Mexican military forces on Saturday arrested the former mayor of Tijuana, Jorge Hank Rhon, after an early-morning raid at his compound resulted in the seizure of 88 weapons and more than 9,000 rounds of ammunition, military officials said.
Hank, 55, a flamboyant casino mogul and one of Mexico’s wealthiest men, was taken to the federal attorney general’s office in Tijuana and then by armed convoy to an air force base, as supporters lined the streets to protest his transfer to Mexico City.
The 4 a.m. raid occurred on the sprawling grounds of Hank’s showcase property, which includes the historic Agua Caliente Racetrack, a casino, a zoo, and his personal residence. Ten other people were also detained, according to a news release by Mexico’s secretary of national defense.
Hank has long been a divisive figure in Tijuana, viewed by some as a generous populist politician, by others as a man largely above the law. He served as mayor from 2004 to 2007, and in 2007 ran for governor of Baja California but lost, dogged by decades-old allegations of links to notorious crimes and drug trafficking.
His former chief of security was convicted in 1988 of murdering a journalist for the crusading Tijuana newsweekly, Zeta. In the 1990s, U.S. authorities investigated Hank on suspicion of money-laundering.
A member of Mexico’s Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, Hank had always denied criminal connections and has never been convicted. In recent years, he set his sights on expanding his gambling empire and running his Tijuana soccer club, the Xoloitzcuintles.
Francisco Ramirez Romero, Hank’s spokesman, said the military seized weapons that were properly registered with law enforcement and used to protect Hank’s hotel and casino businesses in Baja California.
“We’re surprised.… To protect all this, he needs security teams who are obviously armed,” Ramirez said.
Military officials said that they were led to the cache by three armed men they had detained at a local hotel.
Hank’s security teams have a history of run-ins with Baja California authorities. Some encounters have come close to armed clashes, and in 2009, Hank’s chief of security was arrested on a weapons charge.
The arrest quickly roiled the nation’s political waters. Hank and his family have deep ties to the PRI. His father, Carlos Hank Gonzalez , was an early party leader and former governor of the state of Mexico who left his heirs a fortune estimated at $1 billion.
Humberto Moreira, the party’s president, said in an interview with Mexican journalists that he hoped the raid didn’t mark the start of a political “witch hunt” before the 2012 presidential election.
But leaders of the leftist Democratic Revolution Party and conservative National Action Party cheered the military’s action, saying it would help their campaign to defeat the PRI in a gubernatorial election next month in the central state of Mexico.
Times staff writer Ken Ellingwood in Mexico City contributed to this report.