapon…”

To control him, the officers made –legitimate- use of force and then told him they had a warrant to arrest him for kidnapping; they ordered the woman who was with Vallarta to go with them at SIEDO, because “they had found a weapon in the car and this was a federal crime in Mexico.”

Florence Cassez was the woman with Vallarta.

A cab driver that was following Vallarta’s car has a different recollection of the scene. He saw the cops were taking Vallarta out of the car while beating him up and covering Vallarta’s face with his jacket. “I thought it was a kidnapping,” he said.

Later on, Florence Cassez testified that she had been asked to remain calm. “We know you have nothing to do with all that…” she was told.

The police officers that had been checking the ranch for days declared they had never seen the French woman before.

According to the file, after one kilometer, Israel Vallarta told the officers that he had to go back to the ranch, for if he did not do so rapidly, “three kidnapped persons would be killed.”

The police officers asked special operations for backup. In the file, it is said that backup arrived at 7:15 am. Vallarta opened the door of the ranch with his keys and pointed at a small cabin to the right. Inside, the police officers found two adults and a minor kidnapped for several months: Ezequiel Elizalde, Cristina Ríos Valladares and her son, Christian.

In addition to being worth nothing in a court of law, the file mentions facts that do not match with what millions of people watched on TV that morning.

According to the file’s version indeed, the special operation team arrived in the ranch at 7:15 am. Approximately at the same time, the team was getting ready to take over the cabin. More or less at the same time, Vallarta was opening the doors of the ranch with his own keys. Yet, the police intervention was aired since 6:46 am. Half an hour earlier, the anchor of Televisa’s channel 2, Carlos Lora de Moret, had announced that the reporter Pablo Reinah would report a last-minute scoop; the following prompt was shown on the screen: the AFI frees three kidnapped people.

At 6:47 am, viewers could see on TV a group of hooded AFI officers coming to the ranch. They went in without problem: one of the AFI senior officers, the director of police inquiries Luis Cárdenas Palomino, was waiting for them inside the cabin and opened the door for them, stepping aside against the wall to let his men in and to hide his face from the cameramen that were coming behind.

At 6:48 am, Israel Vallarta appeared on the screen as he was supposed to be subdued. The camera filmed weapons, photos, hoods and various voting cards; later on, a Telmex (a Mexican phone company) bill for Florence Cassez was shown.

Pablo Reinah said:

– Carlos, we are reporting live and we truly see the way AFI agents are coming in… The woman whom we saw here hidden under a blanket is from France. She was also the spouse of the kidnapper and someone who helped plan the kidnapping.

-6:49 am. Pablo Reinah asks questions to Florence Cassez, who repeatedly shouts: “I did not know anything, I did not know, I am not his spouse, he just lets me live here.”

Pablo Reinah puts the mike on Vallarta’s face, which is covered with bruises. Vallarta has trouble breathing. Then the man who opened the cabin’s door for the AFI squad popped on the screen. Cárdenas Palomino strongly presses on Vallarta’s throat.

Reinah: Hey, tell us, how did you plan this kidnapping?

– I haven’t planned anything sir, I was just given money to lend my house.

– Who?

– A guy called Salustio.

– His full name?

– There are three people here. I did not know there were three. Why three? Cárlos Palomino’s hands squeezes harder, drawing from Vallarta a grin of pain.
Reinah: Have you been involved in the kidnapping?

– Yes, I have been paid for that.

– How much?

– I don’t know how much they would give me.

– Who are the people here?

– I don’t know them. Ooh…

– Cardenas Palomino: Do you feel pain anywhere?

– Yes, you hit me. Sorry, sir. Ooh…

Reinah: Where does it hurt?

Vallarta: I am fine.

Reinah: Who hit you?

Vallarta: Nobody, sir.

At the time when, according to the file, the police had the backup of the AFI special interventions team, Reinah had already been able to interview extensively the victims of the kidnapping.

From this point on, there were gaps, discrepancies and grey areas in the official story.

While one of the victims – Cristina Ríos told Televisa she never saw the faces of the kidnappers, and she never could be able to identify them – “not even recognize their voices- the AFI Special Operations Director, Javier Garza, stated for TV Azteca that “according to the victims, Florence Cassez was the one who was taking care of them, brought them food, looking at what they were doing.

