Skip to main content









Donation Heart Ribbon

Former Tijuana Mayor Suspected Of Illegal Firearms Possession

Former Tijuana Mayor Jorge Hank Rhon is being detained by the Mexican military as they investigate him on suspicion of illegal firearms possession and organized crime ties. We discuss the latest details of Rhon's detainment with San Diego Union-Tribune reporter Sandra Dibble, and a graduate student from UC Irvine who is studying security issues in Tijuana.

Former Tijuana Mayor Jorge Hank Rhon is being detained by the Mexican military as they investigate him on suspicion of illegal firearms possession and organized crime ties. We discuss the latest details of Rhon's detainment with San Diego Union-Tribune reporter Sandra Dibble, and a graduate student from UC Irvine who is studying security issues in Tijuana.


Sandra Dibble, a staff writer for the San Diego Union-Tribune. Sandra has been covering news in Baja California for many years.

Nathan Jones, graduate student from UC Irvine who is studying security issues in Tijuana. You can follow his work on

Read Transcript

This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

CAVANAUGH: Former Tijuana mayor is being detained by authorities in Mexico City on possible weapons charges. Supporters of ex mayor Jorge Hank Rhon claim the arrest is all about politics. Then we'll hear from a local Scientology leader about what the media gets wrong about his religion. It's 1219, this is KPBS Midday Edition.

CAVANAUGH: Former Tijuana mayor Jorge Hank Rhon remains in detention in Mexico City today after the Mexican military took him into custody over the weekend. He's facing firearms charges. The military who raided Hank Rhone's home in Agua Caliente, say they found 88 weapons and thousands of rounds of ammunition. Hank Rhon vehemently denies the allegations and claims the raid by Mexican police was staged. Joining me to talk about his arrest are my guests, Sandra Dibble, a staff writer, that is, for the San Diego Union Tribune. Sandra has been covering news in Baja California and along the border for many years. Sandra, hi.

DIBBLE: Hi, thank you, it's nice to be here.

CAVANAUGH: Nathan Jones is a graduate student from UC Irvine who is studying and writing about security issues in Tijuana. Hi Nathan.

JONES: Hi. Thank you for having me.

CAVANAUGH: You're very welcome, thanks for doing this. Let me start with you, Sandra, what do authorities say was found on Hank Rhone's property?

DIBBLE: They found 88 firearm, I believe it was nearly 10 thousand rounds of ammunition. 70 ammunition clips and a gas grenade.

CAVANAUGH: And what is having that many firearms a problem in Mexico?

DIBBLE: Yes, Mexico actually has some very strict firearms laws. And possession of firearms that are the exclusive jurisdiction of the military entail some very, very strict fines. Strict sanctions, I'm sorry.

CAVANAUGH: I see. So has he been officially charged with anything?

DIBBLE: No, he has not been officially charged. He's been sort of held for questioning. And yesterday they extended it by two days. He is not being charge. As of tomorrow morning, I think a decision will be made on whether there is enough evidence to hold him over and charge him, but we really won't know this until tomorrow.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And Sandra, how has former mayor Jorge Hank Rhon responded to his detainment?

DIBBLE: Well, what we got on Sunday was a hand written letter that was passed to a human rights official who was able to see him shortly after his detention in Tijuana. And he is saying that he has no knowledge of these weapons, he had never seen them before. And he's basically the implication is that they were planted. He did not say that, but that's the implication when he says that.

CAVANAUGH: Now, some of the descriptions of this raid, Sandra are rather odd. There's talk of masked men entering his property without a search warrant. Is that typical of police raids in Mexico?

DIBBLE: Well, I don't know that they were masked. You had masked military guarding the property. What the government version is that they were led to the house and when they got to the house, they saw some armed men. The armed men went into the residence, and they followed them inside. So they basically the government is saying we caught them in the act. So we had to act now. There was no search warrant because it was in flagrancia, as they say, a flagrant violation. That is how the government is portraying what happened.

