MEXICO: MARIA ANTONIETA RODRIGUEZ MATA, the crooked Tamaulipas cop who rose to lead the Gulf Cartel
María Antonieta Rodríguez Mata (aka: La Generela)
The names of some of Mexico’s most famous drug lords are well known by many: Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán Loera, Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada and Nemesio Oseguera Cervantes, “El Mencho”. Aside from their profession, they also have one thing in common – they are all men.
But those following the evolution of Mexico’s drug cartels over the years have noticed demographic changes: women rising to leadership positions along these powerful men. One of them was María Antonieta Rodríguez Mata (“La Generela”), a former Tamaulipas State Police officer and convicted Gulf Cartel kingpin.
On the last day of Women’s History Month, Borderland Beat will cover the life of Rodríguez Mata, a woman who led a sophisticated drug trafficking network from Reynosa, Tamaulipas, that extended to elsewhere in Mexico and into South and Central America. Roles of women like her are often overlooked in Mexico’s criminal landscape, but she surely won’t be the last.
Early life and personality
Rodríguez Mata was born in 1969 in Tampico, Tamaulipas, Mexico, to Antonio Rodriguez Zacarias and Rosalia Mata Espinoza. When she was one-year old her family moved to Reynosa, where she grew up. Rodríguez Mata is the youngest of six siblings. She was very close to her father, a local Pemex laborer, and identified mostly with the paternal figure in her household. From a very young age her parents noticed her high intellectual abilities. She stood out from most of her classmates academically and was recognized for her sharp reasoning.
Socially, Rodríguez Mata preferred the conventional; she usually takes on the dominant role in group settings. Her criminal psychologist said that her personality was formed in an environment where she received a lot of attention and recognition for her appearance and actions. In later years, she suffered from a degree of grandiosity, need for admiration, and a worry for being successful.
She studied at the Universidad Valle de Bravo, Campus Reynosa but suspended her studies when she was 22-years old to pursue a career in the Tamaulipas State Police. She was admitted into the agency in 1992. When Rodríguez Mata was in the Tamaulipas State Police, authorities suspected she also protected the criminal activities of the Gulf Cartel kingpin Osiel Cárdenas Guillén. Her career in the police was short-lived; she handed over her badge and left the state police in 1996. But the reason why she did shocked investigators in later years.
Organized crime career
According to investigators, she was hired into the Gulf Cartel by Gregorio Sauceda Gamboa (“El Caramuela”), a senior member of the cartel who had also served alongside her in the state police. El Caramuela was assigned to protect Cárdenas Guillén by state police chief Arturo Pedroza Aguirre, and was responsible for hiring several policemen to work in the cartel.
Rodríguez Mata rose through the ranks of the Gulf Cartel and became a high-ranking member in Reynosa. She served as the Gulf Cartel’s link to other criminal groups in the U.S., Mexico, Colombia, Guatemala, and Dominican Republic. According to her associates, she often met with criminal members out of her house in Las Fuentes neighborhood in Reynosa or traveled in person to meet business partners; she preferred to discuss and struck drug deals in person. In her meetings, she was reportedly accompanied by Mexican law enforcement agents.
Outside of her organized crime career, she also ran multiple businesses, including auto repair shops, restaurants, real estate leasing agencies, and a fish farming company. She posed as a legitimate business person with these money laundering fronts. She owned a house in Reynosa and in Monterrey, where she usually preferred to stay.
In the cartel, she was assigned to manage an international narcotics ring from Colombia, Guatemala to the U.S.-Mexico border with Texas. The drugs she supervised were transported via land and guarded by corrupt members of the Tamaulipas State Police, some whom she had previously worked with. Rodríguez Mata worked closely with Zetas member Rogelio González Pizaña (“El Kelín”), who served as her intermediary in Veracruz. Once in Tamaulipas, the drugs were smuggled via the Reynosa corridor and into McAllen, Texas, before being sent to Dallas and Houston for further distribution. Then drugs were then redistributed through different places of the U.S. interior, including to the states of California, Georgia, North Carolina, Illinois and New York.
U.S. authorities first noticed her in 1999, shortly after two U.S. federal agents were threatened at gunpoint in Matamoros by Cárdenas Guillén’s henchmen. In 2000, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas (S.D. Tex.) in Brownsville indicted Rodríguez Mata on six counts of drug trafficking, conspiracy and money laundering. According to the indictment, Rodríguez Mata was responsible for smuggling more than 100 lb (45 kg) of marijuana and more than 160 lb (73 kg) of cocaine between March and December of that year. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) determined she made around US$200,000 in drug proceeds for these shipments.