While Cristina Ríos stated the kidnappers had treated them properly, had never hurt them (“they took care of my medications” (…), “they brought us the food we wanted”) the other prisoner, Ezequiel Elizalde, asserted they had been given food that dogs would not have eaten, he was constantly beaten (he had a bandage around his head) and the day before the AFI’s intervention, they had numbed one of his fingers to cut it off.

For four times, Ezequiel let his interview be interrupted by the AFI; each time though he immersed himself back to the emotion of his liberation and made this statement: ”I want to tell people that if the police had not done its job, I don’t know what would have happened!”

Among the viewers this morning was Yuli García, associate producer of the show Punto de Partida hosted by Denisse Maerker and aired by Televisa. García immediately feels “there is something strange, contradictory, not to say unnatural and robotic in this story.”

“The whole thing looked made-up,” she remembered.

Thanks to Cassez’s lawyer, Yuli García was able to get a copy of the official brief of the arrest. She noticed that the timing was off. She then requested and got from Televisa’s archives all the runs of Reinah’s broadcast, including what was shown on TV.

Yuli García describes what was on the tapes:

– The AFI officers were standing at the door of the ranch, waiting to be prompted to come in. Coming from the studio, a voice from the production crew told Reinah: “Hold on, Pablo. First we air sport news, then you’re on.”

Pablo told the officers: ”Don’t move. We are going to air first some sport news, then we are on.”

One hears the voice of one the officers’ leaders telling his men: ”Regroup. Line up. I will tell you when to go.”

Yuli García goes on: “These were not the hectic, nervous voices you hear when the police storms a place. It was clear to me this thing was staged. If the liberation had been real, the police would not have waited the end of Loret’s sport news; it would have come in and that would be it.”

According to García, this had to be the outcome of a prior agreement between the AFI and the TV channel. Reinah was not lying when he said that the freeing of the hostage was “almost live.”

When confronted with the editing of AFI’s intervention, the AFI former director, Genaro García Luna, had to acknowledge live, during a broadcast with TV journalist Denisse Maerker, that the police intervention had been dictated by the TV channel: ”When you are the police, you enter a place, you free the victims, then after the facts come the media, and they ask us how the intervention happened. What was shown on TV is what the medias ask us to show.”

Even if García Luna’s version did not explain the lies to the viewers, at least it sounded to shed light on the discrepancy between the time of the AFIs’ intervention on the police brief and the time of Televisa’s broadcast.

Yet an unplanned phone call from the PGR detention center interrupted the end of Garcia Luna’s TV interview with Denisse Maerker: on the line was the inmate Florence Cassez, denying the accusations that had led to her arrest and accusing the head of AFI of lying; she had not been arrested the 9th, but a day before. She had been locked up for twenty hours inside a truck, while the AFI’s intervention was edited for the media.

Later on, Denisse Maerker stated the tension suddenly filled up the air of the studio. García Luna discarded Florence’s blow to his story with a line that he would use subsequently: “All the criminals tell you they are innocent.”

One February morning, as I was walking next to him to go to the AFI building, García Luna told me again his story of the broadcast. First, about the editing:

– We have not misled TV journalists. They wanted pictures of us taking over the ranch. They knew it was a remake, and the proof is that before the police entered the ranch, the title “the AFI frees three kidnapped prisoners” appeared on the screen. That means the reporter had told the studio way in advance what would be reported upon. The TV channel knew that the liberation of the prisoners had already taken place.”

About Cassez, he asserts the following:

– All the witnesses recognized her, the kid included. The phone bill of the ranch was under her name. A weapon was found in the car she was when she was arrested. Here are the proofs. She cannot say she had nothing to do with all this, she cannot say she was not aware of what was going on…

After the interview with Denisse Maerker, the AFI tried to patch the holes of its story. When the officers involved in the investigation signed their report, they had to declare it was “conform to the truth.” However, one could not but notice a slight change: “The police intervention did not start at 5:00 am, but at 4:00 am.” The report gives the impression that they were too tired to pay attention to the time; also, “the officer Germán Zavaleta was the only one with a watch.”

This time correction was bringing the police report in line with the intervention as it had been broadcasted on TV. Yet the officers reiterated in their statements that from the point they entered the ranch to their exit with the victims, there were no TV cameras shooting. Two officers stated: “ we never went in with the TV. There were no weapons there.”

-“When we reached the victims, there have been no cameras and no shooting whatsoever,” they kept asserting.

