Widespread Camarena Case Bribery Alleged

Times Staff Writer

The suspected killer of U.S. drug agent Enrique S. Camarena bribed a member of Mexico's Supreme Court and other Mexican judges in an effort to clear himself and another accused drug lord of charges in the case, U.S. investigators allege in court papers filed here this week.

The affidavits filed by the Drug Enforcement Administration also charge that a broad range of Mexican officials--including federal and state police, internal security and customs agents, officers of the federal attorney general's office and members of the military--were in the pay of the drug syndicate headed by Rafael Caro-Quintero, who is accused of masterminding the February, 1985, slaying of Camarena and his pilot in Guadalajara.

The allegations, filed Tuesday in connection with the seizure by the DEA of more than $2 million in cash and U.S. property from a Mexican lawyer identified as the bagman for Caro-Quintero's bribery campaign, represent the first time American authorities have named high-level Mexican officials targeted for corruption in connection with the Camarena case.

Protest Expected

Diplomatic sources and experts on the Mexican legal scene predicted Wednesday that the allegations will prompt a strong protest from Mexican authorities and revive the enmity that has troubled U.S.-Mexican relations since the killing of Camarena, 37, and pilot Alfredo Zavala Avelar.

The DEA documents also provide the most detailed account to date of the workings of the massive marijuana growing and marketing empire that U.S. and Mexican authorities believe was responsible for the drug agent's kidnaping and slaying.

According to the affidavits, filed in U.S. District Court in San Diego, an informant told the DEA last year that Mexican Supreme Court Justice Luis Fernandez-Doblado and other judges in Mexico City had received payoffs in an effort to clear Caro-Quintero and alleged drug magnate Ernesto Fonseca-Carrillo of murder and related charges in the Camarena slaying.

According to the affidavits, the informant "said that Fernandez and several Mexico City judges have received monetary payoffs to clear Fonseca and Caro of the kidnap/murder charges relative to the . . . Camarena investigation in Mexico."

The informant said Fernandez-Doblado met in Tijuana last May with Francisco Alatorre-Urtusuastequi, an attorney with the Mexico City law firm defending Caro-Quintero on the criminal charges, according to the affidavits. Alatorre also allegedly met in January with a Mexican judge in Mexicali to pay a bribe for the release of Alonso Quintero, a cousin of Caro-Quintero who is jailed on a charge that he murdered the warden of La Mesa Prison in Tijuana, the informant claimed.

Trio in Custody

The affidavits do not indicate if the judges took any action as a result of the alleged payoffs and all three men--Caro-Quintero, Fonseca-Carrillo and Quintero--remain in Mexican custody. Like the U.S. Supreme Court, the 24-member Mexican high court conducts appellate review of cases. The Camarena case remains under investigation by a magistrate, at the first tier of the Mexican federal judicial system.

The affidavits, authored by DEA Special Agent David Gauthier, say the U.S. drug agency has concluded that Caro-Quintero "amassed a number of contacts in the Mexican government whom he bribed in order to safely conduct his drug trafficking activities in Mexico."

Listed in the affidavit as "Mexican government agencies that had a number of their members under Caro-Quintero's control" were: the Mexican Federal Judicial Police; the Direccion Federal de Seguridad, an agency with functions similar to the Secret Service and the FBI that was reorganized and renamed after Camarena's slaying; the Mexican attorney general's office; Gobernacion, an internal security agency; state police agencies; Mexican customs, and the military.

According to the affidavits, a second, independent source told the DEA early this year that Alatorre maintained a " 'stash' of millions of dollars" in Chula Vista for use as a slush fund to bribe Mexican officials on Caro-Quintero's behalf. DEA agents concluded that Alatorre was engaged in an extensive money-laundering operation on behalf of himself, Caro-Quintero and possibly other Mexican drug lords, the affidavits say.

Armed with search warrants issued early Tuesday by a federal magistrate, DEA agents seized $1.9 million in cash, along with real estate, cars and a diamond-encrusted pistol together worth more than $400,000 in raids at two homes owned by Alatorre in the San Diego area and from accounts at three local banks, DEA spokesman Ronald J. D'Ulisse said.

