Top Mexican government officials met with drug traffickers to plan the kidnaping and murder of Drug Enforcement Administration agent Enrique Camarena, a key prosecution witness testified Tuesday in the trial of two men charged with the crime.
The witness, Jorge Godoy, told jurors of parties at which traffickers smoked crack cocaine and mingled with high-ranking officials, and he offered detailed descriptions of four meetings in which he said the Camarena abduction was discussed. At the meetings were leaders of the Guadalajara drug cartel and top Mexican government officials, including two members of the Mexican cabinet at the time--Defense Minister Juan Arevalo Gardoqui and Interior Minister Manuel Bartlett Diaz--Godoy said.
In addition, Godoy--a former Mexican police officer who says he was a bodyguard for drug kingpin Ernesto Fonseca in 1984--said some of the meetings were attended by the governor of Jalisco state, Enrique Alvarez del Castillo, and Interpol Director Manuel Aldana Ibarra.
Although previous witnesses have testified that Mexican officials collaborated with the drug traffickers, Godoy's account Tuesday marked the first time that the leaders have been accused of helping to plan Camarena's murder.
According to Godoy, Mexican authorities agreed to identify and locate Camarena so the drug traffickers--led by Fonseca and Rafael Caro Quintero--could kidnap and kill him. Camarena and a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration informant disappeared on Feb. 7, 1985, and their tortured bodies were found a month later.
Godoy said the meetings often grew tense as traffickers struggled to develop a plan for thwarting DEA raids that were cutting into their profits. At a particularly tense point during one meeting, Caro allegedly grew very angry with Gov. Alvarez for not getting information more quickly. But Godoy said Fonseca intervened and calmed the session by presenting the governor with a gift: a gold-plated AK-47 assault rifle.
Godoy's testimony in a federal courtroom in Los Angeles touched off an immediate international squabble as Mexican officials angrily denounced his statements and reiterated their longstanding attacks on the trial.
"These are illegitimate witnesses," a spokesman for President Carlos Salinas de Gortari said Tuesday. "They are not to be taken seriously. They have no moral or legal authority."
None of the officials named by Godoy are in custody, and Bartlett Diaz was recently elected governor of the Mexican state of Puebla. At a news conference Tuesday in Puebla, Bartlett Diaz denied having any ties to drug traffickers.
"I reject all of these statements," he said. "They are false and slanderous and derive from a trial that is condemnable in all aspects."
The Camarena killing and its investigation have strained relations between the U.S. and Mexico. This phase of the case, in which Guadalajara gynecologist Humberto Alvarez Machain and Ruben Zuno Arce are charged with participating in the crime, has been particularly nettlesome.
Zuno's brother-in-law is former Mexican President Luis Echeverria Alvarez, and Alvarez Machain was kidnaped in 1990 at the behest of the DEA and brought to the U. S., an act that the Mexican government considers illegal.
"This is an illegal trial from the start," the Mexican attorney general's office said in a statement released late Monday. "The accusations that the prosecutor (John L.) Carlton has made against politicians and officials of the Mexican government do not deserve respect since they are founded on the testimony of delinquents."
The witnesses "have been given money, immunity and protection," the statement added. "It is obvious they will say what the prosecution wants."
Like other confidential informants testifying in this case, Godoy has been paid for information and expenses since agreeing to cooperate with the government. All told, informants in this case have received more than $2.7 million, and Godoy has received about $60,000, according to prosecution documents obtained by The Times.
Defense lawyers used those payments and several points in Godoy's testimony to raise an aggressive challenge to his credibility Tuesday.
That challenge was taken up with particular vigor by Edward Medvene, who represents Zuno. Godoy's testimony was potentially most damaging to Zuno because he said Zuno had participated in all four of the alleged meetings and had urged the group to kidnap Camarena.
"I heard Ruben Zuno say: 'That (epithet) gringo, what's he doing here?' " Godoy recalled. " 'It's not his (epithet) country. It's time to pick him up and drop him.' "
Medvene challenged Godoy's testimony on several counts, most notably by questioning the dates on which he said they occurred. In his interviews with the DEA, Godoy first suggested that some of the meetings occurred later in 1984 than he testified to, and Medvene suggested that the switch was made because Godoy did not work for Fonseca for a period in late 1984 and therefore could not have been present during the time that he first said some of the meetings were held.
In addition, Godoy had difficulty remembering details of his meetings in 1991 and 1992 with the DEA, and Medvene questioned how he could have forgotten those sessions and yet remembered events from 1984 and 1985 clearly.
Medvene also seemed incredulous about the account of one of the alleged planning sessions in particular.
According to Godoy, the first session where he heard officials and drug dealers lay plans to kidnap Camarena occurred in a suite at the Las Americas Hotel in Guadalajara, which allegedly was owned by one of the cartel bosses. That meeting, he said, included the Mexican ministers of defense and the interior, as well as the governor of Jalisco and top law enforcement authorities.
Medvene sarcastically questioned whether it would make sense for such recognizable figures to gather in the company of drug kingpins at a public hotel. Before Godoy could respond, prosecutors objected to his statement, and U.S. District Judge Edward Rafeedie upheld their objection.
Medvene's challenge was taken up by Alvarez's lawyer, Alan Rubin, who focused on the $3,000-a-month payments that Godoy has received from the American government.
"At any time in your entire life have you ever earned the equivalent of $3,000 a month?" Rubin asked.
"No," Godoy responded.
Testimony in the trial resumes today and is expected to continue for at least a month. If convicted, Alvarez Machain and Zuno could be sentenced to life in prison.
Newton reported from Los Angeles, Miller from Mexico City.