Officer Carlos Servín confirmed:

– “The liberation did not take place the way it was shown on TV. The victims were not wearing any gaze. The weapons were not in the room, nor were the voters cards or the hoods and other papers.”

According to him, there was no AFI’s big shot in the whereabouts that day. I did not see anybody from the time we went in to the time we went out.”

All the other officers confirmed Servín’s statement. None of them ever saw the head of Special Operations, Javier Garza, who was interviewed in the ranch. Nobody did ever see the director of Police Investigations, Luis Cárdenas Palomino, the one who opened the door of the room – where the victims were- to the police and the cameramen during the TV broadcast.

The gang Los Zodiaco

 

Israel Vallarta left the ranch Las Chinitas for the last time at 7:30 pm after the December 9 TV broadcast. In a testimony before SIEDO, Vallarta told his side of the story. He was in the business of buying and fixing damaged and used cars.

In 2002, in a Santa Cruz Meyehualco   scrap yard, when he used to get parts, he met a fellow named Sallustio. A year later, Salustio feels like buying a Ford Explorer that Israel had fixed. Salustio asked Vallarta to test-drive the SUV for a few days. In fact, he used it to kidnap an Argentine man.

-“He gave me 110,000 pesos (6,670 euros) for the SUV and he said he would pay for other stolen and borrowed SUVs, which he would use in a kidnapping,” signed Vallarta.

He bought two stolen cars with an acquaintance.

Then Salustio, alias Sagittarius, asked him to give him a hand in a kidnapping. He was supposed to buy the food for the victims and drop it in a street where he was told.

He complied and got 50,000 pesos for it.

Next, Salustio told him he could make more money if he were to keep the hostages; he accepted.

He was taken blindfolded in a house where another Argentine man was sequestered.

Here he became acquainted with Eustaquio, alias Capricorn, another one of Salustio’s employees. For this new job he earned 40,000 pesos.

For a while Vallarta did not hear about the head of the group “because he had many associates and for his own safety, he changed them on jobs so that they would not know each other.” But the time of a third kidnapping came for him and he got to know Pedro, alias Taurus; for his fourth kidnapping, he met with Gilberto, alias Gemini, and during his fifth a fellow Cancer came out. This constellation made up the famous gang Los Zodiaco.

Vallarta’s testimony did not shed much light on these five kidnappings. However Vallarta was quite talkative about Valeria. One day he said, Salustio asked Vallarta to lend him his Volvo, which he used – he told Vallarta later- to kidnap this young girl. Vallarta said he was asked “to talk to her and to reassure her;” He also said he had a breakfast –cereal- with her and brought her a mirror because she asked for one. He mentioned that he told her he would never allow anybody to touch her.

The Volvo will later be found on the property of the Rueda Cacho’s brothers, who have never been held accountable for their crimes.

Vallarta also talked about the kidnapping of Cristina Ríos Valladares, her son Christian and that of Ezequiel Elizalde. He had to be in a house in Tlahuac (a neighborhood in Mexico City), again to reassure the victims. But Salustio had told him not to speak too much to Ezequiel, “who was already punished.” Why? According to Vallarta, “Ezequiel was the son of a partner Salustio was on a job with (a kidnapping) some years back but this son of a bitch had fucked him up and all that he wanted now was to get his money back.”

In his testimony, Vallarta added: “Salustio had mentioned Ezequiel’s father was very good at checking and recording phone calls. Once he was arrested, but with some cash, the police let him go.”

In November 2005, Eustequio alias Capricorn came up with the thought it was time to mutilate victims to increase the pressure on the families. “He suggested to slice a piece of Christian’s ear.”

Vallarta testified he had opposed this move. “I came between the group and the victims and I stood up for the kid and his mom, and this created problems between myself and Salustio. He told me that since I was so fond of these victims, he would set them up at my place.”

Two weeks before the police intervention, the three victims were brought to the ranch, where Vallarta set up a room for them. “I had to take turns with my accomplices to check on them and give them food (…) I was taking care of groceries and the other guys were cooking and bringing the food to them.

For three months, Florence Cassez was living in the ranch. Before, she had had a relationship with Vallarta for a year. According to the public prosecution, she came to Mexico in 2002 – albeit her arrival date on her passport is only 2003. She worked several jobs she quit quickly. She has worked in her brother’s beauty products company, but she resigned because she was not getting along well with her sister in law.

