Arrested on Drug Charges : Suspect May Be Tied to Slaying of Agent

Times Staff Writer

U.S. agents have made an arrest in the United States in connection with the abduction and murder of Enrique Camarena, an American drug agent whose battered body was uncovered in March near a ranch outside of Guadalajara.

Lee Johnson, a spokesman at the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City, identified the suspect as Rene Martin Verdugo. An official at the federal Metropolitan Correctional Center in San Diego, where Verdugo is being held, said Verdugo was arrested Friday by U.S. marshals in Calexico as he attempted to cross the border into Mexicali.

DEA spokesman Ron D'Ulisse said the arrest marks the first time that a suspect believed to have been involved in the kidnaping and murder of Camarena has been arrested in this country. Previous arrests were made in Costa Rica and Mexico. Camarena, a native of Calexico, was a DEA agent stationed in Guadalajara.

Verdugo, 34, was brought to San Diego and booked at 11 p.m. on narcotics charges. A federal law enforcement official familiar with the arrest said Verdugo is being held in isolation, but jail officials would neither confirm nor deny that.

The official, who requested anonymity, said that Verdugo is believed to be a material witness in the case, but Johnson said that Verdugo's involvement in the abduction and murder of Camarena is unclear.

"We think he was involved, but we don't know to what extent. Until we question him further we won't know," Johnson said. He said U.S. investigators are expected to question him Monday.

An official of the Mexican Federal Judicial Police in Mexicali said in a telephone interview Saturday that the Mexican federal prosecutor there had been calling him wanting to know about Verdugo's arrest. The official, who did not want his name used, said that he had no knowledge of Verdugo's arrest or whereabouts, but that Mexican officials seemed particularly interested in him.

Earlier this month DEA officials told The Times that they expected to make some arrests in the case that would solidify the charges against two prominent Mexican drug traffickers charged in Camarena's death.

The two, Rafael Caro Quintero and Ernesto Fonseca Carrillo, are in jail in Mexico City charged with murder, kidnaping and drug smuggling.

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