Camarena Trial Witness Says Drug Lords Held Meeting on DEA Agent

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The one-time security chief for a Guadalajara drug cartel member testified Wednesday that the brother-in-law of a former Mexican president recommended at a September, 1984, meeting that a troublesome U.S. drug agent be "picked up."

The allegation was made by Hector Cervantes Santos--a former Mexican policeman who is now a paid U.S. government informant--during the sixth day of testimony in the Los Angeles federal court trial of four men charged in the 1985 kidnap-murder of DEA Agent Enrique Camarena.

Cervantes, 30, said he worked as a bodyguard to Guadalajara attorney Javier Barba Hernandez, who died in a Nov. 17, 1986, shoot-out with Mexican federal police.

According to the prosecution, some of the key meetings to plan Camarena's abduction were held at Barba's house in late 1984. On Wednesday, Cervantes said that he was present at a September, 1984, baptism for Barba's son, along with Camarena defendant Ruben Zuno Arce, brother-in-law of former Mexican President Luis Echeverria Alvarez.

Also in attendance, he said, were Javier Garcia Paniagua, now the Mexico City police chief and formerly the head of Mexico's leading political party, the PRI; Javier Vasquez Velasco, another Camarena defendant, and several major drug traffickers. Cervantes identified both Zuno and Vasquez in court.

The witness said that a meeting was held during the baptism party and that Zuno, Garcia, Barba and a major drug trafficker, Manuel Salcido Uzeta, discussed a DEA agent who was causing trouble. Cervantes quoted Zuno as saying the agent "should be picked up."

Assistant U.S. Atty. Manuel Medrano did not ask Cervantes Wednesday if the agent in question was Camarena. The witness will return to the stand today.

The prosecution's case ran into difficulties during earlier testimony Wednesday.

In one potentially significant development, Thomas Gomez, a DEA agent who was sent to Guadalajara in the fall of 1984, said he was there from mid-October to mid-November and had not seen Camarena defendant Juan Ramon Matta Ballesteros, one of the men he was assigned to check out.

The government has accused Matta, a convicted Honduran drug kingpin, of being one of the plotters of Camarena's kidnaping and murder and allege that he took part in meetings to plan the abduction in October, 1984, in Guadalajara.

Outside court, Matta's lawyer, Martin R. Stolar, said he thought Gomez's statement was "very significant" because it raised questions about the government's charges against his client. "He (Matta) was not in Guadalajara at that time," Stolar asserted.

Later, another key government witness, Enrique Placentia Aguilar, a former Guadalajara police SWAT officer, said he was at a December, 1984, meeting in which Camarena's photo was passed around among drug traffickers--including Ernesto Fonseca Carrillo, Rafael Caro Quintero and others linked to the Camarena killing.

Placentia said Vasquez also was present at the meeting. However, the witness was unable to identify the defendant Wednesday after looking around the courtroom for more than two minutes. Vasquez was present in the courtroom, wearing a blue suit.

Placentia's forgetfulness is potentially harmful to the prosecution. Authorities say he was an eyewitness to the killings of an American writer and a Mexican medical student who were beaten to death, allegedly by drug traffickers on Jan. 30, 1985, just eight days before Camarena's kidnaping.

Prosecutors believe that free-lance writer John Walker and Alberto Radelat were killed after they stumbled into a party held by the Guadalajara narcotics cartel at a local restaurant and were mistaken for DEA agents.

Vasquez is the only defendant accused of the Walker and Radelat murders. He is being tried with the other three defendants, over the objections of his lawyer, because U.S. District Judge Edward Rafeedie said there was a significant connection between the killings.

At the start of the trial last week, federal prosecutor John L. Carlton said Guadalajara narcotics traffickers committed a series of retaliatory acts against the DEA because they were angry about major raids in 1984 that had cost the traffickers $5 billion. The murders of Walker and Radelat were described as being among those retaliatory acts.

Walker's widow, Mary Evelyn Walker, a Texas schoolteacher, on Wednesday tearfully described identifying her husband's body at the Guadalajara morgue. She described going to the morgue to view his remains in June, 1985, after several months of trying to find him. The State Department had called her St. Paul, Minn., home on Feb. 14, 1985, to tell her Walker had disappeared. In fact, Walker, who was writing a mystery novel, and Radelat were already dead. Their remains were found in a Guadalajara park on June 19, 1985.

Mrs. Walker said she knew one of the bodies in the morgue was her husband's as soon as she saw it.

"It was only a skeleton, but not just a skeleton," she said. "There were parts of his body still on him--one of his eyes, his overlip . . . his mustache, it was John, it was unmistakably John," she said, trying to contain her tears. "His eyes were brown. To me they were unmistakeable. I looked at them for 15 years. I knew it was him."

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