In 1972, Camarena joined the United States Marine Corps, where he served for two years. He then joined the DEA at their Calexico, California, office. In 1977, Camarena moved to their Fresno office, and in 1981 he was assigned to the agency's Guadalajara office in Mexico. Camarena had also worked as a firefighter and police investigator before joining the DEA in Calexico.
In 1984, acting on information by Camarena, 450 Mexican soldiers backed by helicopters destroyed a 1000-hectare marijuana plantation known as 'Rancho Búfalo', where thousands of farmers worked the fields, the annual production of which was later valued at $8 billion. The drug lords were outraged and set to investigate the source of the leak. Drug lord Miguel Ángel Félix Gallardo ordered the kidnapping of Enrique Camarena on February 7, 1985, which apparently was done in broad daylight by corrupt police officers on his payroll. Camarena was tortured and bludgeoned to death soon after. Although his body was found on March 5, he may have been killed about one month before that: pathologists who examined his body believed the actual date of death was more likely around February 9. Camarena's body was found in a rural area outside a small town by the name of La Angostura in the state of Michoacán, Mexico.
The torture and murder of Camarena prompted a swift reaction from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and launched Operation Leyenda, the largest DEA homicide investigation ever undertaken. A special unit was dispatched to coordinate the investigation in Mexico – where corrupt officials were being implicated. Investigators soon identified Miguel Ángel Félix Gallardoand his two close associates, Ernesto Fonseca Carrillo and Rafael Caro Quintero, as the primary suspects in the kidnapping. Under pressure from the U.S.A., Fonseca and Quintero were quickly apprehended, but Félix Gallardo still enjoyed political protection.
The United States government pursued a lengthy investigation of Camarena's murder. Due to the difficulty of extraditing Mexican citizens, the DEA went as far as to detain two suspects,Humberto Álvarez Machaín, the physician who allegedly prolonged Camarena's life so the torture could continue, and Javier Vásquez Velasco, kidnapped and taken into the United States. Despite vigorous protests from the Mexican government, Álvarez was tried in United States District Court in Los Angeles. The trial resulted in an acquittal by a judge before the trial commenced. The four others, Vásquez Velasco, Juan Ramon Matta Ballesteros, Juan Jose Bernabe Ramirez and Ruben Zuno Arce (a relative of former President Luis Echeverría) did not escape, and were found guilty of Camarena's kidnapping.
Zuno Arce was known to have ties to corrupt Mexican officials, and Mexican officials were implicated in covering up the murder. Mexican police had destroyed evidence on Camarena's body.
Camarena Case Witness Testifies About Seeing Remains of Husband
May 24, 1990|HENRY WEINSTEIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER
LOS ANGELES — The widow of an American writer killed by drug traffickers in Mexico in 1985 tearfully described examining her dead husband's body at the Guadalajara morgue in wrenching testimony Wednesday at the trial of four men charged in the murder of DEA Agent Enrique Camarena.
Mary Evelyn Walker, now a Texas schoolteacher, described in Los Angeles federal court how she was told that the remains of her husband, John Walker, were at the morgue in June, 1985, after she had spent months trying to find him.
She said the State Department called her St. Paul, Minn., home on Feb. 14, 1985, to tell her that Walker, a free-lance writer, had disappeared from Guadalajara.
In fact, the writer and his friend, Alberto Radelat, a medical student, were already dead. They had been beaten to death by narcotics traffickers after they apparently stumbled into a party of the Guadalajara drug cartel at the city's La Langosta restaurant on Jan. 30, 1985, and were mistaken for DEA agents. Their remains were discovered in a local park on June 19, 1985.
Mrs. Walker said she went to the morgue with Radelat's father. She said she knew one of two bodies lying on tables was that of her husband as soon as she saw it.
"It was only a skeleton, but not just a skeleton," she testified, trying to contain her tears. "There were parts of his body still on him--one of his eyes, his overlip . . . his mustache. It was John. It was, unmistakably, John."