Fernandez-Doblado and Alatorre could not be reached Wednesday for comment.

The Mexican Embassy in Washington did not respond to a request by The Times for a reply to the allegations in the affidavit. However, Bill Graves, a spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City, said a protest of some sort was expected.

"It obviously is going to cause some tension and a reaction on the part of the Mexicans," Graves said.

Graves also noted that Caro-Quintero, Fonseca-Carrillo and other central figures in the slaying remain in jail. That, he said, "is a tribute to the Mexican legal system at this point."

Formal Protest

The Mexican Foreign Ministry lodged a formal protest with the U.S. government last May after U.S. Customs Commissioner William von Raab testified before a Senate subcommittee that corruption was so widespread in Mexico that he assumed all Mexican officials were dishonest unless they could prove otherwise. Von Raab also charged that opium poppies and marijuana were being grown on ranches belonging to the governor of the northern Mexican state of Sonora.

At the time, U.S. Atty. Gen. Edwin Meese III and other top Reagan Administration officials said Von Raab's comments did not represent official U.S. policy, and sought to assuage the government of Mexican President Miguel de la Madrid, which they said had been responsive to American anti-drug efforts.

The Camarena matter has continued to test U.S.-Mexican relations, however.

Federal investigators have complained about a lack of cooperation from the Mexican officials who hold the key suspects and possess the critical evidence in the case. And as the new revelations attest, U.S. agents remain suspicious of the capacity of the Mexican police and judicial systems to bring Camarena's killers to justice.

The DEA affidavits say the Mexican kingpins' drug empire--which Caro-Quintero himself told Mexican authorities had amassed profits of more than $435 million from 1978-1985--has been able to rely in the past on the protection of bribed officials in Mexican law enforcement and the military.

In 1982, a commander of the Mexican Federal Judicial Police in Hermosillo unsuccessfully sought to block a rural police department from destroying a large marijuana plantation owned by Caro-Quintero, according to the affidavits. In 1985, when federal police seized 8,000 tons of marijuana from a warehouse and plantation operated by Caro-Quintero in the Mexican state of Chihuahua--one of the largest such seizures ever in Mexico--bribed police insiders warned the drug lord and his top henchmen in time for them to evade arrest, the affidavits say.

U.S. Allegations

Both Caro-Quintero and Fonseca-Carrillo face U.S. charges in connection with alleged drug-smuggling operations. Federal indictments say their drug syndicate was a major smuggler of marijuana and other drugs into the Southwest, at times using tanker trucks to sneak large quantities of drugs across the U.S. border.

Meanwhile, a federal judge in Los Angeles dismissed charges against 1 of 10 defendants indicted on federal drug conspiracy and money laundering charges earlier this year in an investigation stemming from the Camarena killing.

U.S. District Judge Edward Rafeedie ruled that prosecutors reneged on an agreement to grant immunity to Obdulia Molina in exchange for her testimony before a federal grand jury investigating the Mexican drug ring allegedly headed by Caro-Quintero.

Molina, 40, of Whittier, was indicted on drug conspiracy and money laundering charges after federal prosecutors claimed she had lied to the grand jury about her former lover's drug-trafficking activities, thus negating the immunity agreement.

Molina, the longtime girlfriend of Jesus Felix Gutierrez, the alleged local head of the organization, told investigators after Gutierrez's arrest that he made as much as $1 million a year trafficking in cocaine. But she denied most knowledge of his drug-dealing activities when she testified, prosecutors said.

Rafeedie said there was ample evidence that Molina was told she faced only perjury charges if she lied, and questioned how prosecutors could unilaterally determine that she had testified untruthfully.

None of the defendants is charged directly with Camarena's murder in the present indictment, though Gutierrez is accused of helping Caro-Quintero flee from Mexico to Costa Rica shortly after the slaying.

Federal prosecutors have said they expect at least one additional indictment, and possibly more, to be handed down soon, charging one or more defendants with Camarena's murder.

Times staff writer Kim Murphy in Los Angeles contributed to this story.

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