According to Gately, if the allegations could be proven, U.S. Customs may have been able to catch one of the really big fish in Mexico's drug trade. But it never followed up on a covert video showing a corrupt Mexican banker alleging that Mexico's secretary of defense wanted to launder $1 billion in drug money.
"It is the only time that law enforcement had an opportunity to deal directly with that kind of money and those people who protect the mafia and the financial institutions of Mexico," says Gately. "They blew their big chance."
That chance came during "Operation Casablanca," U.S. law enforcement's largest investigation into drug money laundering, a sting executed without the knowledge of the Mexican government that eventually landed dozens of Mexican bankers in jail.
Gately organized and ran Casablanca. He says that when he told his bosses at the Treasury Department about the allegations concerning Mexico's secretary of defense, they weren't interested. In fact, he tells Bradley, his bosses refused to let him investigate the allegations. Gately believes the Clinton administration did not want to provoke an incident with Mexico.
Customs Commissioner Raymond Kelly insists politics had nothing to do with shutting down Casablanca. He says the allegations concerning Mexico's secretary of defense were vague and unreliable. But former Justice Department prosecutor Lawrence Barcella, after reviewing the videotape transcripts, disagreed. "You've just identified the person's positionÂ…One personÂ…holds that position. You don't have to be a genius to figure out who they're referring to," says Barcella.
Mexico's secretary of defense is Gen. Enrique Cervantes, whom U.S. officials say is America's key partner in the drug war.
Commissioner Kelly says the main reason Casablanca was shut down was that leaks to the media about the operation were putting agents' lives at risk.
But Gately says, "[Kelly] didn't punish anyone for leaking." The real reason, says Gately, was that nobody really wanted to target the Mexican government. "The undercover phase of this thing ended and there was a hue and cry not only from the Mexican governmentÂ…Our own secretary of state, Madeleine AlbrightÂ…[and] drug czar Gen. McCaffrey both took the side of the Mexican government," Gately tells Bradley. "So I believe everyone thought that Mexico gets a passÂ…We don't want to hear about it. So they didnÂ't follow up on it."