Only one of the four men on trial in the Camarena case, Javier Vasquez Velasco, is accused of the Walker and Radelat murders, which occurred only eight days before the abduction and slaying of the agent in Guadalajara.
Vasquez is being tried with the other three defendants, over the objections of his defense lawyer, because U.S. District Judge Edward Rafeedie determined that there were significant connections between the killings.
At the start of the trial, federal prosecutor John Carlton said Guadalajara narcotics traffickers committed a series of retaliatory acts against the DEA because they were angry about major raids in 1984 that had cost the traffickers $5 billion.
The murders of Walker and Radelat were described as being among those retaliatory acts.
Another of those acts, according to prosecutors, was an attempt by drug traffickers to kill a Guadalajara attorney, Cesar Garcia Bueno, after they learned he was providing information to Camarena.
Testifying Wednesday from a wheelchair, Garcia described how a gunman entered a Guadalajara restaurant, shot him in the back, and said, "you're dying, because you are a snitch."
Later in the day, the prosecution ran into some difficulties.
In one potentially significant development, Thomas Gomez, a DEA agent who was sent to Guadalajara on special assignment in the fall of 1984, said that he had been in the Mexican city from mid-October to mid-November of that year and had not seen Juan Ramon Matta Ballesteros, one of the men he was assigned to check out.
Matta is one of the four defendants in the case. The government has accused Matta, a convicted Honduran drug lord, of being one of the plotters of Camarena's kidnaping and murder and allege that he took part in meetings to plan the assassination in October, 1984, in Guadalajara.
Outside court, Matta's defense lawyer, Martin R. Stolar, said he thought Gomez's statement was "very significant" because it raised questions about the government's charges against Matta.
At mid-afternoon, another key government witness, Enrique Placentia Aguilar, a former member of the Guadalajara police SWAT team, said he was present at a December, 1984, meeting during which Camarena's photo was passed around among a number of drug traffickers--including Ernesto Fonseca Carrillo, Rafael Caro Quintero and others linked to the Camarena killing.
Placentia said that defendant Vasquez was among those who were at the meeting. However, he was unable to identify him in court Wednesday.
Later, outside the presence of the jury, Assistant U.S. Atty. Manuel Medrano, one of the prosecutors, said that Placentia had identified Vasquez recently when he was shown a photocopy of his photo.
Placentia's forgetfulness was potentially harmful to the prosecution. He allegedly was an eyewitness to the Walker killing at the restaurant and was to have testified that Vasquez was present.
The final witness of the day was Hector Cervantes Santos, another former Mexican law enforcement officer, who served for several years as a bodyguard to a Mexican attorney, Javier Barba Hernandez, who was closely allied with drug traffickers. Barba was killed in a 1986 shoot-out with Mexican police, amid rumors that high government officials were concerned that he might be questioned about the Camarena killing.
According to the prosecution's case, some of the key meetings to plan Camarena's abduction and killing were held at Barba's house in late 1984. Late Wednesday, Cervantes, now a paid U.S. government informant, said he was present at a September, 1984, baptism for Barba's son.
Cervantes said that defendant Ruben Zuno Arce was also present at the baptism, along with several major drug traffickers; Javier Garcia Paniagua, now the Mexico City police chief and formerly the head of Mexico's leading political party, the PRI, and defendant Vasquez.
The witness identified both Zuno and Vasquez in the courtroom.
Cervantes said that during the baptism party a small meeting was held at Barba's house in which a drug trafficker and Zuno discussed a DEA agent who was causing them trouble. Cervantes quoted Zuno as saying that the agent "should be picked up."
Prosecutors did not ask the witness to name the agent during Wednesday's testimony.
Now-DEA Operative Heard Camarena Killing Discussed, Witness Says
June 23, 1990|HENRY WEINSTEIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER
A government-paid informant testified Friday in Los Angeles federal court that a man who later became a Drug Enforcement Administration operative participated in a December, 1984, meeting at which drug lords discussed killing DEA agent Enrique Camarena.
