Testifying as a defense witness, the U. S. ambassador to Mexico said Thursday that an inquiry he conducted last year showed that three Mexicans charged in a drug and corruption case are not high-ranking or influential Mexican officials, as federal investigators had claimed.
U. S. Ambassador Charles J. Pilliod took the witness stand Thursday over the objection of federal prosecutors, who argued earlier this week that he had little knowledge of the complex case and had never been briefed about the lengthy undercover investigation that led to the arrests of three Mexicans and four Bolivians.
The case began in 1987, when agents of the Drug Enforcement Administration and the U. S. Customs Service set up an undercover “sting” intended to snare corrupt Mexican officials engaged in illegal drug trade.
Pilliod became involved in the case shortly after the men were arrested in January, 1988. As a courtesy to Mexican government officials, Pilliod informed them of the arrests of the three Mexicans in San Diego and asked them to verify the backgrounds of the men, Pilliod testified Thursday. At the time, he was quoted as saying that the U. S. sting apparently had been “stung” by the Mexicans pretending to be high government officials.
Under questioning by Cindy Aaron, the attorney for defendant Jorge Carranza Peniche, Pilliod said he received a phone call on Jan. 14 or 15, 1988, from Ed Heath, the DEA attache in Mexico City, advising him of the arrests.
“We had established a policy that, before any news release involving Mexican officials, we would attempt to advise the attorney general of Mexico . . . so they wouldn’t be faced with a surprise in the newspapers the next morning,” Pilliod said.
He said he telephoned Arrevello Gardouqui, then the Mexican secretary of defense, and was told that Carranza had been released from the Mexican army in August, 1970, at the rank of major and was not a lieutenant colonel, as prosecutors had claimed. When Carranza was arrested in La Jolla in 1988 he was wearing the uniform of a Mexican army lieutenant colonel.
Admits ‘Flying Blind’
Pilliod said he also checked with Manuel Bartlett, the Mexican secretary of government, and was told that defendant Hector Manuel Brumel Alvarez was not an influential member of Mexico’s ruling political party, contrary to the U. S. charges.
Finally, Pilliod said, he contacted Ortega Badilla, a member of the Mexican attorney general’s office, and was told that Pablo Giron Ortiz was not a member of the Mexican Federal Judicial Police as the investigators claimed.
Under cross examination by Assistant U. S. Atty. Stephen Nelson, Pilliod said he had never been briefed about the case and conceded he was “flying blind” when he spoke to the press about it last year.
Outside the courtroom, Pilliod laughed when asked whether he still believes that U. S. agents “stung a sting” in the case. “I’m not going to say that again,” Pilliod said.