The Mexican government today plans to confront U.S. Atty. Gen. Dick Thornburgh with allegations that Los Angeles-based drug agents arranged the kidnaping of a Mexican doctor indicted in the United States in the 1985 killing of an American drug enforcement officer.
Dr. Humberto Alvarez Machain, who was arraigned in federal court in Los Angeles last week, was abducted from Guadalajara on April 3 and flown to the El Paso international airport, where agents of the Los Angeles office of the Drug Enforcement Agency were waiting to pick him up, U.S. and Mexican sources said.
Alvarez, 42, is one of 19 Mexicans who have been indicted in Los Angeles on charges of kidnaping, torturing and killing DEA agent Enrique S. Camarena in Guadalajara in February, 1985.
Mexican sources close to the case said American officials had advised them that the kidnaping was a renegade operation arranged by the DEA in Los Angeles without approval from headquarters in Washington or the knowledge of the U.S. Embassy in Mexico.
A bounty of up to $50,000 per person was offered to the four kidnapers, a pilot and co-pilot, said a source, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
DEA spokesmen in Washington refused to comment on how Alvarez arrived in the United States, but they denied that his arrest had violated any laws or agency regulations. The lead prosecutor in the Camarena case, Assistant U.S. Atty. Manuel Medrano, declined comment in Los Angeles on the arrest.
Thornburgh, however, announced Tuesday that he has called for "a thorough investigation" into Alvarez's arrest. At a press conference in Washington, Thornburgh said he has asked that all agencies with knowledge of the arrest "report to me what the precise circumstances were."
"We must be very sensitive to questions of sovereignty of any of the nations with whom we work in cooperative ventures," he said.
Thornburgh is scheduled to meet privately with Mexican Atty. Gen. Enrique Alvarez del Castillo late today in Ixtapa, Mexico, where the two will be attending a Western Hemispheric conference on drug trafficking.
In one of the first items on their agenda, Alvarez del Castillo will demand a "clarification" of the alleged abduction from Thornburgh, said Fernando Arias, a spokesman for the Mexican attorney general.
"Thornburgh knows he is going to be assaulted (with questions) on the Alvarez case. We want a clarification of whether U.S. officials were involved in the presumed kidnaping of Alvarez," Arias said.
A source in the Mexican attorney general's office said that the government of Mexico believes "without a doubt" that Alvarez was kidnaped.
"All we're investigating is who participated, where it was and how he was introduced into the United States," the source said.
Aides to Thornburgh said he was not likely to have a full account of the case in time to respond to detailed questioning from the Mexicans.
Camarena was nabbed by drug traffickers outside the U.S. Consulate in Guadalajara on Feb. 7, 1985, and tortured for information about DEA activities in Mexico. U.S. officials charge that Alvarez, a gynecologist, observed the torture and administered drugs to revive Camarena so that he could undergo still more questioning.
Alvarez is scheduled to face trial in Los Angeles on May 1 along with four other defendants in the case, including Juan Ramon Matta Ballesteros, a convicted drug trafficker who was captured in Honduras in 1988 by military officials and deported to the United States.
Los Angeles is the primary base for Operation Leyenda, the DEA's investigation into the Camarena killing. DEA officials said Tuesday that the probe is officially headed by a Washington-based agent, Bill Waters.
In a telephone interview from Los Angeles, Alvarez's lawyer, Robert Steinberg, asserted that his client had been kidnaped but said he would not make an issue of that in court because the plea would fall on deaf ears.
"There obviously was no extradition and no hearing. He left his office and left his country without his consent. . . . But others (Matta Ballesteros, for instance) have argued kidnaping in two different cases and the court ruled 'too bad but they're here,' " Steinberg said.
Steinberg said Alvarez was abducted from his office in Guadalajara on April 2 by four or five men in civilian clothing who identified themselves as Mexican federal police, presented badges and announced that he was under arrest for performing illegal abortions.
The doctor was put into a car and driven north to an unidentified town, where the party spent the night before boarding a small airplane. Alvarez claims that an American DEA agent was present in Mexico participating in his arrest, Steinberg said.
