DEA Agent Identifies Bodyguard : Trial: He says Juan Jose Bernabe Ramirez was in group of armed men who helped drug lord escape two days after kidnaping of Camarena.


A Drug Enforcement Administration agent identified a defendant in the Enrique Camarena murder case Thursday as one of a group of armed men who helped a Mexican drug lord escape from the Guadalajara airport two days after Camarena was kidnaped in February, 1985.

Agent Salvador Leyva, gesturing toward defendant Juan Jose Bernabe Ramirez in a federal courtroom in Los Angeles, said Bernabe was among a number of heavily armed bodyguards who surrounded a Lear jet at the airport and kept authorities at bay until Rafael Caro Quintero was able to board the plane and take off.

Leyva said Bernabe pointed an AK-47 assault rifle at him and Mexican police officers, who had gone to the airport on a tip.

Attached to the rifle was a drum containing 100 rounds of ammunition, the agent said. "I never saw anything like that in my life," Leyva said.

Bernabe is one of four men who are on trial in U.S. District court here for involvement in the kidnaping and murder of Camarena, a DEA agent whose slaying touched off the largest manhunt in the history of the agency.

Leyva said Mexican police and DEA agents stood facing each other with guns drawn but that the authorities were hopelessly outgunned by Caro's bodyguards. The agent noted, for example, that he was armed only with a .38-caliber revolver.

Leyva said it seemed that the tense standoff lasted "an eternity," although the incident actually took about 20 minutes.

Ultimately, he said, Armando Pavon Reyes, a first commander with the Mexican Federal Judicial Police, allowed Caro to leave after he telephoned one of his superiors.

After the phone conversation, Leyva said, Pavon returned to where Caro was standing and the two men chatted briefly and put their arms around one another. "They seemed like old friends all of a sudden," he recalled with disgust.

Caro boarded the plane with a woman and his bodyguards and as it taxied away, Caro leaned out the door, defiantly held up a machine gun and ridiculed the Mexico police and DEA agents by "toasting" them with a glass of champagne and shouting out, "Next time bring better weapons, my children!"

Pavon told Leyva and others that the man he had allowed to leave was Rogelio Munoz Rios, a commander with the Mexican Federal Judicial Police, which was a lie, as Leyva discovered the next day when shown a photograph of Caro at the DEA office in Guadalajara.

Caro was later captured in Costa Rica and is serving a long jail sentence in Mexico for his role in the Camarena murder. Camarena was tortured at a Guadalajara house owned by Caro.

DEA officials have said they learned later that Caro promised Pavon 60 million pesos--about $270,000--to let him leave the airport. Pavon, who has been indicted in the Los Angeles case, was charged with corruption in Mexico and spent 18 months in prison, according to the DEA.

Leyva's testimony about Bernabe was particularly significant because Bernabe is accused of aiding and abetting Camarena's killers after he was kidnaped on Feb. 7, 1985.

Leyva was cross-examined by defense lawyers on his identification of Bernabe, a man he said he had seen only once in his life before Thursday. Initially, Leyva said that Caro had eight bodyguards with him at the airport, but later acknowledged that when he first wrote about the incident he said that there were five bodyguards.

He said that Bernabe was about 20 feet away from him during the confrontation. Leyva said he recalled that Bernabe had long, dark hair and was not wearing glasses, as he does now.

Leyva had to step down from the witness stand and approach Bernabe to identify him.

Bernabe's lawyer, Michael Meza, suggested on cross-examination that Leyva only had been able to identify the defendant because the DEA agent had been shown photographs of him recently.

But Leyva maintained that he recalled vividly what Bernabe looked like: "I knew it was him because I dreamed about this man for a while."

The defense also raised questions about Leyva's identification of another defendant, Juan Ramon Matta Ballesteros, a convicted Honduran drug kingpin, who is accused of being one of the plotters of Camarena's kidnaping.

Under questioning by Martin R. Stolar, Leyva said that he had seen Matta in a Guadalajara hotel five days after Camarena was abducted from a Guadalajara street while on his way to meet his wife for lunch.

The witness said that he recognized Matta from photos he had seen of him while working as a DEA agent in Mexico. He said that the man he saw in the Plaza del Sol Hotel was the same man sitting in the courtroom Thursday wearing a double-breasted suit.

Outside court, Stolar said he was "tickled pink" by Leyva's testimony because his client has a mustache now and did not have a mustache in February, 1985, when Leyva saw him. To buttress his point, he noted that there is a government exhibit in the case which is a photo of Matta seized that same month in a raid on another drug trafficker's house which shows Matta without a mustache.

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