It's Breaking Bad Meets the Mennonites

'Los Angeles Times' tells the story of a pious farmer accused of becoming a drug smuggler
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 10, 2024 9:30 AM CST
It's Breaking Bad Meets the Mennonites
Stock image.   (Getty / nickalbi)

In some respects, the story isn't so unusual: The Los Angeles Times tells the tale of a 40-year-old man sitting in a maximum-security prison in Mexico, accused of becoming a ruthless associate of the Sinaloa drug cartel. In another way, the story is a strange one to fathom: The suspect is a former Mennonite farmer, Franz Kauenhofen, who once abided by his community's pacifist ways in southern Mexico. The piece by Steve Fisher traces Kauenhofen's path to becoming what one investigator calls an "extremely dangerous" criminal, accused of turning his farm field into landing strips for drug-laden cartel planes and of ordering the murders of eight people—including a brother-in-law he thought stole buried cash from him. The spiral began in 2012 when Kauenhofen's wife developed a serious medical issue, one that required money the family didn't have, writes Fisher.

Kauenhofen drew so much from a communal Mennonite fund that its treasurers eventually cut him off. He also was excommunicated because he started using a smartphone to communicate with doctors. In a deposition, Kauenhofen says he was $150,000 in debt with medical bills when he was approached by a man offering big money to allow planes loaded with cocaine to land in his field. Flash forward, and he says he was making $325,000 per landing and commanding a band of sicarios, or "professional assassins." Within the cartel, he became known as El Menona, or the Mennonite. "I compare it to the series Breaking Bad," says Renato Sales Heredia, attorney general in the state of Campeche. Like the fictional Walter White, "he needed money, and little by little he got more involved to the point where he couldn't get out anymore." Read the full story. (Or check out other Longform recaps.)

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