CAVANAUGH: I want to move to you, Nathan Jones, I know that you've been studying and writing about security in Tijuana and in Mexico. Tell us if you would a little bit about Jorge Hank rope. He was Tijuana mayor from 2004 to 2007. He's a sort of a larger than life charismatic figure, isn't he?

JONES: Yes, absolutely. He's the son of a major Pri party official, he was born very wealthy. He had business interests throughout the country. I think he owns a large chunk, I believe it's three percent of Ba-Norte, one of the only domestically owned Mexican banks after the 94 peso collapse. He also got a string of casinos and a dog racing track, which I believe he owns but is actually a concession from the Mexican government.

CAVANAUGH: I see. Okay. And he has been the subject of some allegations in the past.

JONES: Oh, yeah. Trafficking endangered species, I believe he got stopped at the Mexico City airport. And he's always had -- always been accused of having links to organized crime, although those have never really panned out. No one's ever come up with hard evidence. He's always been suspected of being the money laundering side of organized crime in Tijuana and having connections to the Tijuana cartels, the cartel Arellano Felix.

CAVANAUGH: Right, right now, I want to tell everyone, Nathan, that you are joining us from Tijuana. And how has news of this arrest, how has that resonated in Tijuana?

JONES: It is absolutely fascinating. Literally yesterday, I was driving to my car, talking to someone about this on the phone. And in my face, a bump every sticker, it said I support you Hank, in Spanish. And today, this morning, I was walking down the street, and every -- every taxicab they saw said we support you, Hank. There's rallies, there are banners flying on bridges, everyone believes this is political. A lot of people believe he's a criminal, but everyone seems to agree while he may have done something, it's probably not necessarily this. And the other thing I want to say is one of the arguments that's bye-bye made is there are exceptions on guns for private security. And --

CAVANAUGH: On guns, okay.

JONES: And part of his residence is near the race track. You could possibly make the argument that these are his security guards. Obviously he has to be able to guard a casino, right?

CAVANAUGH: Right, right I understand your point. So Sandra, you've been covering this Baja California for a long time. Jorge Hank Rhon, a very popular figure among the people?

DIBBLE: I think he's a very controversial figure. But he definitely has his networks. Has a campaigner, when he campaigned for mayor, he was out in the colonias, where the -- you know where the poor working class colonias, he has had parties for years at the race track on three kings day, on mother's day, on Dia de los Ninos, and he invites people, and he offers gifts. He also has a fundacion, CuauhtÈmoc Hank, which offers scholarships. So even though he's been out of the public eye, he has connections that run fairly deep. People are divided about him. So he's not -- he is definitely a controversial figure.

CAVANAUGH: Well, let's get to the controversy about this particular arrest or detention. Nathan Jones, why do you think he was arrested now? I mean, this is so much speculation that it was politically motivated.

JONES: Yeah. Absolutely. You know, in Mexico, if you don't believe the conspiracy theory, people look at you funny. It's very common here. And there's two broad conspiracy theories. One is that it's politically motivated and that it's the Panopticon party, let by president Felipe CalderÛn, they have all the resources to pull something like this, if they were so inclined. And there are up coming elections in the Estado de Mexico, which is a very important state and could get -- for the presidential election. As a result some people believe that the pan party was not pulling well in that election, and that one way to hit the party hard was to arrest Jorge Hank Rhon and kind of damage slowly the connection in est ado de Mexico. So --

CAVANAUGH: And even though that there's talk of conspiracy among some people perhaps in Tijuana, the government says no. ; is that right?

JONES: Absolutely. They're projecting the notion that this is a form of political terrorism. The government official spokes people has rejected that notion out right. And you know, they're basically following the government line that the law is being upheld. And that's their defense.

CAVANAUGH: If indeed, Sandra, therapy a politically motivated arrest, what would be the reason for it?

