by Attila Biro (OCCRP/Context.ro), Lilia Saúl Rodriguez (OCCRP), and Jonny Wrate (OCCRP)
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A former member of the Riviera Maya gang was stabbed in Mexico by his onetime comrades. The Mexican prosecutor who led the investigation didn’t even look into them as suspects. Now, it turns out, they may have been paying him off.
- Back in Romania, the gang members were found guilty of the same crimes. They’re now appealing — and in their defense, they’ve revealed the name of the Mexican prosecutor who had managed to avoid looking into them.
- That prosecutor, Jonathan Medina Nava, led the investigation into the attempted murder and subsequent murder of the former member. In neither case did he investigate the gang or its members.
- One gang insider told reporters that Medina Nava was “getting presents” of USD$5,000-$6,000 at a time from the head of the gang, Florian Tudor.
- Medina Nava’s name appears on a list of people whose bank accounts were frozen by Mexican financial investigators over suspicions they were financially entangled with the gang.
A Mexican prosecutor who was allegedly paid off by the head of a Romanian gang also investigated two major criminal cases involving its members, including a murder and an attempted murder.
OCCRP has been investigating the ATM-skimming crime group — which it dubbed the Riviera Maya Gang, after the region in Mexico from which it operated — since 2020.
An ATM in Cancún, Mexico.
Gang leader Florian Tudor is now awaiting possible extradition from Mexico, while six of his associates have been convicted on various charges in Romania — three of them for trying to kill a former gang member on Tudor’s orders.
They are now appealing their convictions, and their defense has relied on reports by former Mexican state prosecutor Jonathan Medina Nava, which pinned the attempted murder on other people, to cast doubt on their guilt.
But according to documents from Mexican investigators, as well as the words of a former Tudor associate who spoke with reporters, Medina Nava had been receiving money from the Romanian crime boss.
“[Medina Nava] was getting presents, maybe 5,000-6,000 [U.S. dollars] a month at first,” said the former gang member.
In addition, Medina Nava had his bank account frozen by Mexican financial investigators in 2021 because they observed transactions linked to the gang. His name appears on a Financial Intelligence Unit report listing 79 people and entities tied to the gang.
In the courtroom at Bucharest’s ornate Palace of Justice on November 8, gang members, their relatives, and an army of lawyers sat through final arguments. Also present was the family of a former gang member the men were convicted of trying to kill.
Eric Nathan/Alamy Stock Photo
The Palace of Justice in Bucharest, Romania.
One man who had crossed Tudor was Constantin Sorinel Marcu, a former friend whose relationship with the gang turned sour. After he fell out with Tudor, Marcu began sticking warnings about the group’s skimming activities onto Mexican ATMs to warn users.
Tudor henchmen followed Marcu through Cancun on April 2, 2018, on Tudor’s orders, according to a Romanian indictment against the gang. When they caught up with him outside of a DHL courier’s office in the city, “they stabbed me in the back,” Marcu would later tell one of his friends.
Two months after this attack, Marcu was found dead in the driver seat of an SUV, fatally shot just meters from Tudor’s Cancun mansion, which served as a headquarters for the gang.
An aerial shot of Tudor’s neighborhood in Cancún, Mexico.
The criminal file Medina Nava compiled notes that police officers went to the hospital, questioned Marcu, and then wrote that he said two Mexicans had stabbed him. But Marcu did not sign that statement, with the policemen saying he was unable to because of his injuries.
Marcu himself contradicted his alleged statement in WhatsApp messages and photos sent to a friend from the hospital, in which he said he had been attacked by four of Tudor’s men.
In contrast to the Mexican probe, the Romanian criminal investigation into the murder attempt relied on several witnesses who mentioned that right after the attack, Marcu told them that Tudor’s men had come for him.
A protected witness had told Romanian prosecutors that three Mexican policemen showed them several pictures from a nearby CCTV camera that caught not only the murder attempt but also the faces of the three Riviera Maya gang members. The witness claimed the police asked for a bribe in exchange for handing over the CCTV evidence implicating the gang.
Two months after the attempt on his life outside the DHL, Marcu was found slumped in the driver’s seat of the SUV just down the street from Tudor’s Cancun mansion. Suspicion naturally fell on his former boss, with whom he had fallen out.
But once again Medina Nava was appointed the lead investigator into the murder, files obtained by OCCRP show.
And just as he had done before, Medina Nava found an unexpected suspect. This time, he concluded that Marcu had gone to the area to kill another Romanian, Gabriel Alin Stroe, and that a security guard working for Stroe had killed Marcu in self-defense.
Yet in Medina Nava’s file, a document mentions that the security guard’s hands showed no trace of gunpowder when tested after the shooting. An earlier OCCRP investigation found a number of other inconsistencies in the case file. A judge ruled that the security guard had killed Marcu lawfully, and the case was formally closed.
One year later, as the trial of Tudor’s men was underway in Romania, Medina Nava bought a condominium in a gated community in Cancun for 754,000 Mexican pesos (US$38,665) in August 2019. (OCCRP is not aware of any direct evidence that the purchase was made with money from Tudor’s gang.)