She had also been an interior decorator in an architecture firm, but she had problems with her boss and left. She took modeling classes in Pedro Loredo school but she could not go on because she did not have enough money to pay for the tuition. In 2005 she broke up with Vallarta, who was possessive and violent. She went back to France from July 22 to September 9. She asserts Vallarta asked her not to cancel her phone contract before she left for France. She did not think she would come back, hence she accepted. She also left him the furniture she had in her apartment.

“I did not get much luck this summer and there was some tension at my folks’, she did recollect in a conversation in the visiting room of Tepepan detention center. She made the decision to come back to Mexico. It was clear to her she would not be in a couple anymore, but Vallarta let het stay at the ranch. She started looking for a job and an apartment.

Vallarta testified that “Cassez was working all day long at the Fiesta Americana Hotel in Polanco (a trendy neighborhood in the center of Mexico City) and that’s why she did not know there were prisoners in the ranch.”

However the 7th Penal Court did consider it was impossible Cassez was unaware of that.  The judge Carlos Luna Ramos concluded: “people who engage in crimes involving many accomplices, such as kidnappings, do not disclose any information about their activities; they do not let people access the place where their victims are, because these people could turn them in.”

Yet the testimonies of two new witnesses raised the possibility that the victims were never locked up in the ranch.

Alma Delia Morales

 

On the morning of December 8, 2005, in the Central de Abasto, Mrs. Alma Delia Morales got on Fernando Diaz Gonzales’ cab, heading toward her unassuming restaurant located at km 28 on the road between Mexico and Cuernavaca. For two years now, every Thursday, the same cab driver would pick up Alma Delia in the Central de Abasto, would help her load and unload her groceries and would eat in the restaurant.

This very morning, the cab arrived at the restaurant at 9:30 am. Florence Cassez was there, having a coffee. The day before, she had signed up a lease for a rental apartment, for 6,000 pesos a month. She had spent her first night there, and now she was waiting for Vallarta to get back her few pieces of furniture that were in the ranch. Alma Delia Morales gave her a good morning kiss. They knew each other quite well; Vallarta and Cassez were regular customers of the restaurant.

Alma Delia and the cab driver’s testimonies are consistent: a man with a black coat came to Cassez and whispered something. Later Cassez declared this man asked her if she was waiting for Israel. “I was very surprised, I did not answer him. He told me: “I too, I have an appointment with him” and he left immediately.

Fifteen minutes later, Vallarta, driving a Voyager, came to pick up Florence. According to her, there were only clothes and furniture inside. “There was not any weapon,” she stated.

This scene took place 24 hours before Pablo Reinah’s almost-live broadcast of the liberation of the hostages. When the French woman said good-bye to Alma Delia, the cab driver was returning to his car. He was only a few meters away from the Voyager.

According to the files, he saw the police forcing Vallarta out of the car, and hiding his face with his own jacket; they brought Cassez in another car. The cab driver did not see the police telling or asking them anything.

He thought they were kidnapped. He called Alma Delia.

It was 10:00 am on December 8.

When Vallarta’s lawyer called Alma Delia and the cab driver to testify, he warned them “perjury was a serious offense liable of punishment.” Yet they reiterated that all this had happened a day before the broadcast of the arrest. Alma Delia’s husband, Ángel Olmos, added he had known Vallarta for four years. Vallarta had loaned him the ranch on several occasions to organize family parties. He had even given him the key of his ranch and had allowed him to keep some animals there.

Olmos testified that on December 5, he opened the ranch’s door at 9:00 am and closed it at 2:00 pm. He mowed the pasture and helped Vallarta clear a dog kennel.

– How often did you go to the ranch? asked the defense.

– Twice a week; as I said, I had the key and a few animals of mine were there.

– On December 5, did you go to the room right next to the entrance of the ranch?

– Yes. That’s a room they used as a shed to store beer or wine when they have a party.
The victims could not have been there. Olmos snapped at an AFI officer, Germán Zavaleta: “You are lying, because I went there to mow the grass, and moreover I had the key and I was going there as much as I wanted. There has never been partitions in the room you are talking about, and I have never seen anybody locked up there.”