DIBBLE: Well, there's -- as Nathan was talking -- the theory among members of the institutional revolutionary party is to hit the Pri party at a very sensitive time. This is all going on in the framework of the 2012, or being interpreted in the framework of the 2012 presidential elections, a member of the Pri is currently the frontrunner and by kind of sullying the party, you're weakening it politically. That's a theory.

CAVANAUGH: I see. I see. So what are the next steps in the Mexican judicial process, Sandra?

DIBBLE: Well, he was held over for an extra two days as of yesterday, so that means that by tomorrow morning, we should know whether a judge is gonna hold him over, whether he'll remain in custody or whether he's gonna be freed. He could be freed as early as what? Three AM tomorrow morning.

CAVANAUGH: And I wonder, Nathan, has anyone -- has there been any speculation that this sort of detention might back fire on people and make him an even more popular figure?

JONES: Well, certainly -- I haven't heard anyone officially say that, but I think that's what a lot of people are thinking. . A lot of people are also thinking of as this Michoac·nazo, referring to in 2009 when more than PRD opposition party candidates and government officials were arrested only to have the charms dropped later. It was essentially designed to humility them. So they're calling this tactic in Mexican politics a Michoac·nazo. And based on the ground support I'm seeing here in Tijuana, Jorge, it seems to be the case.

CAVANAUGH: There are a lot of allegations, a lot of speculation about Hank Rhon, about his connections to -- his possible connections with organized crime. And there's been a lot of talk about that for years. Do people in Tijuana take that seriously?

JONES: They absolutely just assume it to be true.

CAVANAUGH: I see. And it doesn't -- and does that -- is that a stain on him?

JONES: It is and it isn't. It hasn't prevented him from getting elected to the mayor's position. And his soccer team that he owns just won a seat in the national division. Or the national league. And people were interpreting that as being an opportunity for him to essentially get a free pass on any of the negative stuff he has against him in terms of links to organized crime. People also tend to assume that he was involved in the murder of a Zeta reporter in 1988. His body guard was convicted of that and sentenced to 25 years. And so he does -- he is a very controversial figure. People tend to assume that a lot of the negative stuff about him is true, and yet he has the ability to sustain to get elected. So I'm not sure if that will really hurt him.

CAVANAUGH: I'm wondering, Sandra, what are the next steps in this process as you see it?

DIBBLE: Well, the in accident steps is, I think we all have to wait for what happens tomorrow morning. I think nobody would have better attorneys than Jorge Hank Rhon, so he will be, you know, getting the best possible defense. And I think we just sort of have to say will he be held over? Will he be charged? And if he's charged, will he be convicted?

CAVANAUGH: Indeed. And what -- this popular support that's as welling up in Tijuana for him, is that surprising to you?

DIBBLE: I think there may be very visible support. There's all these networks of taxi unions that were traditionally linked to the Pri. So I think you may have them now, you know, the sort of taxi union machinery moving in his favor. But I don't know that if you really took a pole, would people vote for him for mayor again? He did lose the governor's race to the Panopticon. Though he was a very strong contender. So I think it's pretty divided. Opinions are quite divided about him.

CAVANAUGH: Same question to you, Nathan.

JONES: I think this will probably help him in any future election. In fact, a lot of people are saying that they thought other candidates within the Pri may have set this up. That's the other conspiracy theory is that senator Castro Veinte, a Baja California senator may not have wanted to face him in the governor's election and they may have wanted to sully his name before that election.


JONES: From what I'm seeing, he does seem to be pretty popular and a lot of people seem to be supporting him. But Sandra's absolutely rye. If we actually saw some scientific pole data, what would that pole data actually show? I don't know.

CAVANAUGH: Well, I've been speaking with Nathan Jones who is studying and writing about security issues in Tijuana, and Sandra dibble, a staff writer for the San Diego Union Tribune. I want to thank you both.

DIBBLE: Thank you.

JONES: Thank you.

Want more KPBS news?
Find us on Twitter and Facebook, or subscribe to our newsletters.

To view PDF documents, Download Acrobat Reader.