|Federico Tobares, missing since 2013
The first Friday of this month marked the seventh anniversary of Federico Tobares’s disappearance. He was an Argentine national who moved to Mexico in 2009 to pursuit a career as a chef specialized in Mexican cuisine. No traces of Tobares have ever been found since he went missing on 5 June 2013, but investigators believe he was kidnapped by the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG).
When he arrived in Mexico, Tobares worked for two restaurants owned by Gerardo González Valencia, a member of Los Cuinis clan, a branch of the CJNG. The motives behind his disappearance are not clearly established, but investigators believe he was kidnapped by the CJNG after Tobares saw something suspicious at his workplace.
In this report, Borderland Beat will cover the mysterious case surrounding Tobares’s disappearance and will include details on his early life and background, his time in Mexico, and how the CJNG ended the promising career of an aspiring international chef.
Early life and career
Carlos Federico Tobares was born in Gualeguaychú, Entre Ríos, Argentina, on 23 February 1976. Among his circle of friends and family members he was nicknamed “Fede” (short for Federico) and “Gordo” (Fatty). According to his friends, Tobares enjoyed travelling, going to the beach, and was a fan of soccer team River Plate.
In 2009, he decided to leave Argentina and move to Mexico after he found a job as a chef in the resort city of Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco. Tobares was particularly fond of Mexican cuisine.
|Hotelito Desconocido, the boutique hotel owned by the CJNG where Tobares worked
In Jalisco, he worked as the main chef of Hotelito Desconocido, a luxurious boutique hotel in Tomatlán. He also worked at Nudoki Sushi Bar, an Asian restaurant in Puerto Vallarta. These two restaurants were owned by Gerardo González Valencia, a high-ranking leader of Los Cuinis, a branch of the CJNG.
Tobares met González Valencia through an Argentine dentist who lived in Mexico. Her husband had worked at Hotelito Desconocido, which was managed by González Valencia’s wife Wendy Dalaithy Amaral Arévalo.
Tobares first worked at Hotelito Desconocido, but González Valencia invited him to join Nudoki Sushi Bar, arguing he did not know about cuisine and that he would let him run the business. González Valencia reportedly offered to make Tobares his business partner.
|Passport picture of Gerardo Gonzalez Valencia with his alias (source: Teledoce)
By that time, Tobares had separated from his wife and was open to new work opportunities. His family believes González Valencia did this to keep Tobares quiet about the CJNG’s illicit activities.
The last known contact with Tobares was at 12:32 p.m. on 5 June 2013, the day he disappeared, when he spoke to Verónica Román, a friend from Argentina.
While on the phone, Tobares explained that he was doing González Valencia a favor by driving a vehicle from Puerto Vallarta to Guadalajara and exchanging it for another of his boss’ preference. He told Verónica that they were guiding him along the way, but said he did not know where he was, that he was scared, and that the whole situation seemed strange to him. That was the last thing Tobares said to Verónica.
Investigators discovered that Tobares left Puerto Vallarta at 3 am, and at 8 a.m. he met a man named Rogelio (“Rocky”) in Guadalajara. After that he met with a González Valencia at a tobacco shop to discuss plans for the González Valencia’s daughter’s birthday party. Tobares was there until about 12 noon when the store security camera recorded him leaving. About half an hour later he made the phone call to Verónica, from a location which investigators have not revealed to the public.
On 19 June, police officers discovered the vehicle that Tobares had been driving abandoned in La Piedad, Michoacán, a city 165 kilometres (103 mi) east of Guadalajara and close to the border with the states of Jalisco and Guanajuato.
|Authorities found Tobares’ vehicle in Michoacan, but no traces of him were found
It had been left in a neighborhood close to the city centre; investigators said they did not find blood traces or signs of violence in the vehicle. They also stated that they could not find any evidence in the vehicle that could further clarify the case, and said they were searching for his girlfriend to clarify what she knew about Tobares prior to his disappearance.
As the vehicle was found in Michoacán, state authorities there began to work with Jalisco officials to try to locate Tobares. The vehicle was kept in Michoacán.
On social media, Tobares’ friends posted the pictures of the vehicle, a 2009 Dodge Caliber with San Luis Potosí state license plates. They stated that the vehicle was owned by González Valencia, who was also the owner of the restaurant where Tobares worked.
Tobares was quite active on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube, and posted pictures and videos of his personal and work life on social media including trips to Jalisco, Michoacán, Guanajuato, Nayarit, Guerrero, Mexico City, and Teotihuacán. His pictures showed his work in hotels, upscale restaurants and yachts, and private parties.
