“Mexico frees drug lord Caro Quintero after 28 years in prison for killing of U.S. agent”

August 12, 2013

The Washington Post on August 9, 2013 released the following:

“By Associated Press

MEXICO CITY — Infamous drug lord Rafael Caro Quintero walked free Friday after 28 years in prison when a court overturned his 40-year sentence for the 1985 kidnapping and killing of a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agent, a brutal murder that marked a low point in U.S.-Mexico relations.

The U.S. Department of Justice said Friday it was extremely disappointed by the release of the man convicted in the killing of DEA agent Enrique Camarena, calling it “deeply troubling.”

Mexico’s Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam said in a statement that he was “worried” about the court’s decision, adding that his office is analyzing whether there are any charges pending against Caro Quintero.

Caro Quintero, 60, was a founding member of one of Mexico’s earliest and biggest drug cartels. The court ruled Wednesday that he had been improperly tried in a federal court for a crime that should have been treated as a state offense. Prison officials were notified of the ruling on Thursday, and an official at the Jalisco state prosecutors’ office said the drug lord left prison before dawn on Friday. The official was not authorized to speak on the record.

News media were not alerted until hours after the release, and U.S. authorities apparently received no prior notification.

“The Department of Justice and the Drug Enforcement Administration learned today that early this morning Rafael Caro Quintero was released from prison,” said Justice Department spokesman Peter Carr.

The DEA, meanwhile, said it “will vigorously continue its efforts to ensure Caro-Quintero faces charges in the United States for the crimes he committed. “

Caro Quintero still faces charges in the United States, but Mexico’s Attorney General’s Office said it was unclear whether there was a current extradition request.

Apparently, the U.S. had requested his extradition for the Camarena killing — something Caro Quintero can’t be tried twice for — but may not have filed extradition requests for pending U.S. drug charges.

The U.S. Department of Justice said it “has continued to make clear to Mexican authorities the continued interest of the United States in securing Caro Quintero’s extradition so that he might face justice in the United States. “

Caro Quintero helped establish a powerful cartel based in the northwestern Mexican state of Sinaloa that later split into some of Mexico’s largest cartels, including the Sinaloa and Juarez cartels.

He is still listed as one of the DEA’s five top international fugitives, and U.S. authorities believe he continued to control the laundering of drug money from behind bars.

“Caro Quintero continues to launder the proceeds from narcotics trafficking and he maintains an alliance with drug trafficking organizations such as the Sinaloa Cartel, most notably with Esparragoza Moreno’s network,” said Treasury Department spokesman John Sullivan, referring to Juan Jose Esparragoza Moreno, also known as “El Azul,” or “Blue” because of the dark color of his skin, who is allegedly a top leader of the Sinaloa cartel.

In June, the Treasury Department imposed sanctions against 18 people and 15 companies that allegedly moved money for Caro Quintero.

“Caro Quintero has used a network of family members and front persons to invest his fortune into ostensibly legitimate companies and real estate projects in the city of Guadalajara” said Adam Szubin, Director of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control. Caro Quintero has spent almost his entire sentence at a prison on the outskirts of that city, Mexico’s second-largest city.

Mexico’s relations with Washington were badly damaged when Caro Quintero ordered Camarena kidnapped, tortured and killed, purportedly because he was angry about a raid on a 220-acre (89-hectare) marijuana plantation in central Mexico named “Rancho Bufalo” — Buffalo Ranch — that was seized by Mexican authorities at Camarena’s insistence.

Camarena was kidnapped on Feb. 7, 1985, in Guadalajara, a major drug trafficking center. His body and that of his Mexican pilot, both showing signs of torture, were found a month later, buried in shallow graves.

American officials accused their Mexican counterparts of letting Camarena’s killers get away. Caro Quintero was eventually hunted down in Costa Rica.

At one point, U.S. Customs agents almost blocked the U.S. border with Mexico, slowing incoming traffic to a standstill while conducting searches of all Mexicans trying to enter the United States.

