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Mexican Cartel’s Courier Testifies

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A former money courier for top Mexican drug dealers testified Thursday in federal court that he collected as much as $7 million in his Los Angeles-area home before shipping the cash back to Guadalajara.

The witness, Frank Retamozza, also testified that one of the four defendants on trial in the 1985 torture-murder of U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agent Enrique (Kiki) Camarena threatened to kill another drug dealer who tried to hire him away.

Retamozza said reputed drug lord Juan Ramon Matta Ballesteros became angry when Retamozza reported that a drug-trafficking contact in the United States urged him to quit working for the Guadalajara drug cartel.

Retamozza said Matta threatened “to kill some member of (the drug dealer’s) family.”

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Now in the U.S. government’s witness protection program, Retamozza is being used by prosecutors to demonstrate the scope and violent nature of the drug cartel that Camarena was investigating in Mexico.

Retamozza is one of the most controversial of the paid informants around which prosecutors are basing their case in U.S. District Court against four men accused in the murder of Camarena and two American tourists, who were killed a week earlier in Guadalajara when they reportedly were mistaken for drug agents.

A cousin of reputed Mexican drug kingpin Miguel Angel Felix Gallardo, Retamozza and 30 members of his family have been placed under protection at a cost of $414,000 to the U.S. government. In addition, prosecutors in the Camarena case have asked their counterparts in six cities to drop drug cases against Retamozza in exchange for his testimony.

Retamozza claims to have picked up $150 million in cash from drug distributors in Los Angeles and delivered it to leaders of the Guadalajara drug cartel.

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The four defendants claim they are wrongly accused. In opening statements their attorneys attacked the credibility of the paid prosecution witnesses. Retamozza, whose testimony was used to establish Matta as a leader of the drug-smuggling conspiracy, is expected to face cross examination today.

Matta, a native of Honduras who allegedly served as the link between Colombian cocaine growers and the Mexican traffickers, already has been convicted in U.S. courts on separate drug charges and was given a life sentence. Matta, 45, also faces other drug-trafficking charges in Los Angeles.

Camarena was kidnaped outside the U.S. Consulate in Guadalajara in February, 1985. A month later, his mutilated body was found buried on a ranch 65 miles away, along with that of Alfredo Zavala Avelar, a pilot for the Mexican agriculture department who had served as a DEA informant, scouting for marijuana fields.

Prosecutors have alleged that Camarena was killed in retaliation for raids on marijuana fields that cost the Mexican drug traffickers millions of dollars.

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Also on trial before U.S. District Judge Edward Rafeedie are Ruben Zuno Arce, brother-in-law of former Mexican President Luis Echeverria Alvarez; Juan Bernabe Ramirez, a former Mexican policeman who allegedly acted as a guard at the house where Camarena was tortured, and Javier Vasquez Velasco, charged with killing the two U.S. tourists who were slain after they stumbled into a restaurant meeting of drug traffickers.


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