In 2011, Tobares posted a photo on his Facebook of a man washing the dishes with him in a restaurant’s kitchen. The man was displaying a Colt Gold Cup .45 pistol tucked behind his pants. Several of his friends commented on the picture, and one advised him to be careful.
Leads and possible motives
Investigators in Mexico and Argentina discarded two leads that were initially thought plausible.
They do not believe that Tobares purposely decided to cut ties with his family and friends to disappear of his own free will. Tobares was looking for a new job in Guadalajara and had his passport and other legal documents ready, which made investigators think that it was unlikely that Tobares would go into hiding or cut communication with those close to him.
|Some of his friends stated that Tobares had an interview lined up in Guadalajara, but it is not known with who
The other lead that was discarded was one that suggested that Tobares was kidnapped for ransom, mainly because his possible abductors have not reached out to his family for a payment. Investigators monitored Tobares’ bank accounts to see if they were used after he went missing.
His family stated that Tobares’ enthusiasm for work went down a few months before he disappeared. He told his sister that he was scared, and one time he called her sobbing. In March 2013, he spoke to his sister and told her that he wanted to return to Argentina.
Investigators believe that Tobares was probably hired as a cook by a drug lord for a party or event, without him knowing who he was cooking for. At some point, investigators suspect, Tobares might have seen something suspicious that put him in danger, or might have had a problem with someone at those private events. In addition, investigators also theorized that rival gang members could have kidnapped Tobares to send a message to his employers, as part of a gang retaliation.
Tobares worked at Hotelito Desconocido and Nudoki Sushi Bar, but he was also a hired chef for private parties; his family told investigators that Tobares was sometimes taken by the CJNG, Tobares’ last employer, to their private islands in western Mexico to cook for their exclusive events. He was not allowed to leave for a few days and was prohibited from using his cellphone while he was there.
His family believes that at one of those private parties, Tobares saw something suspicious and began asking some people to clarify what he saw. When the CJNG found out what he was doing, González Valencia reportedly threatened him and told him to ask those question face-to-face. A week before his disappearance, González Valencia reportedly ordered Tobares to close down the sushi restaurant and fire all of the employees.
On 21 June, Tobares’ sister Ana Soledad traveled to Mexico to help investigators locate her brother. She told the press she was working with Argentine ambassador Diego Alonso Garcés and the Mexican Federal Police on the case. On 23 June, the family asked the Mexican National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) to carry out a “parallel” investigation.
|Tobares’ family and friends have used social media to bring attention to his case
Tobares’ family said that Jalisco authorities were “disinterested” in the case and were not acting promptly to the case’s leads. They argued that Mexican investigators took several days to act on the leads the family gave to them, thus harming their chances of finding Tobares since she believed that the first days of his disappearance were crucial for the investigation.
The family also complained that they had encountered problems in Mexico when the Argentine consular authorities were rotated and new personnel took over the case years later.
On 19 August 2015, the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control sanctioned 15 Mexican businesses, including Hotelito Desconocido, under the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act (Kingpin Act).
According to the sanction, Hotelito Desconocido served as a money laundering front that provided financial and material assistance to Los Cuinis and their leader Abigael González Valencia (brother of Tobares’ last employer). All of Hotelito Desconocido’s assets in the U.S. were frozen, and U.S. citizens were prohibited from doing business with it.
|Hotelito Desconocido was sanctioned along with several other CJNG-owned firms
That same day, following a formal request through the Secretariat of Finance and Public Credit and exchange of information with U.S. officials, Mexican federal agents (PGR) confiscated Hotelito Desconocido and closed it down.
On 21 April 2016, Tobares’ former employer Gerardo González Valencia was arrested by the National Police of Uruguay in Montevideo, Uruguay. He was captured following an extensive money laundering investigation between Latin American officials and the U.S. government that linked him to several shell companies he used to purchase assets in the Americas and overseas.
In an effort to continue their search, Tobares’ family tried to increase their activity on social media, but they said that some people (who they suspect worked for González Valencia) told them that Tobares was with them or that they had seen him alive in Mexico. Tobares’ sister said she was told that González Valencia was once in Argentina and wanted to speak to her, but she refused.
“We just want to know where he is so we can bring him home, with his people, with his friends he loved and loved him. We do not want to know who took him. We just want to know, even anonymously, where he is,” she said.
González Valencia was extradited to the U.S. from Uruguay last month, as reported by Borderland Beat. But few remembered Tobares, the first Argentine to disappear in Mexico.