Tape of Drug Agent’s Torture Is Made Public

Times Staff Writer

Slain federal drug agent Enrique Camarena told his killers that agents knew the whereabouts of two of Mexico’s most powerful drug lords but did not pursue them because they feared for their own lives, according to a tape-recording of Camarena’s torture made public Monday.

In a chilling transcript of Camarena’s ordeal, filed in Los Angeles federal court, the Drug Enforcement Administration agent is heard complaining to his captors that U.S. agents in Guadalajara were not allowed to carry arms and thus never conducted surveillance of reputed drug kingpins Rafael Caro-Quintero and Ernesto Fonseca Carrillo.

“To conduct surveillance over there at the house, I have never,sir . . . I am afraid,” Camarena said.

“I did not want trouble. I just wanted to get out of here,” he said, a reference to his impending transfer back to the United States.


Throughout the two tapes, obtained by Mexican authorities from the home of Fonseca-Carrillo, Camarena is frequently heard to moan with pain and plead with his captors to refrain from beating him further.

At one point, he complains of “sharp pains” throughout his body and entreats his captors: “Couldn’t I ask you to have my ribs bandaged, please?”

DEA officials said Camarena may have been trying to mislead his captors at some points. For instance, agents working abroad can carry weapons if local authorities approve, they said.

Camarena was kidnaped Feb. 7, 1985, as he left the U.S. Consulate in Guadalajara to meet his wife for lunch. His severely beaten body and that of his pilot, Alfredo Zavala-Avelar, were discovered several weeks later, still bound and gagged, buried on a remote ranch 70 miles north of Guadalajara.


Federal prosecutors now believe that a former Mexican police official, Sergio Espino-Verdin, conducted a two-day interrogation of Camarena at a large estate outside Guadalajara owned by Fonseca-Carrillo, according to documents filed with the court.

Prosecutors also disclosed that Espino-Verdin’s voice and that of Caro-Quintero have been identified on the interrogation tape. Carpet fibers and a bed sheet found with Camarena’s body point to the Fonseca-Carrillo home as the site of his torture and murder, the prosecution said.

Caro-Quintero, Fonseca-Carrillo and Espino-Verdin were among nine men indicted earlier this year by a federal grand jury in connection with Camarena’s murder. Only three of the nine, however, are in U.S. custody. Raul Lopez-Alvarez, 28, Jesus Felix-Gutierrez, 38, and Rene Martin Verdugo-Urquidez, 36, are scheduled to go to trial later this month in Los Angeles.

Extradition proceedings have been stalled for several months against Caro-Quintero, who has been identified as the most powerful drug trafficker in Mexico, and Fonseca-Carrillo, the alleged enforcer for his organization. Both are presently in custody in Mexico City.


Defense lawyers announced Monday that the Mexican government has formally protested the arrest of Verdugo-Urquidez, who has alleged that he was taken into custody by masked men on the streets of San Felipe in January, 1986, blindfolded and driven to the U.S. border at Calexico, where he was pushed through a hole in the fence into the arms of U.S. marshals.

U.S. officials have admitted paying four former Mexican police officials $32,000 to apprehend Verdugo Urquidez.

All of the defendants in custody have denied any involvement in the Camarena case, and several filed motions Monday seeking to force the government to disclose the identities of other suspects, who the defense claims must be the real perpetrators.

U.S. District Judge Edward Rafeedie ordered the government to privately disclose to the court the identities of other suspects and informants to allow him to decide whether that information might exculpate any of the defendants.


Defense lawyers have also challenged the validity of what government prosecutors say is the tape-recording of Camarena’s torture. In motions filed with the court, the defense says an unexplained burst of music and clicking sounds indicate that the tapes may have been tampered with, or fabricated.

But in several affidavits filed with the court, DEA agents who worked with Camarena say the tapes must be authentic. Camarena is heard to disclose confidential information that could not have been known to anyone but him, and prosecutors say that several of his closest associates, including his wife, have identified the voice on the tape as that of the slain drug agent.

Restricted Information

Part of the information on the tapes that officials say could not have been known to anyone outside the DEA is Camarena’s disclosure that officials at DEA headquarters had voiced complaints about the Guadalajara office.


“I’m telling you that we are being reprimanded from Washington because, according to them, we are not working here,” Camarena is heard to say. “As I say, well, who is going to do the work if they have one unarmed?”

In several places on the tape, Camarena says that DEA agents failed to conduct surveillance against top drug traffickers in Guadalajara because of DEA policies preventing them from carrying weapons or participating in active investigations.

“You won’t believe this, but it is very dangerous for us to conduct surveillance; as I say, we are unarmed,” he said.

Camarena said he had requested and received approval for a transfer out of Guadalajara “because things are very tough here.”


DEA officials in Washington could not be reached for comment late Monday, but the agency’s spokesman in Los Angeles, Ralph Lochridge, said DEA normally carry weapons abroad.

“In Mexico, it might be the local comandante that can deny or sanction the carrying of firearms,” he said. “Maybe what he was trying to do was give them an answer that was inaccurate, but an answer as to why he wasn’t conducting surveillance on them. He was just throwing out something that was wrong.”

Along those lines, Camarena at first denies on several occasions that DEA officials knew the whereabouts of Caro-Quintero and Fonseca-Carrillo. But he admitted toward the end of the session that he had “locations” for both men.

He also provided only sketchy information as to the identities and locations of DEA informants in Mexico.


This apparently angered his interrogator, who at one point snapped: “Who is it that put the finger on Rafael? Don’t tell me about your problems; speak of the information you can give us, you can provide us to finish with this bunch of jerks. . . .”

Voice Called Weak

“Yes, sir. What more can I tell you, sir?” says Camarena, whose voice is described on the transcript as “very weak.”

The transcript of the alleged torture session runs 56 pages. Federal prosecutors said they believe the tape was turned off whenever Camarena was being beaten.


Affidavits based on autopsy reports, also filed with the court Monday, reported that Camarena’s jaw was broken in several places and his head was shattered “like an eggshell.”