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the hanks

A background profile prepared in 2000 by FRONTLINE Correspondent Lowell Bergman. More current information on the Hank family is available elsewhere on the Web.

Carlos Hank Gonzales is considered to be one of the most powerful billionaires/politicians in Mexico. A PRI stalwart, it is assumed he would have been president of Mexico years ago except for a clause in the Mexican Constitution which required that a candidate's parents be Mexican born. His parents were German immigrants. He has two sons, Jorge Hank Rhon and Carlos Hank Rohn.

In the early '80's Jorge Hank Rhon assumed local control of the family's Agua Caliente Racetrack in Tijuana and related off track betting locations throughout northern Mexico. Once the preserve of a Sicilian-American with close ties to the Mafia, the Hank family took over the once lucrative franchise in the late 1970's.

Jorge Hank brought with him his lifelong obsession with exotic animals. It was Jorge Hank who ran a marine park in Mexico City where he "imprisoned" the now-famous Keiko the Killer Whale. His interest in wild animals continued in Tijuana where he is a continual source of controversy.

On April 20, 1988 a local newspaper columnist, Hector "El Gato" Felix Miranda was assassinated on his way to work. The gunmen turned out to be security guards at the Caliente track, and one had worked as well for Hank Rhon's father, Carlos Hank. To this day the independent newsweekly in Tijuana, ZETA, runs a full page ad with white letters: "Jorge Hank: Why did your bodyguards assassinate me?" 'El Gato' had been a fierce critic of the Hank family.

Jorge Hank is described by U.S. Embassy sources and high level Mexican government officials as "crazy." They usually cite his fixation with exotic animals and his alleged links to murder and drugs.

With the rise of the Arellano-Felix Organization in Tijuana, it is widely believed that Jorge Hank provides money laundering facilities for the cartel. Hank himself has been stopped entering the United States and searched. Those searches have revealed a failure to declare large sums of cash [$17,000 in 1994] to an attempt to smuggle a White Siberian Tiger across the border. The tiger is now in the San Diego Zoo. Jorge Hank has a half dozen of them in his own private zoo.

Jorge Hank has been under investigation by the joint FBI-DEA task force in San Diego which tracks his movements between Tijuana and his home in the Coronado Cays north of the border. His father and his older brother, Carlos Hank Rhon, have been suspects in a variety of money laundering investigations by U.S. Customs, the DEA and the FBI. Hank Rohn's cases involved Taesa Airlines and Loredo National Bank. The first was a now ailing Mexican carrier one of whose airfields and maintenance facilities was involved in cocaine smuggling. The second, Loredo National, is one of the few federally chartered banks owned by foreign nationals. This multi-billion dollar bank has been investigated by U.S. Customs, DEA and the FBI. No violations have been charged against Carlos Hank Rohn.

One of Jorge Hank's employees, Rodolfo Garcia Gonzalez, has been arrested at the border attempting to smuggle 126 pounds of cocaine. [11-27-95]

In 1995 Jorge Hank made headlines in Mexico City when he was searched at the airport and Mexican Customs discovered a trove of animal skins and ivory from endangered species. Hank's arrest was seen as a bold move by then-Attorney General Lozano - so bold, it shook the Mexican stock markets.

Jorge Hank's nightclubs ["Iguana"] and his restaurants in Tijuana allegedly are favorites of the Arellano-Felix drug cartel. To reporters and sources in Tiajuana, Jorge Hank is viewed as "the richest man and most powerful" person in this boom town on the border.

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