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Arturo Durazo; Police Chief of Mexico City Amassed Illicit Fortune

From Times Staff and Wire Reports

Arturo Durazo, a former police chief of Mexico City who built an empire based on extortion, racketeering and arms dealing, died Saturday of cancer at his home in Acapulco. He was 81.

A boyhood friend of former Mexican President Jose Lopez-Portillo, Durazo was a low-level police official in the customs agency until Lopez-Portillo promoted him to police chief in 1976. It was later reported that Lopez-Portillo gave him this job instead of the post of his chief of security, after he was informed by U.S. officials that Durazo was under investigation in Miami for drug trafficking.

As police chief over the next six years, Durazo amassed a fortune based on extortion of other Mexican government officials and kickbacks of bribes from rank-and-file police officers.

Though his official salary was $1,000 a month, Durazo was able to build a country home outside the capital and a beach house on the Pacific coast, both in a style that a Times reporter described as “early Nero.”

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Durazo left Mexico for Southern California in 1982, when Miguel de la Madrid succeeded Lopez-Portillo. After establishing residence in Marina del Rey, Durazo became the focus of the de la Madrid government’s anti-corruption campaign after his excesses as police chief came to light in a best-selling book written by his bodyguard, Jose Gonzalez.

Durazo led authorities on an international manhunt, finally landing in Puerto Rico, where he was arrested and returned to Los Angeles to face extradition to Mexico on racketeering and weapons charges.

The extradition proceedings, which lasted nearly two years, detailed a pyramid of payoffs that led directly to the police chief’s office.

According to the evidence presented, low-level policemen were forced to pay a portion of the bribes they collected to superiors, who in turn passed the money up to Durazo through his personal secretary. Failure to pay monthly quotas meant dismissal or banishment to the riot squad, “a place of castigation,” as one witness put it.

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At Christmastime, witnesses testified, Durazo demanded gifts of gold Mexican coins. According to testimony, police labor was used to build Durazo’s houses.

The houses were remarkable expressions of impudence. The one in El Ajusco, on Mexico City’s outskirts, was graced by quasi-Roman statues, a New York-style disco, a track for dog racing, a 23-car garage, artificial lakes and a firing range. The government seized the house and turned it into a national Museum of Corruption after Durazo fled the country.

Durazo’s beach house, on a hill overlooking the bay in Zihuantenejo, was adorned with Roman columns that framed a large portico and frescoes that depict frolicking nymphs, cupids and naked Herculean men. Ornate mirrors adorned the ceilings. The swimming pool was lined with mosaic tiles. Neighbors called the place “the Parthenon.”

Upon his extradition to Mexico City, he was convicted of racketeering and arms dealing and served eight years of an 11-year sentence. Although he was widely believed to have been involved in drug trafficking and implicated in several murders, he was never charged.

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He was released from prison in March 1992 and spent the rest of his days living quietly with his family in Acapulco.


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