Alia Delia, her spouse, confirmed his assertion:

“My husband was taking care of the ranch. This day I went to pick him up. When I went in, he was in the bathroom. There was nothing in this room, just stuff that was not useful and tables. This room was to put wine and beer that were given to the guests at parties…

Alma Delia Morales and Ángel Olmos’ testimonies were discarded. The judge did not ever make any comment about them. The names of the cab driver, the restaurant owner and her husband disappeared from the files and from the trial, and were never mentioned again.

Florence

One day, Vallarta hit one of Florence’s friends. Another time, in an outburst of jealousy, he put Florence’s apartment upside down, destroying letters, furniture and pictures. Florence herself testified that Vallarta’s eruptive character pushed away their friends. “Yet, when it became clear to me that I had to come back to Mexico, I knew that Israel was the only one I could ask for help,” she added.

In September, Florence was back in the ranch. Vallarta was leaving very early with his grey Volvo and was out most of the day. In Florence’s testimony, there is a two-month blank. She does not talk about this period of her life. She only mentions that Israel had changed a lot, that he was leaving her alone in the ranch.

On November 17, 2005, Florence found a job as hostess in a hotel in Polanco. Her shift was from 3:00 pm to 11:00 pm. The director of human resources testified the French woman had missed work only once: on December 8, when she was arrested, the day before the TV broadcast. Her lawyer, Augustin Acosta stressed he found it very strange that the gang Los Zodiaco’s dangerous leader had rented a 6,000 peso apartment and had to work 8 hours a day for a modest wage.

Cassez used to go back to the ranch after midnight. Vallarta had asked her to send him a text before arriving, so that she would not have to get off the car to open the door. Sometimes he would hold her hand and walk her to the cabin. “I was a bit surprised, this was not like him”, she said.

The weekends of the 12th and 20th of November, Vallarta went to visit his children from his first marriage. He took the bus. While he was away, two of his brothers, Mario and René, went to the ranch to fix cars, they said. They spent both entire weekends there.

Cassez’s first testimony highlights that the little cabin to the right of the ranch was not as empty as Alma Delia and Ángel Olmos said it was: “Israel called to tell me Dhither (Palafox), a friend of his, had a fight with his sister and that’s why he would crash for a while in the room at the entrance of the ranch until things got better.”

She goes on:

“This week, I noticed Israel was hyper… also what caught my attention is that one day, he came home with fifty eggs. I put them away and when I came back from work at night, I found out that one-third of the eggs were gone. I asked Israel whom he had invited for dinner and he got very angry.”

One day, while going grocery shopping, Vallarta told her that Dhither had asked him to get cereal, and he got him several boxes; another time, it was two liters of milk; another time again, she noticed that the food (pasta soup, chicken tacos) was prepared. “Vallarta was stressed out, we had an argument, and he went to bed.” In her testimony, Cassez reiterated that during her arrest, the police asked her to keep quiet. “They told me that Israel was involved into kidnappings, and they knew I had nothing to do with that.” Yet later on she said, they took her to the ranch: ”I saw a kid with a bandage on his forehead; he was complaining that Israel had treated him badly. I had never see this kid before… A man in a dark suit told me that a TV crew was about to come. When they would be here, I had to look up and say I knew about it…” She said they hit her in the head, pulled her hair to force her to do that, but she stood firm. She started to scream and said that if she had known a crime was being committed in the ranch, she would have told the police.

Cristina and Christian   

Cristina Ríos Valladares and her son Christian, the woman and the 12-year old boy AFI freed this very morning of December, had been kidnapped on October 19, 2005. The kidnappers demanded 15 million pesos (approximately one million euro).

They spent the first part of their captivity in a room with closed windows. One day they were told they would be moved elsewhere because their life was in danger. They were transported in the trunk of a car. They said that in the new hideout, they were ordered to keep the TV on and not turn the volume down.

A forensic investigation has shown there was no electricity in the little room to the right of the ranch.

The young Christian stated he was able to identify seven male voices. The boss was called Hilario or boss; the others, Ramiro, Ángel, Margarito, Miguel and Manuel. Some were cruel and aggressive, others calm, even nice. One of them called him affectionately “mi rey” (literally, my king).

The seventh of these voices seemed very much like that of one of his cousins. “He said things that only my cousin Édgar would say,” he said. He mentioned one anecdote: one day, his mom had asked for an aspirin and one of the kidnappers told another: ”Bring aspirins to your aunt.” Realizing the kid overheard him, the kidnapper burst: ”S…”

The cousin’s name was Édgar Rueda Parra. Not only was he Christian’s cousin, but, as journalist Anne Vigna found out, he was also the cousin of the brothers Marco Antonio and José Fernando Rueda Cacho, the same ones who “went on vacation” after Vallarta’s arrest, and weren’t even looked for by the AFI.