Camarena’s fellow DEA agents considered him a hero in the war against drug trafficking and the El Paso Intelligence Center, where U.S. federal agencies collect information about Mexican drug barons, is dedicated to him.

Times have changed since the low point, and cooperation has strengthened, but Caro Quintero’s release Friday reopened old wounds.

Edward Heath, the former DEA regional director for Mexico at the time of the Camarena killing who was present during the identification of the agent’s body from dental records, said the release reflected a broader lack of cooperation with the U.S. from the new Mexican government, a contrast to the policy of former President Felipe Calderon.

“You had a president that was working very close with our government in a quiet way. These people come in and so, boom, the curtain comes down,” said Heath, now a private security consultant. “It means a disrespect for our government.”

He said he was skeptical of the explanation that there was a justifiable legal rationale for Caro Quintero’s release.

“There’s some collusion going on,” he said. “This guy is a major trafficker. This guy is bad, a mean son of a gun.”

Caro Quintero is said to have pioneered links between Colombian cocaine cartels and the Mexican smugglers who transport their drugs into the United States.

The ruling left many wondering why it took so many years for judges to determine Caro Quintero was tried in the wrong court.

“They were always ‘political’ prisoners serving sentences for as long as the U.S. kept up the pressure,” said a former DEA official who once worked in Mexico. He is not authorized to talk about the case because he still does work in Mexico.

“The bribe money to get them out was always there. Mexican ‘justice’ is always built on very weak foundations. And they seem to like it that way. Sad,” he added.

Raul Benitez, a security expert at Mexico’s National Autonomous University, said the ruling may portend more such procedural rulings following the January freeing of French citizen Florence Cassez, who was convicted in Mexico for being part of a kidnapping ring.

The Frenchwoman served seven years of a 60-year sentence before Mexico’s Supreme Court voted 3-2 to release her in January because of procedural and rights violations during her arrest, including police staging a recreation of her capture for the media.

“What appears to be coming is an avalanche of judicial appeals, with the drug traffickers hiring very good, very expensive lawyers, arguing there were violations of due process,” said Benitez. “The government is going to have problems.”

Mexican courts and prosecutors have long tolerated illicit evidence such as forced confessions and have frequently based cases on questionable testimony or hearsay. Such practices have been banned by recent judicial reforms, but past cases — including those against high-level drug traffickers — are often rife with such legal violations.

“The government has to be prepared to keep an eye on judges so that they don’t fall into the easy argument of due process,” Benitez said, “because there may also be judges who are receiving money” to accept such arguments.”


Douglas McNabb – McNabb Associates, P.C.’s
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We previously discussed the extradition treaty between the United States and Mexico here.


To find additional global criminal news, please read The Global Criminal Defense Daily.

Douglas McNabb and other members of the U.S. law firm practice and write and/or report extensively on matters involving Federal Criminal Defense, INTERPOL Red Notice Removal, International Extradition Defense, OFAC SDN Sanctions Removal, International Criminal Court Defense, and US Seizure of Non-Resident, Foreign-Owned Assets. Because we have experience dealing with INTERPOL, our firm understands the inter-relationship that INTERPOL’s “Red Notice” brings to this equation.

The author of this blog is Douglas C. McNabb. Please feel free to contact him directly at mcnabb@mcnabbassociates.com or at one of the offices listed above.


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Alleged Mexican Drug Trafficker Extradited to U.S.

December 13, 2010

A suspected Mexican drug gang leader linked to a 2006 border incursion by armed traffickers into Texas has been extradited by Mexico to the United States., the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Texas have said.

The U.S. authorities said Saturday that Jose Rodolfo Escajeda, also known as “Rikin,” was extradited to the U.S. to stand trial on marijuana and cocaine trafficking charges.

Escajeda, who allegedly worked for the Juarez cartel, was indicted by the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas in 2006.

