GUADALAJARA, Mexico – A former Mexican state governor has pleaded guilty to charges he helped launder millions of dollars in bribe payments he received from a drug cartel.
Villanueva, the former governor of Quintana Roo state, home to the posh resort town of Cancun, had been part of the Institutional Revolutionary Party's grip on Mexican politics for most of the 20th century.
The PRI – winner of the July 1 presidential election after 12 years in opposition – became a symbol for corruption and electoral fraud during its 71 years in power.
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Villanueva, 64, pleaded guilty in a federal court in Manhattan on Thursday.
He was extradited to the United States in 2010 after serving six years in prison in Mexico for money laundering, Reuters reported.
El Universal said Villanueva accepted payments of "millions of dollars" from the Juarez drug gang in return for ensuring the safe passage of cocaine shipments through his state while he was governor from 1993 to 1999.
If convicted, he could be jailed for up to 20 years.
"The defendant received those proceeds and laundered them through various financial transactions," federal prosecutor Jason Smith said at the plea proceeding.
"They were drug trafficking proceeds."
Reuters said the money transfers were handled by Consuelo Marquez, a Lehman Brothers investment representative who pleaded guilty to money laundering charges in 2005.
Judge Victor Marrero said Villanueva would be sentenced on October 26, El Universal reported.