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Police Protected Drug Kingpin, Mexico Admits

Times Staff Writer

Mexico’s attorney general acknowledged Monday that Miguel Angel Felix Gallardo, one of the world’s top cocaine, marijuana and heroin traffickers, ran his multibillion-dollar operation for the last 15 years with the protection of corrupt Mexican police officials.

Atty. Gen. Enrique Alvarez del Castillo said that six law enforcement officials, including one of his own men, were detained following the Saturday night arrest of Felix Gallardo in Guadalajara. He said the drug lord fingered the officials.

Alvarez said the officials had supplied Felix Gallardo with weapons and radio equipment, protection for moving drug shipments and information on narcotics investigations.

U.S. Sees ‘Landmark’ Arrest

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U.S. drug enforcement officials praised Mexico’s “landmark” arrest of Felix Gallardo, whose organization is estimated to have moved four tons of cocaine into the United States each month, primarily to the West Coast.

“The impact on the drug market is extremely significant,” said Ed Heath, Drug Enforcement Administration chief in Mexico City. “He is as important as any major trafficker in South America. There’s no question that he had a very direct relation with the Colombians (traffickers)--not only the Colombians, but the Peruvians and Bolivians as well.”

Felix Gallardo was arrested at his home in Guadalajara, Jalisco state, in a lightning raid by a special task force from the attorney general’s office. Police said they confiscated 124 grams of cocaine, communications equipment and several firearms. No shots were fired, and no one was injured during the arrest.

In a press conference Monday, Alvarez said that Felix Gallardo, 43, named six senior police and judicial officers in the northern state of Sinaloa who had protected his drug ring. Among them, Alvarez said, was Arturo Moreno Espinosa, police chief of Sinaloa state, and Gregorio Enrique Corza Marin, the attorney general’s drug enforcement deputy in the city of Culiacan. According to the attorney general, Felix Gallardo confessed to having paid Corza Marin $24,000 over two months for information about drug investigations.

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Camarena Case Suspect

U.S. officials suspect that Felix Gallardo ordered the torture-murder of American undercover narcotics agent Enrique S. Camarena and his Mexican pilot in Guadalajara in 1985. However, the drug baron reportedly told police interrogators that he had opposed the killings.

In Culiacan, the capital of Sinaloa state and Felix Gallardo’s hometown, federal police backed by soldiers from the 9th Military Zone temporarily detained the entire city police force Saturday night. City Police Chief Robespierre Lizarraga Coronel, the state judicial police chief, Moreno, and three federal highway police commanders remained in custody.

“Lamentably, there are officers who err and betray our confidence,” Alvarez said. “The orders we have from President Salinas are to press on regardless of where this leads.”

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Upon taking office five months ago, President Carlos Salinas de Gortari declared narcotics trafficking a national security threat and vowed to “make life miserable” for drug lords. In a broader campaign against corruption, the Salinas administration arrested the chief of the Oil Workers Union, Joaquin Hernandez Galicia, in January and stock market tycoon Eduardo Legorreta in March.

The drug arrests come as Alvarez prepares to visit Washington this week to meet with U.S. Atty. Gen. Dick Thornburgh. Also this week, the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee is scheduled to vote on certification of Mexico’s performance in combatting drug trafficking.

Republican Sen. Jesse Helms of North Carolina has criticized Salinas for his police appointments, beginning with Alvarez in the top law enforcement post. Helms, the ranking Republican on the committee, has asked Congress to reject the Bush Administration’s certification of Mexico.

Helms aide Deborah DeMoss commended the arrest of Felix Gallardo on Monday but added: “Let’s see if he’s tried, convicted and serves time. I can speak for Sen. Helms in saying that a single arrest is not going to change his demand for clearing up the top levels of Mexican law enforcement.”

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DEA chief John C. Lawn was more enthusiastic. “We are most gratified with the arrest of this important fugitive,” Lawn said.

Heath, of the DEA’s Mexico City office, said the drug agency cooperated in the three-month investigation of Felix Gallardo but that no Americans participated in the actual arrest.

DEA and Mexican officials said they expect more arrests.


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