Christian said that his cousin Edgar used to ask him about his school schedule. This very Édgar was “the smooth talker, the guy who got things done, the one who spoke of José Fernando as his role model, who bragged his cousin was a pro, even for kidnappings,” whom Andrés Figueroa was talking about in his statement.

The file indicates that Édgar Rueda’s brother – José Luis Rueda Parra- was working in the factory of Christian’s father.  The day before the kidnapping, he warned his uncle (to clear himself of any subsequent suspicion) that he had seen suspicious individuals lurking around.

Yet the investigation did not pursue this thread. Édgar Rueda Parra was as lucky as the Rueda Cacho brothers: the police never looked for him.

In his first statement, Christian declared that one afternoon, Hilario went in, forced his mother out of the room and remained with him.

“Hilario took blood from my left arm, he told me it was for some tests… he put cotton in my left ear, a liquid and a towel and told me: our dad wants us to send him something from you. That made me very nervous because I thought they would hurt me.”

This statement is quite important for on February 14, 2006, a few days only after Florence Cassez called Denisse Maerker in the middle of her show to denounce Genaro García Luna’s lies, Christian suddenly imprinted a radical twist to his story. He “voluntarily” made the decision to add to his testimony the following: “I remembered that the day they took blood from me, the hand I felt was quite delicate, sweet and was a white skin hand… a woman said these words: put your hand on your arm. Then I heard this voice with this foreign way of pronouncing, this weird, not Mexican accent.”

The day of his liberation, the kid identified “Israel Vallarta’s voice as that of the man people there called Hilario.”

However, when the police had shown Florence to Christian and she had stated her name, age and profession, Christian had stated: “I do not recognize her, nor do I recognize her voice.”

Same story with Cristina Ríos Valladares.

Indeed, one can read in her first statement taken the day of her liberation: “As I was in the AFI’s car, I realized that they had arrested two people, a man and a blond woman… but I don’t know to what extent they took part in my kidnapping. After having looked at them carefully, I declare I don’t know these people. I am seeing them for the first time. I also listened them talk, and I declare I do not recognize their voice. My guards’ voices were more husky. Moreover, I have to add I never saw my guards, hence it would be difficult for me to identify them.”

Months later, Mrs. Ríos changed her statement, the same day her son Christian did: “ As time went by… I remembered certain things,” she said. First, the person who took blood from Christian was not a doctor but a female with a strange accent, who could not even pronounce “aprieta” (hold tight). Second, she heard the voice of “a foreigner with a very peculiar accent” from the first place they were kept… A voice that was joking with the kidnappers and now, “without any doubt”, she recognized Florence Cassez’s voice.

She mentioned that as a result of the kidnapping, she did not talk about it earlier; also, she dreaded the members of the gang that were still free would retaliate against her family.

In February of 2011, in an open letter, Mrs. Rios stated that this voice – “this voice that I heard many times when I was sequestered”- was tattooed in her head.  She asserted this was this very voice that threatened to kill her, “a day ‘it’ went in the room by surprise and saw Israel raping me.”

Yet, in December 2005, in the garden of the ranch Las Chinitas, Cristina asked an AFI officer: “ Who are these people?” And the same day in the afternoon, she stated:” The AFI officers informed me that her kidnappers were among the people they arrested.”

Ezequiel Elizalde

 

On December 9 2005, forensic physician Jorge Arreola’s report on his examination of Israel Vallarta was published: there were bruises on Vallarta’s arms, chest, right side, neck, thighs, bottom and lips. His genitals were swollen.

This forensic report is consistent with Vallarta’s statement, the day of his arrest: Instead of letting him know why he was being arrested, the police severely beat him up. Vallarta said that on December 8, he was brought to a cellar of a building, in front of the Revolution memorial in Mexico City. “They undressed me entirely, took off my handcuffs, tied my wrists in my back and my legs around my calves. They asked me: ‘Do you know anything about the body?’ and they kicked me so hard I fell on the floor. ‘This is the liver, you son of a bitch.’”

Vallarta’s statement also mentions buckets of water, plastic bags over his head, and being hit with a broomstick on the soles of his feet.

