Casino, Soccer Team Sanction by US for Alleged Ties to Drug Trafficking

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MEXICO CITY (Associated Press) — Legendary Mexican soccer player Rafael Marquez Alvarez and a well-known band leader are among 22 people sanctioned for alleged ties to a drug trafficking organization, the United States Treasury announced Wednesday.

The sanctions are the result of a multi-year investigation of the drug trafficking organization allegedly headed by Raul Flores Hernandez, the Treasury said in a statement.

It will also sanction 43 entities in Mexico, including a soccer team and casino.

It is the single largest such designation of a drug trafficking organization ever by its Office of Foreign Assets Control, the statement said.

Marquez, 38, is a former Barcelona, Monaco and New York Red Bulls defender who currently plays for the Mexican soccer club Atlas in Guadalajara and is captain of the Mexican national team.

Messages left for Marquez's agent Enrique Nieto seeking comment were not immediately answered.

Flores Hernandez allegedly operated independently in the northern city of Guadalajara, but maintained alliances with the Sinaloa and Jalisco New Generation cartels.

The Mexican Attorney General's Office also seized related assets, including the Grand Casino near Guadalajara, according to the Treasury statement.

"Raul Flores Hernandez has operated for decades because of his longstanding relationships with other drug cartels and his use of financial front persons to mask his investments of illegal drug proceeds," OFAC Director John E. Smith said in the statement.

Federal drug trafficking indictments against Flores Hernandez were returned in March in Washington and the southern district of California.

The U.S. government referred to Marquez and 34-year-old norteno singer Julio Cesar Alvarez, better known as Julion Alvarez, as people with longstanding relationships with Flores Hernandez who "have acted as front persons for him and his (drug trafficking organization) and held assets on their behalf."

Alvarez has been nominated for Latin Grammys and has won Billboard awards. His latest album, "Not a Devil, nor a Saint," released in May was his fifth No. 1 on the Billboard list of regional Mexican music.

Emails to Alvarez's manager were not immediately answered and a spokesman for Universal Music, the parent company of Alvarez's record label Fonovisa, declined to comment.

The Treasury statement did not say that Marquez or Alvarez face charges in the U.S.

Marquez is famed as a tenacious defender whose crunching tackles sometimes saw him sent off in high-profile matches. In Mexico he is revered as one of the country's all-time greats, though many U.S. fans remember him for a studs-up, head-butt foul on Cobi Jones that earned him a direct red card at the 2002 World Cup.

Marquez debuted in Mexico's top-flight league in 1996 with Atlas and moved to AS Monaco of France's Ligue 1 three years later. In 2003, Marquez joined Barcelona and spent 10 years there, helping the Spanish super-club win La Liga and Champions League trophies.

Advancing into his 30s, Marquez then had stints with the New York Red Bulls of Major League Soccer, Leon of Mexico and Hellas Verona in Italy's Serie A before returning to Atlas.

A longtime fixture of Mexico's national team, he led "El Tri" at four World Cups and hopes to become only the third player ever to play in five. Marquez has scored 13 goals wearing the green jersey in 158 appearances between 1997 and 2017, according to statistics published by the Mexican Soccer Federation.

The entities the Treasury tied to Marquez include his soccer academy and health and rehabilitation clinics.

The sanctions freeze all U.S. assets of the people and entities named and forbid U.S. citizens from doing business with them

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