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Ex-Police Secretary Tells of DEA Role

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A former secretary for the Mexican Federal Judicial Police testified Thursday that she served as a paid informant for U.S. drug agents investigating the 1985 murder of colleague Enrique Camarena.

The secretary, Virginia Reynoso Martinez, told a Los Angeles federal court jury that she started helping Camarena himself in 1983 while working at the Judicial Police office in Guadalajara, providing the Drug Enforcement Administration agent with simple information such as the criminal records of suspects.

But in 1986, Reynoso said, she became a full paid informant for the DEA, which suspected that corrupt Mexican law enforcement officials assisted local drug lords in the brutal torture and murder of Camarena the previous year.

Speaking in Spanish through an interpreter, Reynoso said she did not tell anyone at the Judicial Police office of her relationship with U.S. agents, because “it is very dangerous to be working for the DEA in Mexico.”

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If her superiors had learned she was a $250-a-month DEA informant, she said, “I would be six feet under.”

Reynoso is one of a series of informants around which prosecutors are basing their case against four men on trial for the murder of Camarena and two American tourists. The tourists were killed in Guadalajara when they reportedly were mistaken for drug agents.

Taking the witness stand later Thursday was one of the most controversial of the informants, Frank Retamoza, a cousin of reputed Mexican drug kingpin Miguel Angel Felix Gallardo.

Retamoza, who became a prominent money courier for Guadalajara-area drug dealers, has been placed in protective custody along with 30 members of his family at a cost to the U.S. government of $414,000, according to court records. In addition, prosecutors have asked their counterparts in six cities to drop drug cases against him in exchange for his cooperation.

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Beginning his testimony, Retamoza described how cocaine was smuggled into Southern California by airplane and concealed in automobile fuel tanks, and how millions of dollars in profits were sent back to Mexico.

Retamoza, who claims to have picked up $150 million from drug distributors in Los Angeles, testified matter-of-factly that on one occasion colleagues in his Harbor City home used mechanical money counters to tabulate cash and found it was “a little over $7 million.”

Retamoza also said that one of the defendants, Juan Ramon Matta Ballesteros, threatened to kill a low-level member of the drug ring who tried to hire Retamoza away.

Retamoza said Matta--a Honduran national already sentenced to life in prison on a U.S. drug-smuggling conviction--became “very angry” when he heard that a drug-trafficking contact in the United States urged Retamoza to quit working for the Guadalajara cartel.

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Matta then threatened “he was going to kill someone,” Retamoza said.

Several defense attorneys later protested the testimony about the murder threat, calling it highly prejudicial. But U.S. District Judge Edward Rafeedie denied their motions for a mistrial.

In opening statements this week, defense attorneys promised to attack the credibility of paid prosecution witnesses. Retamoza is expected to face cross-examination today.

The Camarena case has strained relations between the United States and Mexico, whose officials have been enraged by the repeated allegations of high-level corruption.

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That theme was repeated in the testimony of Reynoso, who said two of the Guadalajara federales would distribute cash payments to their colleagues, and other office personnel, every two weeks.

The former secretary did not say where the cash came from, but testified she once saw one federale , Juan Gilberto Hernandez Parra, conferring outside a condominium complex with drug lord Felix Gallardo. The two men have been named in U.S. indictments as among the plotters against Camarena, but both are still in Mexico.

Reynoso said she once was asked to deliver documents to Hernandez at a hotel, where she found the federal policeman living in a two-room suite with a very unusual pet.

“There was a bathroom to one side,” she recalled, “and there was a lion cub in there.”

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The witness said her role as a secret DEA informant ended last July, after she testified before a federal grand jury in Los Angeles and her cooperation “was found out.” She was moved to the United States by the DEA, which now pays her $2,000 a month in living expenses, she said.


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