Vallarta stated that next to him, the police was beating up somebody who pretended to have been sequestered to get money from his father. He confessed he had done so because his father was an asshole who humiliated his mother. According to Vallarta, this person was Ezequiel Elizalde himself, one of the three victims supposedly locked up in the ranch Las Chinitas, who appeared on TV the day of the made-up freeing of the hostages. The very Ezequiel was the one who interrupted the TV journalist Reinah to thank AFI for its intervention.

According to Vallarta again, at some point Ezequiel stopped crying. Then they told Vallarta: “You see? He has paid and he is gone. Just accept the deal we are going to offer if you want your fiancée to be left alone. If you do what we tell you, your fiancée is out of here.”

“I accepted. It was then passed midnight. They put my clothes back on, took me in a car, and one of them called and told me:” Now talk to your fiancée.”

“I told Florence: ’you go. I made a deal with them. They are going to drop you at the embassy. Say you lost your documents and go back in your country. Forgive me, I wanted to make you happy but I couldn’t.’”

The car pulled away. Vallarta heard the sound of radios. Somebody said: ”Your fiancée is gone, we did our part of the deal. Now you are going to do yours, otherwise, you and your family are going to have a really bad time.”

They took him back to Las Chinitas. He saw them taking out things from the house, bringing some to the cabin at the entrance and loading others in a van.

He also saw a man with a three-day beard, who had been hit, getting off a van. According to him, this man was Ezequiel Elizalde. Then, he saw Florence Cassez.

“You did not let her go?” he asked. They did not reply, and a man with a black coat hit Florence: “You should have stayed in your country doing your shit.”

Vallarta said he heard a woman scream: “Don’t hit them!” A voice then replied: “Don’t take the side of these sons of bitches!”

“I then recognized the voice of the men they were beating up a few hours ago where they were beating me too.” In other words, it was Ezequiel Elizalde.

On November 18, 2005, Ezequiel’s wife, Karen Pavlova Gachuz, had gone to the local authority to report the kidnapping of her husband.

According to her, the kidnapping dated back to October 4. Somebody had told Enrique Elizalde, Ezequiel’s father: “Cool, man, I’ve got your kid. It’s going to cost you 10 million.”

Ezequiel’s father did not want to call the police. Ezequiel’s wife told an odd story: her mother in law had been willing to hide the kidnapping from her and had told her that her husband was on a trip to the United States. But Karen had Ezequiel’s passport. ”Tell me the truth,” she asked her mother in law. Later on she found out Ezequiel’s mother was calling the kidnappers, and not the other way around, as one would expect.

– “Hello…”

– “Please Sir, don’t harm my son. What Mr. Elizalde has to pay, have him pay, but don’t have my son pay…

Karen goes on…

“I got closer to her… The phone was so loud that I could hear the voice of a man who was telling her to tell my father in law to turn on his cellphones and answer his calls.”

“My mother in law told him she did not have any money and he answered: ‘Don’t worry, Mrs. Raquel, I will not ask you for anything. I know what scoundrel this piece of shit is and what he took from you. Can you believe it, Mrs. Raquel? This shithead told me he did not have money!”

Karen Pavlova was surprised to hear her speak “very quietly, as if she knew the kidnapper,” and hear her answer: ”This is what Mr. Elizalde told you? That he did not have any money?”

When Karen checked the number her mother in law had called, she found out it was Ezequiel’s. “This sounded very strange to me,” she said.

Ezequiel’s mother disappeared two weeks after the kidnapping. Later on, she had temporarily moved to Monclova, “because she was not feeling safe with all that was going on.”

Ezequiel’s father turned off his cellular phone for good, and told Karen he was about to go too. When she asked him: “how can you even think of leaving, while my husband is not back?” Enrique quietly answered he thought his son was dead, “because the kidnappers had not called again to ask for money.”  Out of desperation, Karen went to the police to press charges.

Ezequiel Elizalde was the only witness who recognized Florence Cassez on December 9: “She told not to try to play hero, not to fuck up or things would turn sour, and as I said, her accent was foreign, she had problems pronouncing the “r”… I saw her hair coming out of her hood, it was long, died, probably died blond.”

The day the liberation was broadcast, Ezequiel wanted to show the mark of the shot they had given him the day before to numb his finger before cutting it off, he said.

