Journalists subpoenaed over reporting on Mexican drug trade

New York, February 20, 2002—The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is alarmed at subpoenas recently served to several Mexican and American journalists. All of them were ordered to hand over material related to 1999 news articles about the Hank family of Mexico, which has been linked to drug trafficking activities.

On February 22, a U.S. District Court will hear a motion to quash the subpoena served to Dolia Estévez, the Washington, D.C., correspondent for the Mexican daily El Financiero.

In 1999, El Financiero, The Dallas Morning News, and the weekly magazine Insight on the News, among others, reported on allegations that the Hank family was involved in narcotics trafficking. All the news articles quoted a report by the National Drug Intelligence Center (NDIC), a U.S. federal agency.

In August 2000, the Texas-based Laredo National Bank, of which Carlos Hank Rhon is majority shareholder, and the bank’s CEO, Gary Jacobs, sued academic and author Donald Schulz for “infiltrating” the NDIC and leaking the report to the press. At the time the articles were published, Schulz was working on a book about links between the drug trade and Mexican politicians. The bank and Jacobs also sued the NDIC, calling the report’s allegations “life-shattering lies.”

On January 9 of this year, Estévez was subpoenaed in connection with the Schulz case. Estévez was instructed to hand over all research materials used to prepare her 1999 article on the NDIC report, including e-mail correspondence, tape recordings, agendas, draft articles, and lists of U.S. government contacts.

In late January, The Dallas Morning News received a similarly broad subpoena addressed to reporter Tracey Eaton, who is currently reporting in Cuba. Around the same time, Jamie Dettmer, a senior editor at Insight on the News, also received a subpoena.

The Hank family is already well known to the press. Jorge Hank Rhon (Carlos Hank Rhon’s brother) was a prime suspect in the 1988 murder of Héctor Félix Miranda, a columnist for the Tijuana weekly Zeta. Every week since the murder, Zeta has run a full page with Miranda’s picture and a caption reading, “Jorge Hank Rhon: Why did your bodyguard Antonio Vera Palestina kill me?”

On February 22, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia will address Estévez’s motion to quash the subpoena. “CPJ hopes the court will rule in the interest of press freedom,” said CPJ executive director Ann Cooper. “These broad subpoenas seriously endanger the First Amendment rights of Estévez, Eaton, Dettmer, and their colleagues. We would hate to see another journalist jailed in the United States for doing his or her job.”

In July of 2001, Texas-based free-lance writer Vanessa Leggett was jailed for refusing to reveal her confidential sources. She was released when the federal grand jury that subpoenaed her expired this January 4.