A federal judge ruled Monday that the U. S. ambassador to Mexico may testify as a witness in a complex drug case, and defense attorneys said they plan to call him to the stand Thursday.
U. S. District Judge William B. Enright, who last month quashed a subpoena for the appearance of Ambassador Charles J. Pilliod, reversed his ruling Monday after reviewing State Department documents submitted by the defense.
Defense attorneys have asserted that Pilliod will cast doubt on prosecution claims that three of the seven men on trial were high-ranking Mexican government or military officials when they were arrested in an undercover sting operation last year.
Federal prosecutors have fought to keep Pilliod off the witness stand, arguing that he has no first-hand knowledge of the investigation and little to offer as evidence.
However, Cynthia G. Aaron, an attorney for Jorge Carranza, who prosecutors say is a retired Mexican army colonel, argued Monday that a two-page Teletype message sent by Pilliod in January, 1988, to then-Atty. Gen. Edwin Meese III indicates that all three Mexicans were less important than federal prosecutors claim. The message details Pilliod’s discussions with Mexican government officials about the backgrounds of the defendants.
The Teletype informed State Department officials that Carranza was discharged from the Mexican army as a major, not a colonel; that another defendant, Pablo Giron Ortiz, was not a high-ranking member of the Mexican Federal Judicial Police; and that a third defendant, Hector Manual Brumel Alvarez, had not served as a Mexican government official with ties to the country’s ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party.
Stephen Nelson, the assistant U. S. attorney prosecuting the case, said Monday that Pilliod’s statements last year were made shortly after the arrests and that his information was “third-hand” at best. “Before he’s even briefed on the case he makes these gratuitous comments,” Nelson said. “It was pretty rank hearsay. He would not have been informed or briefed on it. . . . He was kept out of the loop.”
Four Bolivian citizens also are charged in the case, which resulted from an undercover investigation by U. S. agents attempting to expose corruption among top Mexican officials. The investigation ended a year ago in the parking lot of a La Jolla supermarket, where Carranza was arrested while wearing the uniform of a Mexican army colonel.
Aaron said Monday that it is her understanding that Pilliod “voluntarily” did a background check on the Mexicans by contacting Mexican authorities after reading press accounts that Carranza had been arrested wearing a Mexican military uniform.
“He did this checking on his own because he became suspicious that Carranza was in uniform,” she said. “That seemed bizarre to him. So he called and learned that Carranza was not on the military list.”
Aaron said she intends to question Pilliod “about his relationships with various branches of the Mexican government . . . and how he first learned about the indictment in this case.”
Pilliod’s testimony also should demonstrate how easy it would have been for U. S. agents to determine that the defendants were not the powerful Mexican officials the agents had hoped to bring down, she said.
“It shows the shoddiness of their investigation,” she said. “The agents wanted to believe it so bad they weren’t willing to verify anything. And they still want to believe it.”
Nelson on Monday denied that the investigation was shoddy and said that, if Pilliod testifies, the prosecution will be forced to present rebuttal witnesses who will show the “absolute stonewalling of the Mexican government” on the case. “To this day, we have not received one bit of official information from the Mexican government,” Nelson said.
Aaron said she at first hoped to have Pilliod, who is in Mexico City, in the courtroom today, but, after discussing the situation with State Department officials, she now hopes to have Pilliod on the witness stand on Thursday.