An admitted marijuana trafficker identified as a top lieutenant to a Mexican drug kingpin was sentenced Wednesday to 240 years in prison and an additional life term for his role in the kidnaping, torture and murder of a U.S. drug agent in Mexico.
Rene Verdugo Urquidez, 36, will not be eligible for parole until he has served 60 years for his participation in the 1985 torture and murder of Drug Enforcement Administration Agent Enrique Camarena and his pilot, Alfredo Zavala Avelar.
A second defendant, Jesus Felix Gutierrez, 38, received the maximum 10-year sentence for helping the suspected mastermind, Mexican drug lord Rafael Caro Quintero, flee to Costa Rica in an unsuccessful effort to avoid prosecution after the killings.
Felix, the former owner of a Los Angeles-area seafood company, is already serving a 15-year federal prison sentence for heading a Southern California marijuana operation authorities believe was tied to Caro Quintero’s operation.
Assistant U.S. Atty. Jimmy Gurule said his only regret in the sentencing of Verdugo “is that the death penalty is not available.”
He added that the “narco-terrorism” practiced by international drug traffickers is a “threat to the fabric of society. These traffickers have accumulated massive wealth. They employ thousands of workers. Police, assassins and hit men are on their payrolls.”
The prosecutor said that these “terrorists believe they are invincible--above the law. Anyone who stands in their way is either bought off, or he’s eliminated as Enrique Camarena was.”
Before U.S. District Judge Edward Rafeedie imposed sentence, Verdugo said: “You’re judging an innocent person. That’s all I have to say.”
Michael Pancer, Verdugo’s attorney, had argued before his client was sentenced that Verdugo was innocent and that the jury’s guilty verdict was incorrect.
Rafeedie countered by saying the “evidence is conclusive and undisputed that when the torture was taking place, your client was at that house. It is not disputed that hair from his head was found there.”
The judge also pointed out that Verdugo told one witness: “We took care of a problem, didn’t we?”
Rafeedie said that could be taken as a boast and as a reference to Camarena.
“We do know that torture and murder took place at that house,” Rafeedie said. “Your client was there.”
Attorneys for Verdugo and Felix said they will appeal the convictions.
Raul Lopez Alvarez, 29, a former Mexican state police officer who was also convicted of participating in the two slayings, is to be sentenced Friday.
Federal prosecutors said Camarena was taken to Caro Quintero’s house in Guadalajara and tortured for more than 24 hours before he was finally killed with several heavy blows to the head. The badly beaten bodies of the drug agent and his pilot were found about a month later on a remote ranch 60 miles from Guadalajara.
Authorities believe that Camarena was abducted and killed because drug enforcement activities he took part in were disrupting the flow of narcotics from Mexico and costing drug traffickers billions of dollars.
Six other men, including Caro Quintero, were also indicted in Los Angeles for the murders. Caro Quintero, who was arrested in Costa Rica in April, 1985, is in custody in Mexico with three others and standing trial there on murder and kidnaping charges.