The Mexican state of Veracruz is suing its former governor, Javier Duarte de Ochoa, for laundering nearly $3 billion in state money, which was partly used to purchase property in The Woodlands and Spring.
According to the Houston Chronicle, five civil suits were filed against Duarte this week by state officials.
Houston attorney Anthony Buzbee, who’s been hired to represent the Veracruz government in the suits, said in an interview with the Chronicle that Duarte had various tricks he would use to hide the money he was allegedly stealing.
“Sometimes it was suitcases of money,” said Buzbee. “Sometimes it was fake contracts to buddies and shell companies. Sometimes it was ‘We’re going to build this road and allocate $100 million’ and then the road was never built.”
“The challenge,” he added, “is finding all of it.”
The lawsuits filed by the government of Veracruz are looking to recoup over $75 million Duarte allegedly invested in 40 pieces of property in Harris and Montgomery counties.
Property records show, and the lawsuits allege, that Duarte purchased the properties through “straw buyers” (individuals acting on his behalf) and through companies he was connected with, according to the Chronicle. He owns no real estate under his own name in Houston.
“Mr. Duarte orchestrated a scheme in which hundreds of millions of dollars earmarked for social programs were diverted to an elaborate network of phantom companies – among other misdeeds,” said the suits filed in Harris County district court.
The Harris County lawsuits are just a small piece of the case against Duarte, who fled Veracruz in 2016 after mounting allegations against him. He was later caught and jailed in Guatemala after being on the run for six months, according to the BBC.
Duarte allegedly bought luxury properties all over the United States with the stolen money.
“We expect to file suits in Florida—there’s an $8 million mansion there. There are condos in New York,” Buzbee said in an interview with Texas Lawyer. “Right now we’re starting in Texas and getting a handle on that. There are houses he bought in Houston that ranged from $250,000 to $2 million.”
Duarte is currently jailed in Mexico awaiting conviction.