Arrest, extradition and conviction
Rodríguez Mata lived comfortably in Mexico knowing she did not face criminal charges. But on February 2004, the Federal Investigative Agency (AFI) arrested her in Monterrey. The arrest was conducted as a result of a U.S. extradition request despite her not having outstanding charges in Mexico. Rodríguez Mata was transferred from Monterrey to Mexico City and imprisoned at the Reclusorio Preventivo Femenil Norte, a women’s prison, and placed under the jurisdiction of a penal judge.
In September 2007, the Mexican government authorized Rodríguez Mata’s extradition to the U.S. However, her defense issued several writs of amparo to prevent her transfer. In August 2007, she was extradited to the U.S. to face drug trafficking and money laundering charges in S.D. Tex. The Secretariat of Public Security (SSP) confirmed that she was flown in a non-commercial plane from the Toluca International Airport to the McAllen-Miller International Airport. U.S. officials were on-board; once in the U.S., she was taken into custody by the U.S. Marshals Service. Former U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Tony Garza stated that Rodríguez Mata’s extradition was a sign of collaboration between justice officials in the U.S. and Mexico. U.S. officials asked the presiding judge to hold Rodríguez Mata without bond. If convicted, she faced up to life imprisonment.
|Register Number: 20702-017|
|Released On: 05/31/2013|
In early 2008, Rodríguez Mata pleaded guilty to two counts of drug trafficking related to shipments from northern Mexico to New York. On 3 October 2008, Rodríguez Mata was sentenced to 102 months (8.5 years) in a U.S. federal prison for her leadership role in an international drug trafficking and money laundering organization. Her conviction included three years of mandatory supervision upon her release. Since Rodríguez Mata had already served several years in prison both in Mexican and U.S. custody, she was expected to be released in about four years.
If one searches in the Federal Bureau of Prisons, you’ll find a lady that matches her name and age in the search list. We can only assume at this point, but it seems like Rodríguez Mata was released from prison on 31 May 2013, after a little over four and a half years in custody. There are no public records of her deportation to Mexico, and it is uncertain if she held U.S. citizenship/residency. She faces no criminal charges in Mexico.
PROFILE: Gulf Cartel
The Gulf Cartel is one of the oldest and most powerful of Mexico’s criminal groups but has lost territory and influence in recent years to its rivals, including its former enforcer wing, the Zetas. In the cartel’s heyday, its boss, Osiel Cardenas Guillen, was considered the country’s most powerful underworld leader, and the Zetas the most feared gang.
The Gulf Cartel’s origins can be traced to 1984, when Juan Garcia Abrego assumed control of his uncle’s drug trafficking business, then a relatively small-time marijuana and heroin operation. Garcia Abrego brokered a deal with the Cali Cartel, the Colombian mega-structure that was looking for new entry routes into the US market after facing a clampdown on their Caribbean routes by US law enforcement. It was an agreement that, from the business side, proved irresistible both for the Cali Cartel’s leaders, the Rodriguez Orejuela brothers, and for the Mexicans: Garcia Abrego would handle cocaine shipments via the Mexican border, taking on all the risks, as well as much as 50 percent of the profits.
When Garcia Abrego was arrested and deported to the United States in January 1996, the Gulf Cartel was reportedly pulling in billions in revenues each year, cash that had to be smuggled back across the border in suitcases, jets and through underground tunnels. This drug trafficking organization built a wide-reaching delivery network across the United States, from Houston to Atlanta, New York to Los Angeles, but its influence was most acutely seen in its imitators. Other kingpins, like the head of the Juarez Cartel Amado Carillo Fuentes, alias “El Señor de los Cielos,” (Lord of the Skies), quickly followed in Garcia Abrego’s footsteps and began demanding more control over distribution from their Colombian partners instead of settling for a share in the transportation fees. As a result, by the end of the 1990s Mexican traffickers had built a series of cocaine, methamphetamine, and heroin networks that rivaled Cali in size, sophistication and profit. And, by buying out government aides, ministers, the federal police force and even the Attorney General’s Office, the Gulf Cartel was soon rivaling Cali in terms of political corruption.
But it took Garcia Abrego’s heir, Osiel Cardenas Guillen, to develop the Gulf Cartel’s military wing in ways never envisioned either in Cali or in Medellin. Cardenas recruited at least 31 former soldiers of Mexico’s Special Forces to act as security enforcers, for at least three times their previous pay. They were expert sharpshooters, were trained in weapons inaccessible to most of their drug-trafficking rivals, capable of rapid deployment operations in almost any environment, and they matched perfectly Cardenas’ more brutal, confrontational leadership style. Cardenas was arrested in 2003, after the US Department of State placed a $2 million reward on his head. But his former protection unit, which soon began operating as an independent group known as the Zetas, is perhaps this group’s bloodiest and most influential legacy in Mexico’s drug war.
