MEXICO CITY - A man running for mayor in the western Mexican state of Michoacan is reportedly “armed and dangerous,” according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
Rogelio Portillo Jaramillo announced his candidacy for the town of Huetamo in April. News quickly spread that he and members of his family may be connected to a local drug trafficking organization and were wanted by the DEA for their connection to a Texas based cocaine ring in the 2000s.
The news seemed particularly scandalous since he is running in the upcoming June elections for the MORENA party founded by Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who has been under fire recently for a perceived unwillingness to crack down on organized crime.
But Portillo Jaramillo claims that the DEA’s charges are bogus.
“I categorically deny that I have any relationship with any criminal group,” he told VICE World News over the phone while on the campaign trail. “This information in some news outlets that links me to some crime has been very unfortunate and very irresponsible because they put my integrity and that of my family at risk by linking me to organized crime or a criminal group.”
The charges stem from the 2005 arrest of his father, Edilberto Portillo, aka Beto, and several associates after law enforcement traced kilos of cocaine moving through a Houston nightclub owned by the elder Portillo.
The indictment alleges that Portillo Jaramillo, his father Beto, and another uncle named Marcelino Portillo, were involved in a conspiracy along with others to possess and distribute cocaine from at least 1999 until Beto's arrest. It also alleges that Beto was involved in laundering at least $2 million dollars.
While Portillo Jaramillo confirmed to VICE World News that he had lived in Texas from 2004 to 2006, he denied that he was ever involved in drug trafficking. He said that his father had a “legal situation, but from which he was acquitted.”
However, according to court records, Beto pleaded guilty to the count of distributing cocaine in 2009, although when presented with that publicly available information, his son maintained that it was “false.”
Both Portillo Jaramillo and his uncle, Marcelino, still have wanted posters on the DEA website related to the cocaine charges from the 2000s. The Houston DEA field office confirmed to VICE World News that the man on the wanted poster named Rogelio Portillo Jaramillo is currently wanted by the DEA and they would seek his extradition, if arrested in Mexico or another country. The office also stated that they could neither deny, nor confirm, whether the man running for mayor with the same name is the wanted fugitive, unless they had him in custody and could check for themselves. But Portillo Jaramillo confirmed that he is the man in the photo.
Portillo Jaramillo claimed that he first became aware of the DEA allegations only eight years ago, and has repeatedly tried to get answers about the charges.
“I've personally spoken with the phone numbers on the page where I have stated that I am that person and that I would like to know why they are looking for me. They tell me that they cannot give me any information.”
In the available court documents Portillo Jaramillo is hardly mentioned beyond his name as a co-conspirator on the cocaine distribution charges. A criminal complaint also details Beto's and others' role in the cocaine ring without mentioning Portillo Jaramillo, but it repeatedly refers to the Portillo Drug Trafficking Organization.
But the Portillo family is known for more than just their alleged connection to the cocaine trade.
In the 80s, the elder Portillo founded a still active and popular musical group called Beto y Sus Canarios—Beto and His Canaries. While the majority of their more recent songs are love ballads, several from the 90s would fall under the narcocorrido genre which glorifies the escapades of criminals and drug trafficking.
In one song, called El Rey de la Coca, or “The King of Cocaine,” the band sings from the perspective of an anonymous drug trafficker:
“No one knows my name,
no license plates on my truck.
They only know my nickname.
I am the King of Cocaine.”
Portillo Jaramillo denied that the song was based on a real person.
“No, here in the region, that's the culture,” he said, chuckling slightly at the question. “It does not refer to any specific person. It is something traditional. It is a way for everyone here in our region to express ourselves.”
Huetamo is based in a region of Mexico known as the Tierra Caliente, or the Hot Land, which transcends several states. It is one of the most lawless and dangerous regions of Mexico and known for drug trafficking. The region has been especially affected by ongoing incursions into the area by the notorious Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG for its Spanish acronym), which has led to ongoing battles with other organized crime groups in western Mexico.
Local media reports have also alleged that Portillo Jaramillo is the cousin of a man named Francisco Jaramillo, known as Chico Jaramillo, who is believed to be a local leader of the CJNG.
Although the mayoral candidate admitted that the alleged narco is a distant relative, he claimed he wouldn't recognize him and doesn't have a relationship with Chico Jaramillo.
“I do not know what he does,” said Portillo Jaramillo. “So I can't answer for other people. I can only answer for myself.”
He then stressed that his family is large and he has “a ton” of cousins and that it “isn't fair” that he has to answer for the legal issues of anyone with his last name.
Chico Jaramillo was arrested in 2020 after a gunfight with Mexican authorities in connection for a murder in an area known as Zirandaro, in Guerrero state just across the border of Michoacan.
Another uncle of Portillo Jaramillo named Gregorio Portillo won the mayorship of Zirandaro in 2018, then made headlines the following year when he offered to broker a truce between local criminal groups. While located in different states, the two towns of Huetamo and Zirandaro straddle the border between both Guerrero and Michoacan and are only about 15 miles from one another.
Both Gregorio and Portillo Jaramillo are connected to Lopez Obrador's MORENA party, which prides itself on representing Mexico's long forgotten and marginalized populations. He said that the town and the party support him regardless of the accusations that made “my name very famous around the world.”
“My party supports me,” said Portillo Jaramillo. “In Mexico, I have no problem. Nobody is chasing me, nobody is looking for me. Quite the opposite. The only ones that are looking for me are the people who want to support me.”
Michoacan’s Police Chief Israel Patrón publicly stated that charges in other countries wouldn’t affect Portillo Jaramillo’s candidacy and that he was unaware of any charges against the candidate in Mexico.
If elected, Portillo Jaramillo plans to focus on employment in the region.
“There's no other way. If we do not generate employment we will continue to have high levels of insecurity,” he said. “Also, it will prevent many young people from ending up committing criminal acts or succumbing to drug addiction.”