A defense lawyer in the Enrique Camarena murder trial attempted to ask a key prosecution witness Thursday whether he knew of any ties between major Mexican drug traffickers and the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency but a federal judge prohibited the witness from answering.
Attorney Mary Kelly’s question came during cross-examination of Laurence Victor Harrison, a government-paid witness who had extensive dealings with both Mexican law enforcement and drug traffickers. Harrison said there was a close working relationship between the drug lords and prominent Mexican police officials.
Harrison’s testimony came during the fourth week of trial for four men who are accused of involvement in the February, 1985, murder of Camarena, a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agent.
The possible CIA link came after Kelly attempted to probe Harrison further.
At one point, Harrison testified that he had told drug kingpin Ernesto Fonseca Carrillo, for whom he had installed a sophisticated radio system, that law enforcement might go after him (Fonseca).
“He told me I was crazy,” Harrison recalled. “He told me there was no danger.”
Then the witness was asked, “Did Fonseca say it (his feeling of safety) was a political thing?” Harrison replied, “Yes.”
Kelly moved closer to the possible CIA link when she questioned Harrison about Sergio Espino Verdin, a commander in Mexico’s federal security directorate (DFS), an internal security and investigative agency with close ties to the PRI, Mexico’s dominant political party. Harrison said he worked for Espino, a close ally of Fonseca, who is currently in prison in Mexico after a conviction for his involvement in Camarena’s murder.
Harrison told the jury that Espino reported to Miguel Nazar Haro, who was DFS director from 1977 to 1982, when he was forced to resign after it was revealed that he was involved in a cross-border car smuggling ring.
The Nazar case was controversial in the United States and Mexico. William Kennedy, then-U.S. attorney in San Diego, pressed the Justice Department in Washington to indict Nazar, despite protests from U.S. officials in Mexico that Nazar was “an essential repeat essential contact for CIA station Mexico City.”
Kennedy was fired, but ultimately Nazar was indicted by a federal grand jury in San Diego and is still considered a fugitive in the United States.
Harrison called Nazar his “overboss” and said Nazar was involved in drug trafficking.
On Thursday, Kelly asked Harrison if Nazar was connected to the CIA. Prosecutor Manuel Medrano objected on the grounds that the question was irrelevant to the case. U.S. District Judge Edward Rafeedie sustained the objection.
Later, however, outside the presence of the jury, Kelly told the judge why she thought questions about the CIA were relevant to the Camarena case.
“Fonseca thought his actions were condoned by the Mexican government, as well as sanctioned by the CIA,” she said. “This goes to the issue of whether this was an illegal enterprise” and could help her client in her defense.
Among the charges against the four defendants who are on trial here are violent crimes in aid of a racketeering enterprise.
Kelly said she wanted to reserve the right to call Harrison back for more cross-examination. Rafeedie told her to submit a brief but no timetable was set.
The defense lawyer said she was prompted to ask some of these questions because of an interview that Harrison gave to DEA agents last September, a copy of which was recently provided to the defense. In the interview, Harrison said that Fonseca and another drug kingpin, Javier Barba Hernandez, talked to Cubans in 1983 at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Guadalajara about drug trafficking.
“They told me about it,” Harrison told the DEA. “Barba also told me that they could do whatever they wanted with the Americans or the Cubans. I took that to mean they could do deals with the Americans or the Cubans.”
Harrison also told the DEA that Fonseca met with an American involved in drug smuggling who said he was “working with the Contras,” a reference to U.S.-financed rebel troops in Nicaragua. He said this man, who was unnamed and told him he had been a mercenary in South Africa and also worked in El Salvador, asked him a lot of questions about airstrips.
“I told him if he got close to the border that he’d have trouble with U.S. radar,” Harrison told the DEA. “He said he was the U.S., that he didn’t have any problem. He could do anything that they wanted.”
In another development Thursday, Rafeedie ruled that prosecutors could play tapes of narcotics traffickers interrogating Camarena shortly before they murdered him. Prosecutor Medrano indicated that the government would start playing the Spanish tapes, accompanied by English translations displayed on a screen, today.
Times staff writer John H. Lee contributed to this story