U.S. Rests Case Against Trio in Agent’s Death
More than three years after the badly beaten bodies of a U.S. drug agent and his pilot were unearthed on a remote Mexican ranch, federal prosecutors have concluded their case against three men accused of helping carry out the murder plot for one of Mexico’s most powerful drug organizations.
The prosecution rested Wednesday after five weeks of testimony from nearly 80 witnesses linking the killing of drug agent Enrique Camarena to a cadre of narcotics traffickers based in Guadalajara. They had become enraged at reports of an informant in their midst.
A parade of soldiers for the Rafael Caro-Quintero drug ring, some of them under federal protection, testified in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles about tons of marijuana and cocaine and tens of millions of dollars being shipped across the California-Mexican border when Camarena had targeted the organization for a series of devastating raids.
Prosecutors have introduced evidence, including carpet fibers and the bed sheet in which Camarena’s body was wrapped, suggesting that the murders and two days of torture took place at Caro-Quintero’s home in Guadalajara.
But much of the story unveiled so far takes place not in remote regions of Mexico, but in locales like Montebello, Commerce, San Juan Capistrano and Long Beach, where the drug ring’s lieutenants reportedly discussed the killings, raced along the freeways fleeing unknown pursuers and parceled out narcotics and cash to a series of “stash houses” and retailers.
One of the three defendants, Raul Lopez-Alvarez, brags on a secretly recorded videotape about his role in the killing. A graduate of Garfield High School in Los Angeles, he moved to Mexico a few years ago to join the Jalisco state police.
Owned Seafood Company
Jesus Felix-Gutierrez, accused of helping Caro-Quintero flee to Costa Rica after the killings, owned Ocean Gold Seafood and another import company in East Los Angeles until his arrest in 1986.
The third defendant, Rene Martin Verdugo-Urquidez of Mexicali, accused of being at Caro-Quintero’s home when the torture took place, was the alleged partner of a Southern California drug distributor and traveled frequently to Los Angeles to consummate narcotics transactions, some witnesses testified.
Federal prosecutors Jimmy Gurule and Roel Campos have called witnesses who detailed the ring’s drug-dealing activities and pointed to Caro-Quintero’s role in masterminding the kidnap, torture and murder of Camarena and Alfredo Zavala-Avelar.
But neither Caro-Quintero nor most of the other eight Mexicans indicted in the case have been extradited to the United States for trial, though a few, including Caro-Quintero, are being tried in Mexico. Direct evidence against the three men on trial in Los Angeles is not nearly as exhaustive as that against Caro-Quintero.
The defense argues that all three defendants are “dupes” who are facing trial here because they were the only ones the government could get into custody after an investigation thwarted at nearly every turn by Mexican officials. According to evidence at the trial, Mexican officials had provided police protection for many of the ring’s narcotics shipments.
‘Bribery Is King’
“You are looking at an aspect of corruption where mordita, bribery, is king,” Felix-Gutierrez’s lawyer, Barry Tarlow, told the jury in his opening statement. “We are left to sift through the corruption to try and learn what happened.”
Camarena was within a few weeks of being transferred from the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Guadalajara office on Feb. 7, 1985, when he walked out of the office to meet his wife for lunch. He never made it.
What happened next was recorded on a series of audio tapes discovered in the home of Caro-Quintero’s uncle, Ernesto Fonseca-Carrillo, another Mexican drug baron.
The tapes of Camarena’s interrogation, interspersed with the agent’s wrenching cries and groans, reveal that his inquisitors repeatedly demanded to know who in their organization was informing on “Rafa,” or Raphael Caro-Quintero.
‘Begging and Crying’
One witness testified that he overheard Verdugo-Urquidez talking with another narcotics trafficker as the three of them drove around the Southland freeways. “I heard something about a ‘narc.’ Something about someone being beat to s---, and they were begging and crying,” Eugene (Skip) Hollestelle said.
The most damaging evidence against Lopez-Alvarez was a secretly videotaped conversation with an undercover DEA agent in which he bragged about being at the house where Camarena was killed and described an argument between Caro-Quintero and Fonseca-Carrillo that broke out when the uncle learned that the agent had been mortally wounded during the interrogation.
Felix-Gutierrez, who allegedly traveled to Costa Rica ahead of Caro-Quintero to negotiate the purchase of several residences and the Playboy Club in San Jose, is also accused of helping the drug baron fly to Costa Rica shortly after the killing.