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the hank family of mexicoL Background and an interview with Carlos Hank Rohn by Lowell Bergman

Bergman is series reporter for FRONTLINE's "Drug Wars".
As the scandals of President Carlos Salinas's regime rocked Mexico in the 1990s, another name surfaced that caught the attention of U.S. officials - the Hank family. The patriarch, Carlos Hank Gonzales, was for many years a high level politician inside Mexico's ruling PRI party and was recognized as a man of immense power and influence. His critics say he represented the traditional, old style Mexican politics of corruption in business and government and the stealing of elections and the buying of votes. The Hank family responds that it's all politics because the father once worked for former president Carlos Salinas.

Today, it is Carlos Hank Gonzales' sons--Carlos Hank Rhon and Jorge Hank Rhon--who are the subject of much scrutiny.

Jorge, based out of Tijuana, already had a reputation for eccentric behavior along with allegations of criminality. Jorge owns the gambling concession in Northern Mexico and runs a racetrack in Tijuana.

Carlos Hank Rohn, the eldest and less flamboyant son, managed to stay out of the news until investigators and journalists turned their attention to Raul Salinas's financial affairs. As reported in FRONTLINE'S "Murder, Money and Mexico," it was Carlos Hank Rohn who was the reference for Raul Salinas at Citibank. And it was Citibank who then moved more than a hundred million dollars secretly out of Mexico for the President's brother.

hank rhin

VIDEO: Watch excerpts from Carlos Hank Rohn's FRONTLINE interview.
Eventually, the Swiss National Police would assert that much of that money was "narcotics" money paid to Raul for political protection. But a number of wealthy Mexicans, including Carlos Hank Rohn, would be identified as significant contributors to what Raul and they claim was an "investment fund." Carlos Hank Rohn's commitment came to $9 million.

In his interview with FRONTLINE, for the first time on the record and on camera, Carlos Hank Rohn talks about that investment and why he made it.

Carlos Hank Rhon also defends the family's name which was sullied over the past two years when a secret U.S. government raw intelligence report, dubbed the 'White Tiger Report,' was leaked to the press. The report contained details about government investigations into the Hank family for alleged links to drug traffickers and money laundering. The report alleged that the Hank family was intimately involved with powerful drug trafficking organizations, including the Arellano-Felix Organization, and that Carlos was directly involved in money laundering. It concluded that the family represented "a significant criminal threat to the United States."

After the report was leaked, the family began a counter-attack. They hired high profile lawyers such as former New Hampshire Senator Warren Rudman and began lobbying the U.S. government to disavow the document. Attorney General Janet Reno eventually wrote the family a letter saying the report had been improperly leaked and that she could not endorse its conclusions because it had not been properly vetted.

National Public Radio (NPR), which collaborated with FRONTLINE on the "Drug Wars" series, obtained an interview with Thomas Constantine, head of the DEA from March 1994 to July 1999. Constantine discusses the allegations concerning the Hank family and the difficulties in carrying out investigations in Mexico that could prove or disprove the intelligence information.

In the U.S., the Hank family and one of Carlos Hank Rohn's most important assets is being defended by Gary Jacobs, CEO and President of Laredo National Bank in Laredo, Texas. The Federal Reserve alleges that Carlos hid the ownership interest of his father and others.

If this can be proven, it might result in removal of the $2 billion bank from his control, plus substantial fines.

Jacobs vigorously defends the Hank family in his FRONTLINE interview. He accuses 'rogue' elements of the DEA and the Federal Reserve, plus others, of being part of a campaign to get both Carlos Hank Rohn and himself. He says they are both 'victims.' The motivation , he says, is prejudice on the part of U.S. officials: "They don't want Latinos to own or control banks in the U.S." As for the allegations in the 'White Tiger' report that brothers Carlos and Jorge Hank Rohn use their businesses as a means to launder money for drug trafficking clientele, Jacobs calls the charges, "undocumentable lies."

Mr. Jacobs tells FRONTLINE that he is active, from time to time, in support of both Republicans and Democrats and that he usually supports individuals once they are in power. Recently Jacobs and Laredo National Bank were each fined by the Federal Elections Commission for making a $15,000 dollar for a contribution to the Republican National Committee. Jacobs was fined because he did not reveal that the Laredo National Bank had reimbursed him for the contribution.