3rd Defendant Convicted in Killing of U.S. Drug Agent
The former owner of a Los Angeles-area seafood company, who also headed local operations for a Mexican drug ring, was convicted Wednesday of acting as an accessory to the 1985 kidnaping and murders of U.S. drug agent Enrique Camarena and his pilot.
Jesus Felix-Gutierrez, 38, was the last of three defendants to be convicted in an eight-week Los Angeles federal court trial that authorities predicted was “only the beginning” of the U.S. government’s efforts to avenge Camarena’s death.
“Our goal is to see that justice is done, not just to these three defendants, but to see to it that everyone who participated in the kidnaping, torture and murder of Camarena is convicted and receives a fair sentence,” U.S. Atty. Robert C. Bonner told a press conference after Wednesday’s verdict. “We will not rest until this is done. We will not forget agent Camarena, now or in the future.”
Two other defendants--Raul Lopez-Alvarez, 29, and Rene Martin Verdugo-Urquidez, 36--were convicted shortly after the jury began deliberating last week. The panel members refused interviews with reporters and lawyers after the final verdict was returned Wednesday after nearly five days of deliberation.
A federal grand jury in Los Angeles accused nine men of arranging the kidnap and torture in response to a sweeping DEA crackdown on Mexican drug traffickers in the states of Chihuahua and Zacatecas that had cost Caro-Quintero’s organization up to $5 billion in profits.
Felix-Gutierrez, former owner of Ocean Gold Seafood in East Los Angeles, is already serving a 15-year prison term for his conviction last year on charges of heading a Southern California marijuana operation that authorities believed was tied to Rafael Caro-Quintero, the suspected mastermind in the killings of Camarena and his pilot, Alfredo Zavala-Avelar.
Felix-Gutierrez was convicted Wednesday on charges of arranging a private flight for Caro-Quintero to flee Mexico shortly after the killings, then helping the drug kingpin hide in Costa Rica until his arrest several months later.
Felix-Gutierrez’s lawyer, Barry Tarlow, while saying he thought the three defendants did not receive a fair trial, said he nonetheless respected the jury’s verdict.
“I asked myself a question before this trial--could a Mexican drug dealer receive a fair trial involving this kind of set of facts in the U.S.? I think the answer is, it’s impossible,” Tarlow said.
“I think the jury did the best thing they could with what is a difficult and perhaps impossible situation. They tried to be fair. It just may be a superhuman job,” he said. “Justice in this case may seem that Mr. Camarena has to be avenged.”
Tarlow and other defense lawyers had been critical of the prosecution, accusing Assistant U.S. Attys. Jimmy Gurule and Roel Campos of refusing to turn over witnesses’ statements until just before their testimony, coaching witnesses into giving perjured testimony and deleting relevant statements from initial interview reports.
Those allegations were angrily refuted by Bonner on Wednesday.
“I think there is a limit beyond which even a narcotics defense attorney should not stoop, and I think they exceeded that limit,” he said. “The attacks were, in my estimation, a cheap, dirty tactic by narcotics defense attorneys who evidently spent too long representing drug dealers.”
Prosecutors presented evidence that Felix-Gutierrez, whose nickname is “Cachas,” had a close relationship with Caro-Quintero, negotiating on his behalf to buy the Playboy Club in San Jose, Costa Rica (a deal that was never consummated), and the La Quinta ranch at which he was arrested, and arranging to have pilot Werner Lotz fly the powerful drug baron to San Jose after the killings.
Lotz was originally going to testify, but prosecutors failed to call him as a witness after Tarlow filed court papers alleging that Lotz was being protected by the U.S. government because he had delivered guns and money to the Contras, the Nicaraguan rebels.
Drug Dealer’s Testimony
A fellow drug dealer, whose credibility was strongly attacked by Tarlow, testified that Felix-Gutierrez admitted to him that he arranged the flight for Caro-Quintero.
The witness, Arturo de la Torre, also testified that he was in a motel room in Monterey Park when Felix-Gutierrez watched a newscast in which Caro-Quintero was said to have identified the man who helped him flee as the owner of a Los Angeles seafood company whose nickname was Cachas.
“The mood was very tense,” De la Torre testified. “After the news came out, a tile fell down in the bathroom, and it made a loud noise. Everybody panicked, everybody thought it was the police already coming in. We all jumped up.”
De la Torre said he and Felix-Gutierrez immediately got into a car and drove to Reno, where Felix-Gutierrez had part of a tattoo with the name Cachas removed from his right shoulder and plastic surgery on his face.
Bonner said there are no plans to seek immediate extradition of five other defendants also under indictment in the case who are in Mexican custody--including Caro-Quintero and fellow drug boss Ernesto Fonseca-Carrillo--pending the outcome of murder charges against them there.
But Bonner said the investigation against other potential suspects is still active and includes several of those who are believed to have participated in the torture.