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'El Chapo'-linked Mexican extradited in 'Passion of the Christ' extortion case

By Andrew V. Pestano
'El Chapo'-linked Mexican extradited in 'Passion of the Christ' extortion case
A prequel to "Passion of the Christ" -- a scene of which is seen here -- was part of an extortion scheme allegedly committed by Mexican national Mauricio Sanchez-Garza who is linked to drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman's Sinaloa Cartel and who was extradited on Monday to the United States. On Tuesday, he made his first U.S. court appearance. File Photo by Philippe Antonello/Newmarket Films | License Photo

SAN ANTONIO, July 28 (UPI) -- A Mexican national linked to Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman made his first U.S. court appearance as he faces extortion charges involving a Hollywood screenplay.

Mauricio Sanchez-Garza, 45, alleged to be connected to Guzman's Sinaloa Cartel, was extradited to the United States from Mexico on Monday, facing money- laundering and extortion charges involving a Passion of the Christ prequel screenplay.

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He fled to Mexico from U.S. prosecution in 2010 as he faced two separate federal grand jury indictments. The first indictment of one count of conspiracy to commit extortion and one count of money laundering was handed down in December 2010, while a second indictment of one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering was handed down July 2011.

Sanchez-Garza will be prosecuted in the Western District of Texas in San Antonio.

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"According to court records, in 2008, Sanchez and 38-year-old Mexican national Jorge Vasquez Sanchez conspired to steal by force a movie manuscript from its rightful owner. The movie ... was billed as a prequel to The Passion of Christ," the Justice Department said in a statement. "From 2005 until July 2011, Mauricio Sanchez, Jorge Sanchez and Mauricio's brother, 47-year-old Mexican national Alejandro Sanchez-Garza, conspired to transport into the United States and conduct financial transactions with proceeds derived from illegal drug trafficking in order to conceal the nature of the funds."

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The indictment against Sanchez-Garza contains a notice of criminal forfeiture of two San Antonio commercial properties as well as a private plane. He also faces a $5 million fine.

Mary, Mother of Christ -- the prequel -- and The Passion of the Christ were written by Benedict Fitzgerald.

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