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Ex-Guadalajara Policeman Also Charged in Camarena Case : 3 Convicted in Death Plot on U.S Agent

Times Staff Writer

A former Guadalajara policeman who claimed to be a hit man for a major Mexican drug organization was convicted Friday with two other men in a plot to kidnap, torture and murder a federal customs agent.

Raul Lopez Alvarez, 29, who also faces charges in the 1985 slaying of U.S. drug agent Enrique Camarena, was convicted of two counts of conspiracy to commit kidnaping and murder and two related counts--all growing out of a series of meetings with an undercover investigator in which he offered to murder the agent for a $25,000 fee.

Two men Lopez Alvarez hired in Mexico to assist him, Carlos Quintero Maldonado, 25, and Fabian Jimenez Martinez, 22, were also convicted in the conspiracy. Quintero Maldonado was acquitted on a charge that he traveled to the United States from Mexico to carry out the murder plot.

All three men face potential sentences of two life terms. U.S. District Judge Pamela M. Rymer set sentencing for April 18.

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The convictions, returned by a federal court jury after three days of deliberations, provide a substantial boost for government prosecutors as they move forward with the prosecution of Lopez Alvarez and two other defendants on charges stemming from the torture-murder of Camarena near Guadalajara, Mexico.

Prosecutors allege that Lopez Alvarez--a former homicide investigator for the Mexican state judicial police who told undercover agents that he was an “enforcer” for the powerful narcotics organization of Rafael Caro Quintero and Ernesto Fonseca Carrillo--had a direct role in Camarena’s abduction and subsequent torture.

Caro Quintero and Fonseca Carrillo are currently jailed in Mexico City in connection with the Camarena case. Two of the nine men under indictment in the United States in connection with the case, Rene Martin Verdugo Urquidez and Jesus Felix Gutierrez, are already in U.S. custody and will be tried with Lopez Alvarez sometime this spring.

“I think in a way that this verdict is sending a strong message to narcotics traffickers who participate in this kind of thing that the consequences are very heavy,” said Assistant U.S. Atty. Jimmy Gurule, who prosecuted the case with Assistant U.S. Atty. Roel C. Campos.

Claim ‘Rip-Off’ Was Goal

Lawyers for the defendants had argued from the beginning that Lopez Alvarez and the two men he hired never intended to carry out the murder, but had planned all along to stage a “rip-off” of the undercover drug agent with whom they were negotiating. They believed that the undercover agent was a narcotics dealer.

Elsa Leyva, a deputy federal public defender who represented Lopez Alvarez, has filed a motion to dismiss the charges, claiming that the three men were set up by federal drug agents bent on luring Lopez Alvarez into the country to face charges in the Camarena case.

“They created a trap for Raul,” she said in an interview after the verdict was announced. “They lured him here. He was specifically targeted because of Camarena, and they created the ruse to get him here.”

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Alan Rubin and Marcia Brewer, attorneys for the other two defendants, said the men were victims of “a trap within a trap,” tricked by Lopez Alvarez into accompanying him to the United States for what he said was help in collecting a debt, then caught in the government sting operation.

Government prosecutors claimed that it was Lopez Alvarez who initially turned the talk from narcotics to murder-for-hire. The government introduced nearly 12 hours of video and audio taped meetings between undercover drug agent Abel Reynoso and the defendants in which Lopez Alvarez bragged about his knowledge of the torture Camarena underwent and promised to repeat the job on the customs agent.

Jury foreman David Armas said jurors were not convinced of the defendants’ claim that it was all just a plot to rob the agent--especially after reviewing the videotapes.

“If it was part of a scam, they oversold it too much,” he said. “Especially when they talked about killing someone--you looked at their faces, and they showed no remorse.”

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Armas said jurors were also not persuaded by defense lawyers’ claims that Lopez Alvarez’s two accomplices were simply poor men trapped in a foreign country and helpless to return home to Mexico once talk turned to murder.

“There are a lot of people in Mexico who are starving and who are hungry and who are poor, but they do not come to the United States to kill,” he said.


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