The witness, Enrique Placencia Aguilar, said that Antonio Garate Bustamante met with about a dozen other men at the Guadalajara home of one of Mexico's major drug lords.
Garate has played a major role in arranging for several individuals to become prosecution witnesses for the Camarena murder trial.
Placencia said that he worked under Garate on the Guadalajara police SWAT team during 1981 and subsequently was employed by Garate as a driver.
Placencia testified that Camarena's photo was passed around during the December, 1984, meeting at the home of drug lord Ernesto Fonseca Carillo. He said this was the first meeting where drug traffickers discussed the idea of killing Camarena, contradicting another prosecution witness who said that the first such meeting was held two months earlier. Camarena was kidnaped and killed in February, 1985.
DEA officials said they had no immediate comment on Placencia's statements about Garate. Assistant U.S. Atty. Manuel Medrano, one of the prosecutors, also declined comment.
Defense lawyer Martin R. Stolar said that "Garate should have been indicted, but instead he turned himself into a witness factory and produced a bunch of bought witnesses."
Garate earlier this year testified that he had been the architect of a controversial DEA-inspired kidnaping of Dr. Humberto Alvarez Machain, a Guadalajara gynecologist indicted for his alleged role in Camarena's murder.
U.S. District Judge Edward Rafeedie is considering whether to keep Alvarez in custody and put him on trial later this year or return him to Mexico, where he also faces charges in the Camarena murder.
Placencia had testified earlier in the trial about the December, 1984, meeting. But he was not asked whether Garate or anyone else discussed kidnaping or killing Camarena. On Friday, he was asked if they discussed kidnaping Camarena. He responded: "They discussed killing him."
He was asked later if Garate had participated in the discussion. He responded that he had. Garate, a DEA operative since 1986, has been living in Los Angeles in recent years. He could not be reached for comment Friday.
Earlier Friday, Placencia testified that he saw defendant Javier Vasquez Velasco, along with several other men, beat an American writer at a Guadalajara restaurant on Jan. 30, 1985, just a week before Camarena was kidnaped.
On that day, John Walker, the writer, and his friend Alberto Radelat, a Cuban medical student, were murdered after they inadvertently walked into a party of Mexico's major drug traffickers at a Guadalajara restaurant and were mistaken for DEA agents.
Vasquez has been indicted in Los Angeles for the murders of Radelat and Walker. Judge Rafeedie has consolidated that case with the Camarena case because he felt there was a substantial connection between them.
Placencia said Vasquez was serving as a bodyguard for drug traffickers at the party. He said Vasquez was the same man he had picked out in a photo lineup and in a group photo last September. But a month ago, Placencia, in a low point for the prosecution, failed to pick out Vasquez in the courtroom.
Placencia testified that the victims were still being beaten when he left the restaurant. The bodies were later buried in a Guadalajara park. Placencia was asked why he had not reported the beatings of the two men to Mexican authorities at the time. He responded that to do so would have endangered his life.
The witness also said there were officials of four Mexican law enforcement agencies dining with the drug traffickers while the men were beaten: the federal security directorate, the Mexican Federal Judicial Police, the Army's rural defense command and the Political and Social Investigation agency.
On cross-examination, defense lawyer Gregory Nicolaysen established that some of Placencia's statements varied from testimony he gave to a federal grand jury last year.
Placencia said he has been paid about $50,000 by the DEA since becoming a informant in February, 1987. He acknowledged on cross-examination that he had served 10 months in a Mexican jail in 1985 on a cocaine conviction.
See also: Mexican Drug WarAccording to Peter Dale Scott, the Dirección Federal de Seguridad was in part a CIA creation, and "the CIA's closest government allies were for years in the DFS". DFS badges, "handed out to top-level Mexican drug-traffickers, have been labelled by DEA agents a virtual 'license to traffic.'" Scott says that "The Guadalajara Cartel, Mexico's most powerful drug-trafficking network in the early 1980s, prospered largely because it enjoyed the protection of the DFS, under its chief Miguel Nassar (or Nazar) Haro, a CIA asset."