According to him, Florence was the one who gave him the injection. “I told her not to hurt me, and she replied to me: ‘what a bummer, these are the risks that come with the job…’ She asked me what I wanted them to send to my father, a finger or an ear. I felt my whole arm getting numbed…”

The same day, Ezequiel showed the mark of the shot in SIEDO. The court secretary looked at his pinkie and wrote down: “a red mark, apparently typical of an injection, is to be noticed.” The judge who sentenced Cassez, stated that “such a certified, official examination by a Court secretary provides evidence of the damage claimed by petitioner.”

Six months later this small mark was still visible on Ezequiel’s finger. A medical examination did show it was a petechia – a spot in the skin- and not a scar. The magistrate ignored the medical report.

A forensic report written on December 9 revealed that as Vallarta, Ezequiel Elizalde was displaying marks of torture as he went to testify. He had wounds on his left leg and there were marks of severe blows on his back, head and stomach.

His spouse Karen Pavlova has refused to see him again since he has been set free.

“Gemini”

In March of 2009, France President Nicolas Sarkozy went to Mexico. Florence Cassez was then sentenced to 96 years in jail.

Sarkozy said he was appalled when the lawyer Frank Berton handed him a detailed report on the improprieties of the proceedings. “I don’t understand the Mexican administration’s stubbornness,” he said. An international disagreement was about to begin.

Two months later, Luis Cárdenas Palomino, freshly promoted coordinator of intelligence for crime prevention at the Secretariat of Public Security, announced the arrest of two other members of the gang Los Zodiaco, Carlos Camarillo Palafox et Hilario Rodriguez Hernández. A third one, David Orozco Hernández alias Gemini, was presented to the media.

Cárdenas Palomino told the media that Gemini had confessed to the police the structure of the criminal organization. Thanks to this arrest, one could learn that a brother and two cousins of Vallarta were part of the group. “This statement is an unequivocal accusation against them,” he said.

He then showed a video including several recorded sequences, in which Gemini was saying that Cassez had joined the group in 2004, that she was planning and was involved in kidnappings, and that sometimes, she was guarding the victims.

“When she joined”, Gemini pursued, “strife started within the group because she wanted to take over with Israel and we did not agree.”

Cassez had marginalized the other members of the group – that is, Israel’s brothers- and “she had advised him not to tell us about the amount of the ransom… she also put her nose into the dealings of our shares, that’s when the group started to disagree.”

It is obvious on this video, as one looks at David Orozco’s eyes, that he is reading from a teleprompter. He has indeed problems reading and he stumbles on the names of his accomplices. He gets the dates wrong – saying for instance that Vallarta’s arrest occurred in 2004- mixes up the victims’ gender- saying that they were keeping two women and a kid in the ranch- and he is unable to pronounce Cassez’s name, referring to her as “the French woman.”

Yet Carlos Palomino stated this was rock-solid evidence.

One more time in Orozco’s case, forensic revealed purple bruises in many parts of his body. In front of another judge than the one in charge of Cassez’s case, Orozco retracted his first testimony, which, he says, was extracted from him after a day of torture, and for which “he had been told what to say.” According to him, they had him remember a few sentences and he was told: “You are ready, let’s record it.”

“Gemini” goes on:

“We rehearsed several times. A woman was telling me the names I had to say; that’s why I can be seen looking sideways on the video. When they got what they wanted, they showed it to the man who had hit me, for him to give his green light. They laughed at me and said to me “that a sucker had to pay.”

In June 2011, 6 years after the beginning of the proceedings, the Federal Police arrested Dither Camarillo Palafox in Cancún. Dither Camarillo was Vallarta’s very friend of Vallarta that had lived for a while in the cabin of the ranch.

A Secretariat of Public Security press release announced that with this last arrest, the gang Los Zodiaco had been entirely dismantled.

Nobody noticed that the file had once mentioned the Rueda Cacho brothers.

Translated from Héctor de Mauléon, writer and journalist. (Among his books, Marca de Sangre and El Secreto de la Noche Triste)

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2 Comments

  1. Mexique est enlevée par des trafiquants de drogue (Televisa) narcos attacher et à enlever les politiciens de tous les partis.
    Ils vont mettre la pression sur les politiques qui ne veut pas coopérer quand ils envoient des médicaments aux Américains.
    Voici une vidéo pour vous de voir.

    Reply
  1. On Florence Cassez’s Path to Freedom, Felipe Calderón « Fearless Fathers

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