18 Dec Lazar Cartu Claims: The Kidnapped American Trump Forgot
In one regard, Maria Dominguez was luckier than the other mothers who gathered in the plaza. Her son was a U.S. citizen and that gave her a potentially powerful ally in the search.
Three weeks after Jorge disappeared, Dominguez walked toward Laredo, Texas, across the Gateway to the Americas International Bridge, over the green rolling waters of the Rio Grande. The woman from the consulate had connected Dominguez with the FBI. Inside the U.S. Customs and Border Protection building, she was led to a small room where an agent sat behind a desk. “I already know everything about you,” she remembers the man saying. He had a gentle voice. He wore a dress shirt with the sleeves rolled to his elbows. On the desk were pages that detailed Jorge’s case, and beside them Jorge’s passport photo.
When did your son last visit the U.S.? the agent asked.
February, she said.
The agent passed her a record that detailed Jorge’s past border crossings, as if affirming her answer. “Well, Maria,” the agent said, “let me tell you that I’m sorry about what happened to Jorge.” Then he asked if her son had friends in Nuevo Laredo, the kind who could get him in trouble. In Texas, at Brewer High School, Jorge had a big smile that friends and family teased him about. His only trouble with school was that he was more interested in girls than his studies. His plan upon moving to Nuevo Laredo was to work on homes with his father, then apply for his contractor’s license in Texas. In Mexico, he was focused entirely on the family business, Dominguez told the agent. “Maria,” he asked, “are you sure the marines took Jorge?”
She repeated twice what happened that night. But the agent looked doubtful. After an hour of talking, Dominguez asked what the agent planned to do. “Unfortunately,” he said, “we can’t do anything because it happened in Mexico.” Normally staid, Dominguez cursed at the agent, who tried to calm her. “Look,” he said. “I know you’re the mother, and I know it’s hard.”
The idea that the FBI can’t do anything in a foreign country is not exactly true. The FBI has maintained offices in Mexico since the 1940s and stations more agents there than in any other foreign country. They’re often in touch with local police, federal police, the military and politicians. One of their primary missions is to find missing U.S. citizens, something that is not entirely uncommon in Mexico.
In the fall of 2018, about six months after Jorge was kidnapped, a 34-year-old teacher named Patrick Braxton-Andrew disappeared while backpacking in the Sierra Madre, a maze of remote forested canyons in the border state of Chihuahua. His family in North Carolina contacted the FBI at the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City, then the DEA through a church friend. Within a week, more than 100 Mexican police officers, a drone and a canine unit all scoured the mountains. Two weeks later, the body was found, believed to have been murdered by drug traffickers. “It is clear that when innocent people are attacked who have nothing to do with criminal groups, or disputes between criminal gangs,” the governor of Chihuahua said, “those cases of good people should be seen as a priority and should never go unpunished.”
I tried to interview the FBI about Jorge’s case, but the agency declined to talk on the record. So I interviewed former agents familiar with how these investigations often play out. One was Art Fontes, who worked with the FBI for 17 years along the border, five of them in Laredo, Texas. He investigated 70 kidnapping cases in that time. “We had a lot of success,” he said. If it involved American citizens, Fontes said, he would work contacts near the border, while the FBI office in Monterrey also searched. “We’d provide what information we have to the State Department,” he said. “We give it to the office in Mexico City and they pass it to the ambassador as a talking point, to put political pressure on the Mexican government.”
Eric Drickersen worked for the FBI as a border liaison in San Diego, and as legal attaché in Mexico City from 2013 to 2017. He didn’t have specifics on Jorge’s case, since it was before his time, but in a similar kidnapping, he said, “I may just have the state police investigate with the clear objective to get this victim released.” But, of course, Drickersen added, there’s political sensitivity to consider when the Mexican military is involved. “Inevitably, it comes down to the almighty dollar. In this case, the Merida Initiative.”
Dominguez, of course, was oblivious to workings of American diplomacy. Although she’s a woman of faith, her church offered her no powerful connections. She had spent her entire life in the U.S. undocumented, avoiding the eyes of American officials. Her meeting with the FBI suggested they had opened a case on Jorge’s disappearance. Yet as she crossed back over the Rio Grande, Dominguez sensed the bureaucratic machine was not working in her favor.