"He (Alvarez) said there was a gringo with them and he asked if the guy was a DEA agent and he (the agent) said he was," Steinberg said. "They flew over the border to El Paso, whereupon the DEA agent took him off the plane and he was arrested. . . . He thinks the agent who interviewed him in El Paso was the same guy as on the plane."
Alvarez was interrogated in El Paso by Delbert Salazar, a special agent and a member of the Operation Leyenda team.
DEA spokesman Frank Shults said the agency would not discuss the circumstances that brought Alvarez to the United States. He said the doctor was "located by DEA in El Paso and arrested there on lawful authority."
If a DEA agent were involved in the apprehension of Alvarez in Guadalajara, it would mark the first time that the agency has taken advantage of a controversial new Justice Department legal opinion that gives its agents the authority to take part in the "snatching" of fugitives abroad.
Thornburgh's chief spokesman, David Runkel, said Tuesday that Alvarez's arrest was "not within the purview" of that ruling because it did not involve U.S. agents going into another country.
Law enforcement sources in the United States confirmed that Los Angeles-based DEA agents had been instrumental in arranging the operation and said the agency had promised to pay a reward of up to $100,000.
DEA officials denied Tuesday that the agency had paid any "bounty" in connection with Alvarez's arrest, but they left open the possibility that such a reward might be paid in the future.
Mexican officials, meanwhile, have publicly denied that any Mexican federal, state or local police were involved in the alleged abduction. Privately, however, they admit they are still investigating the case and expect U.S. officials to provide them with information on the identity of those who detained the doctor. They also want the registration of the plane that flew Alvarez to El Paso, the names of its crew and its flight plan.
Mexican officials say Alvarez is a valuable witness in the U.S. case because he could provide firsthand medical testimony that Camarena had been tortured.
During his questioning in El Paso, Alvarez did not admit to treating Camarena while he was in the hands of drug traffickers, according to a report on the interrogation obtained by The Times. However, the report indicates that the doctor did admit seeing Camarena in the hands of his kidnapers at a house on Lope de Vega Street in Guadalajara where the torture is known to have occurred.
Alvarez told DEA agents that he saw a dozen other people in the house, including reputed drug kingpins Rafael Caro Quintero and Ernesto Fonseca Carrillo, both of whom also have been indicted in the case. He alleged that it was another doctor, Juan Mejia Monje, who attended to Camarena, the report says.
"Alvarez Machain stated that he observed Dr. Mejia Monje check Camarena's pupils and blood pressure and that after doing so reported to Alvarez Machain that Camarena was in very bad shape," the report says.
Mexican officials say that the United States had never requested extradition of Alvarez or any of the other 18 people indicted in the Camarena case. There had been no official request for help in detaining Alvarez, Mexican officials said.
However, U.S. law enforcement officials, including Medrano of the U.S. attorney's office in Los Angeles, said they had requested the extradition of several defendants in the case and that all these pleas fell on deaf ears in Mexico.
When Alvarez was arraigned in federal court in Los Angeles on April 10, neither he nor his lawyer raised any protest about the circumstances of his arrest. Alvarez argued unsuccessfully to U.S. District Judge Edward Rafeedie that he should be released on bail pending a trial scheduled to begin May 1.
"I have no reason to flee, your honor," he said through an interpreter. "I came here to take care of this. . . . I am a gynecologist. I cannot live like this and neither can my family," he said, referring to the cloud that has been hanging over his head since he was indicted. He said he is innocent of any crime.
Medrano told the court that informants had told U.S. law enforcement personnel that Alvarez is an associate of drug baron Caro Quintero, who is in prison in Mexico after being convicted there of participating in the Camarena murder. Alvarez "was specifically employed to take care of and heal any (narcotics) co-conspirators that were hurt or shot in the line of duty," Medrano said.
Spokesman Arias of the Mexican attorney general's office said his government has not filed a formal protest in the case but would do so if it is proven that Alvarez was kidnaped. He said, however, that the case is not likely to interfere with U.S-Mexican cooperation in the effort to fight drug trafficking.
Times staff writers Henry Weinstein, in Los Angeles, and Ron Ostrow, in Washington, contributed to this story.