Federal Drug Enforcement Administration agents in San Diego are at their highest level of alert in a decade because of threats believed to emanate from the drug empire headed by the accused killers of DEA Agent Enrique S. Camarena, an agency spokesman said Friday.
According to the spokesman, Ronald J. D'Ulisse, unprecedented security precautions have been in place for about two weeks, following reports from informants that DEA agents in San Diego could become the targets of violence.
Investigators believe the threats were directed at the agents by the drug network said to be led by Rafael Caro Quintero, the Guadalajara man jailed in Mexico as a mastermind of Camarena's slaying more than two years ago, D'Ulisse said.
Contradicting a report published Friday in the San Diego Union, D'Ulisse said the agency had been unable to confirm that its agents or its National City office were under surveillance by drug traffickers. There also has been no confirmation that any threats have been aimed at the spouses or children of DEA agents, he said.
Nonetheless, the agency is taking the threats seriously, according to D'Ulisse--particularly in light of the Camarena killing and the kidnaping and torture last year of DEA Agent Victor Cortez Jr. in Guadalajara.
"We're acutely aware that some organizations will carry out their threats against our agents," D'Ulisse said.
D'Ulisse declined to say what precautions agents were taking in response to the threats.
The security alert comes as law enforcement continues its investigation of the Camarena case and a parallel crackdown on persons suspected of playing key roles in Caro Quintero's alleged drug kingdom.
Among the recent developments:
- Last week, Caro Quintero's aunt, Celina Ley Machado de Quintero, was arrested in Los Angeles on drug trafficking and racketeering charges. She had been a fugitive since she was indicted in 1985 by a federal grand jury in San Antonio.
The indictment charges that more than $9.3 million in drug profits were laundered by Machado; Guadalajara bank manager Carlos Behn, and Machado's husband, Juan Jose Quintero Payan, who remains a fugitive. More than $4.1 million in cash was laundered through the Bank of America in San Diego, the indictment says.
- Francisco Javier Caro Payan--Caro Quintero's cousin and the reputed chief of his drug operations in Baja California--was arrested last month in Montreal. U.S. authorities plan to seek his extradition, either in connection with a 1984 indictment by a federal grand jury in San Diego or other matters that federal prosecutors say are under investigation.
The 1984 indictment charges Caro Payan and seven others with racketeering and drug trafficking in a marijuana smuggling scheme. Among the co-defendants is Ernesto Fonseca Carrillo, who is jailed with Caro Quintero in Mexico City on charges of plotting the Camarena killing.
- DEA agents charged late in May that Caro Quintero, through his Mexico City lawyer, bribed a member of Mexico's Supreme Court and other Mexican judges in an effort to win his freedom in the Camarena slaying.
- Drug agents also have seized more than $40 million in cash and assets believed to represent the profits of Caro Quintero's illegal drug operations, D'Ulisse said.