Alleged Finance Chief of Drug Cartel Arrested

Times Staff Writer

A man identified as the financial manager of the Juarez drug cartel has been arrested in Mexico on charges stemming from Operation Casablanca, a Los Angeles-based investigation into drug money laundering by Mexican banks during the 1990s, federal authorities said Tuesday.

Jose Alvarez Tostado, also known as El Compadre, had been a fugitive since his indictment in 1998 along with 111 other people and three major Mexican banks in what was described as the biggest drug money investigation in U.S. history.

The 49-year-old Alvarez is charged with operating a continuing criminal enterprise, money laundering and conspiracy.


Alvarez, who has been on U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s 10-most-wanted list, was picked up by Mexican authorities last week, but his identity was not confirmed until Tuesday, when U.S. agents interviewed him in a Mexico City jail.

The U.S. Justice Department is expected to seek his extradition to Los Angeles for trial.

According to the indictment, Alvarez collected more than $40 million from narcotics sales in the United States and transferred the money into Mexican bank accounts on behalf of Amado Carrillo Fuentes, the reputed chief of the Juarez cartel until his death in 1997 during plastic surgery.

Michael Garcia, who oversees Immigration and Customs Enforcement, thanked Mexican authorities for capturing Alvarez. U.S. officials said Alvarez was using phony identification when he was picked up in Guadalajara.

“We look forward to continued close cooperation with the Mexican government in seeing that this individual is brought to justice,” Garcia said in a statement.

Operation Casablanca was launched in 1995 by undercover officers from what was then the U.S. Customs Service. They set up shop in a Los Angeles area warehouse and posed as freelance money launderers, seeking assignments from Mexican drug dealers and bankers.

Customs reported seizing more than $100 million as a result of the investigation. Forty people were convicted or pleaded guilty before trial. Most of the others in the indictment are fugitives.