Cover-Up Alleged in Drug Agent's Death

Times Staff Writer

Lawyers for two of three men accused in the murder of U.S. drug agent Enrique Camarena said Thursday they have evidence that the U.S. government has failed to prosecute one of Mexico's major drug smugglers, because he has secretly provided financial support and arms assistance to the Nicaraguan Contras.

In a motion filed in Los Angeles federal court, the defense claims that it has received new Drug Enforcement Administration reports indicating that Miguel Felix-Gallardo, a suspect in the Camarena case who has not been indicted, advanced more than $150,000 to the Nicaraguan rebels through his pilot, Werner Lotz.

Defense lawyers said the DEA reports reveal that Lotz, who is now an informant for the U.S. government, told DEA agents in November that Felix-Gallardo was "a big supporter" of the Contras and was also involved with Lotz in smuggling arms into Nicaragua.

"From an examination of all the available evidence, it is apparent that various agencies of the federal government, including the CIA, were aware of Felix-Gallardo's cocaine smuggling activities and have purposefully ignored them due to Felix-Gallardo's 'charitable contributions' to the Contras," attorneys Barry Tarlow and Donald Randolph, representing defendant Jesus Felix-Gutierrez, said in their motion.

The two lawyers, joined by attorneys for defendant Rene Martin Verdugo-Urquidez, accused the government of covering up evidence that Felix-Gallardo participated in the torture and murder of Camarena to "avoid the embarrassment of disclosing compelling evidence that the 'freedom fight' of the Contras was funded by illicit drug revenues with the tacit approval of branches of the United States government."

According to the court papers, Lotz told DEA agents that Felix-Gallardo had advanced Lotz "between $150,000 and $170,000" for transfer to the rebels--money that Lotz was apparently expected to repay--and was, himself, a supporter of the Contras.

Government prosecutors have admitted that Felix-Gallardo, believed to be one of Mexico's largest marijuana and cocaine traffickers, may have had some role in the kidnap and murder of Camarena and his pilot, Alfredo Zavala-Avelar, in Guadalajara in February of 1985.

But the U.S. attorney's office in Los Angeles refused Thursday to comment on the new defense allegations or the status of any investigation involving Felix-Gallardo.

"We will respond to the motions filed today in our opposition papers, which will be filed Monday," U.S. Atty. Robert C. Bonner said through a spokeswoman.

A DEA spokesman in Washington said Felix-Gallardo is now being sought by Mexican authorities for "complicity" in Camarena's murder. "He is very big, and very significant in our view," the spokesman said. "He's a much-sought-after fugitive and believed to be in Mexico."

Defense lawyers have refused to publicly disclose any of the reports upon which they base their allegations about Felix-Gallardo's purported involvement in the murder or in support of the Nicaraguan rebels.

But according to their court papers, some of the evidence comes from a mysterious new transcript of the interrogation of Camarena, which was produced by the government three weeks into the trial. The government has said it does not have the tape from which the transcript was derived and has refused to disclose in open court how the transcript was obtained.

'Political Pressure'

Tarlow and Randolph have said they believe the transcript was obtained through "political pressure" exerted by the U.S. government on the government of Mexico.

Two tape recordings of the torture session have already been played to the jury, both of which appear to incriminate the government's key suspect in the case, drug baron Rafael Caro-Quintero, who has been indicted along with the three men now facing trial in Los Angeles, but who remains in Mexican custody.

But defense lawyers say the new transcript reveals that Camarena told his captors that it was Felix-Gallardo who was the "most important" target of the DEA in Guadalajara. The transcript also purportedly reveals that Camarena had seen Felix-Gallardo's car in the past at the Guadalajara residence believed to have been the scene of the torture-murder.

The defense has also introduced evidence that a photograph of Camarena was found at Felix-Gallardo's house a few days after the murder, when he fled Guadalajara. The new evidence is critical to the defense, because it appears to buttress their argument that Caro-Quintero and his associates were set up as "sacrificial lambs" by corrupt Mexican authorities to cover up for the real culprits.

Cases Against 3

Felix-Gutierrez is not accused of the murder, but of helping Caro-Quintero flee Mexico shortly after the killing. Verdugo-Urquidez and a third defendant, Raul Lopez-Alvarez, are accused of being at the scene of the interrogation and murder.

Assistant U.S. Attys. Jimmy Gurule and Roel Campos, who are prosecuting the case, have said that evidence against Felix-Gallardo does not absolve Caro-Quintero and his associates of responsibility.

"Caro-Quintero may have had assistance from other Mexican traffickers who may have had an interest in the information to be forced out of Camarena," the government said in papers filed with the court. "Any evidence of Felix-Gallardo's criminal participation is not exculpatory, unless it further shows that Caro-Quintero did not participate in any way in the kidnapings and murders."

Government prosecutors said they have already introduced evidence that Camarena had headed a massive investigation into Caro-Quintero's marijuana operations in Mexico, resulting in plantation raids that had cost Caro-Quintero's organization at least $5 billion in lost profits.

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