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High-Level Police Involvement Found in Agent’s Death : Mexico’s Drug Probe Gets U.S. Praise

Times Staff Writer

The snowballing criminal investigation into the narcotics traffic in Mexico, prompted by the kidnap and murder of U.S. drug agent Enrique S. Camarena, has uncovered high-level police involvement and resulted in the arrest of at least one senior federal police commander.

U.S. officials say they are “delighted and pleased” by the direction the probe has taken, particularly in the arrest of two major drug overlords. They hope to see still more major arrests.

“We certainly have been very encouraged by the tenacity which the Mexican attorney general’s office has shown,” declared Vince Hovanec, a spokesman for the U.S. Embassy. “It represents a sharp, dramatic increase in what they had been doing earlier.”

The case has become a focus of public attention, and reports outlining the complicated web of criminal activity uncovered by the investigators have become daily front-page fare.

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Although many questions remain unanswered and many leads have still not been followed up, major developments in the case include the following:

--The arrest of Ernesto Fonseca and Rafael Caro Quintero, identified by Mexican officials as the No. 1 and No. 2 “godfathers” of the illicit drug business in Mexico. Accusations and revelations contained in their reported confessions have formed the basis for much of the disclosures about the extent of drug-related crime and corruption here. Fonseca on Monday was ordered held for trial on drug charges.

--Efforts by the government to go after those connected with the laundering of illicit funds. Two socially prominent Guadalajara businessmen, Eduardo and Javier Cordero Stauffer, have been arrested and charged with allowing drug criminals to use their names to conceal ownership of 16 legitimate businesses in the Guadalajara area. These include a Ford automobile dealership, a major hotel, real estate enterprises, an aircraft leasing company and others.

--The arrest of Armando Pavon Reyes, a top commander in the Federal Judicial Police. Pavon Reyes was the first commander assigned to head the investigation into the Camarena case, but U.S. officials became suspicious when it appeared that he had permitted Caro Quintero to flee Guadalajara. The reputed drug kingpin later claimed that he had paid Pavon Reyes the equivalent of $265,000 to allow him to avoid arrest at the Guadalajara airport. Pavon Reyes, who denies the charges, was officially charged Tuesday with accepting the money.

--The alleged involvement of other high-ranking officials in the federal police as recipients of Caro Quintero’s bribes. Those named by Caro Quintero include a first and second commander in the Federal Judicial Police and several leading members of the Federal Security Directorate, Mexico’s highest-ranking plainclothes police force.

So far, Pavon Reyes is the only one who has been arrested, but it is widely expected that others will also be taken into custody if the government really plans a thorough housecleaning.

“What we can say is that Pavon Reyes is the only one we have any proof against at this moment,” said Felipe Flores, a spokesman for the Mexican attorney general, Sergio Garcia Ramirez.

Among those accused by Caro Quintero is Alberto Arteaga Garcia, the top Federal Judicial Police commander in Guadalajara. Caro Quintero said he gave Arteaga the equivalent of $45,000 a month not to tamper with his operations. Arteaga, in a sworn statement given to investigators, has denied any involvement with the drug trade.

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The arrests and allegations are piling up so fast that Flores said he is not sure how many people have been detained. He estimated the total at between 40 and 50, about half of whom were arrested at a villa in Puerto Vallarta along with Fonseca on April 9.

Nor could Flores say how many of the detainees are members of the various Mexican police forces.

“Just because a lot of these guys were carrying police credentials doesn’t mean they were really members of the police forces,” Flores said. Fonseca himself was among those reportedly carrying a police badge and credential.

One of those detained with him, Samuel Ramirez Lazo, is believed to be the man who drove the car in which Camarena was transported after his abduction. He, also, was carrying police identification from the Federal Security Directorate.

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Some U.S. Embassy officials have long believed that the directorate, sometimes referred to as the Mexican political police, was involved in offering protection to members of the drug racket, but little evidence had been forthcoming.

One of the most troubling allegations made by Fonseca was that he had been told that an employee of the U.S. Consulate General in Guadalajara had “fingered” Camarena for his kidnapers. American officials said the allegation is being investigated, but they put little stock in it.

“We are treating this as a rumor and nothing more,” U.S. Embassy spokesman Hovanec said. “We don’t believe at this time that one of our employees was involved.”

The charge by Fonseca would support a confession by Gerardo Torres Lepe, a state police officer who said he was in the kidnap car along with five other men. One of them, whom he called El Guero (the blond), was supposed to have pointed out Camarena to the kidnapers.

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U.S. sources said, however, that their own investigation has determined that Torres Lepe was lying because he was not in the kidnap auto but rather in a backup car. They also believe that there was no need to “finger” Camarena because he was well known to many Mexican police officers who are now believed to have cooperated with the kidnapers.

Among the many unanswered questions in the case, as far as U.S. officials are concerned, is who actually killed Camarena and his Mexican pilot, Alfredo Zavala Avelar. Even in the confessions that Fonseca and Caro Quintero have reportedly given the authorities--statements in which they admit to a number of illicit activities--they deny the actual killing.

Like most of the suspects in the case, the two men have repudiated their sworn confessions, claming they were extracted under duress. Fonseca claimed in one appearance before a magistrate that Mexican police squirted club soda laced with hot chili sauce into his nostrils.


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