Today, the Gulf Cartel has managed to stick around despite deep internal divisions and ongoing offensives from competing criminal groups to move in on territory under the group’s control in northern Mexico and along the US-Mexico border.
After Cardenas’ extradition to the US in 2007, Jorge Eduardo Costilla Sanchez, alias “El Coss,” was believed to be leading the group’s day-to-day operations, until he was captured in September 2012. Cardenas’ brother, Antonio Cardenas Guillen, alias “Tony Tormenta,” handled the cartel’s drug trafficking business until he was gunned down in November 2010.
Mario Ramirez Treviño, alias “X20,” a hitman and internal rival of Metro 4, briefly took the organization’s top spot following the January murder. He was arrested in Tamaulipas in August 2013 in a Mexican army operation, following the arrest of 24 members of his group a week earlier. He was placed in a Mexican jail, but is also wanted in the United States on drug trafficking and organized crime charges.
As with the arrest of previous leadership, his arrest left another power vacuum in the increasingly fragmented cartel.
Eventually, Julián Manuel Loisa Salinas, alias “El Comandante Toro,” assumed leadership of the group and commanded a group of hitmen in the border town of Reynosa in the Gulf Cartel’s traditional hub of Tamaulipas. However, Loisa Salinas was gunned down by Mexico’s federal forces in April of 2017. Shortly after that, the Mexican Army captured yet another Gulf Cartel leader, José Antonio Romo López, alias “La Hamburguesa,” in May of that same year, again throwing the leadership of the group into uncertainty.
Amid “rapid turnover” in the group’s leaders, José Alfredo Cárdenas Martínez, alias “El Contador” and the nephew of former cartel capo Osiel Cárdenas Guillén, was the only one of the group’s leaders that remained. However, his tenure was also cut short by authorities, who arrested him in early 2018 in Tamaulipas.
It’s unclear where exactly the group’s leadership stands now, but alliances with smaller splinter cells and fortifying their traditional bases of operations have allowed the Gulf Cartel to retain a significant place in Mexico’s organized crime landscape.
The cartel’s traditional center of operations is in the northeastern border state of Tamaulipas, with its most important operational bases in Matamoros, Nuevo Laredo and Reynosa. These areas are critical from an operational and a financial standpoint. The cartel makes a substantial amount of money simply charging others for passage through the area.
Other key northern cities include Monterrey, in Nuevo Leon, which the cartel lost control of to the Zetas following an intense struggle for control, but appears to be trying to regain. Southwards, the group is known to have established itself in at least 11 other states, as well as in the cities of Miguel Aleman, in Oaxaca, Morelia in Michoacan, and possibly also the Yucatan peninsula.
Other key northern cities include Monterrey, in Nuevo Leon, which the cartel lost control of to the Zetas following an intense struggle for control, but appears to be trying to regain. The group also maintains a presence in the states of Nuevo León, San Luis Potosí and Coahuila.
Allies and Enemies
In April 2010, the federal police confirmed that there was an alliance between the Familia Michoacana and the Gulf Cartel against their common rival, the Zetas, which has been pushing aggressively into the Gulf’s traditional stronghold in Tamaulipas.
It was little surprise to crime watchers in Mexico. The Gulf has a violent history of seeing former allies turn against it. A previous alliance, brokered in prison between Cardenas and Benjamin Arellano Felix, one of the heads of the Tijuana Cartel, held for about a year until the agreement broke down in 2005, leading to another outbreak of killings in the border states. Another temporary division of territory with the Sinaloa Cartel also broke down in 2007, causing havoc nationwide.
Today the Gulf Cartel is still engaged in battles in key northern states with its former enforcement wing Los Zetas, as well as offshoots of the group including the Northeast Cartel.
For a time, the Gulf Cartel faced the Frankenstein-like task of facing down a monster of its own creation in the Zetas. Overall, it appears as though the group has been able to weather the storm. The Zetas are a shadow of their former selves now splintered into several offshoots. For its part, the Gulf Cartel is still in control of a key criminal enclave in Tamaulipas that allows the group to continue trafficking large drug shipments across the US-Mexico border. It seems the cartel’s focus on consolidating power in their traditional strongholds has paid off while other groups battle to expand their operations.
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