U.S. authorities said that from a base in Guadalupe in the Mexican state of Chihuahua, Escajeda is alleged to have controlled a drug trafficking corridor for marijuana and cocaine in the area of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, located across from El Paso, Texas.

The U.S. has sought his extradition since his arrest by Mexican authorities in September 2009.

In January 2006, at least 10 men in Mexican military-style uniforms crossed the Rio Grande into the United States while on a marijuana-smuggling foray. That led to an armed confrontation with Texas law officers near Neely’s Crossing, Texas, about 50 miles east of El Paso. Both the U.S. officials and the smugglers had their weapons drawn, but no shots were fired. The smugglers escaped back into Mexico, but did leave behind about a half-ton of marijuana.

When he was arrested last year, the Mexican army said in a statement that Escajeda was also presumably responsible for the killing of anti-crime activist Benjamin LeBaron and a neighbor in Mexico.

The battle between the Mexican drug cartels and U.S. authorities is no secret. The cartels in Juarez have forced a spotlight upon themselves due to their proximity to El Paso and the increase of violent crimes within the Mexican city.

U.S. officials have been working closely with the Mexican government to extradite and prosecute alleged drug dealers and traffickers in the U.S. The U.S. judicial and prison system is thought to be more efficient than the comparable processes in Mexico. Moreover, the Mexican prison system is thought to be dangerous, and many offenders are killed in prison before trial ever begins.

Douglas McNabb and other members of the firm practice and write extensively on matters involving Federal Criminal Defense, Interpol Litigation, International Extradition and OFAC Litigation.

The author of this blog is Douglas McNabb. Please feel free to contact him directly at mcnabb@mcnabbassociates.com or at one of the offices listed above.

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Colombian Drug Trafficker Extradited from Mexico to US

June 18, 2010

Pedro Antonio Bermudez, also known as “El Arquitecto,” was arraigned Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn, N.Y., following his extradition on June 15, 2010, from Mexico to the United States on charges of participating in an alleged international drug trafficking conspiracy, announced Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer of the Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Loretta E. Lynch of the Eastern District of New York and Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Acting Administrator Michele M. Leonhart.

At his arraignment yesterday, Bermudez was ordered detained by U.S. Magistrate Judge Joan M. Azrack in the Eastern District of New York. Bermudez was arrested in Mexico City by Mexican law enforcement officials on Oct. 2, 2008, and was in custody in Mexico since the arrest and prior to his extradition to the United States.

The charges against Bermudez are contained in two separate indictments filed in the Eastern District of New York and the District of Columbia. The indictment filed in the Eastern District of New York charges Bermudez with allegedly working in Mexico as the intermediary for shipments of large quantities of cocaine sent by Luis Hernando Gomez Bustamante, one of the leaders of the Norte Valle Cartel, to various Mexican cartel leaders. As alleged in the indictment, from 1990 through 2007, Bustamante and his organization sent multi-ton shipments of cocaine from Colombia to Mexico by speed boats, fishing vessels, and other maritime conveyances and airplanes, for ultimate delivery to the United States. Between 1990 and the present, the Norte del Valle Cartel allegedly exported more than 1.2 million pounds – or 500 metric tons – of cocaine, worth in excess of $10 billion, from Colombia to the United States, the vast majority of which moved through Mexico. Bustamante pleaded guilty in the Eastern District of New York on June 26, 2008, and is awaiting sentence.

When the cocaine arrived in Mexico, Bermudez was allegedly responsible for insuring its delivery to the Mexican cartels, including the Juarez Cartel, headed by Vicente Carrillo Fuentes. Carrillo is currently a fugitive and is charged in the Eastern District of New York with alleged drug trafficking. The Juarez Cartel, which operates in the Juarez-El Paso corridor, is one of the primary drug smuggling routes along the United States-Mexico border. The DEA estimates that approximately 70% of the cocaine which enters the United States through Mexico is transported across the southwest border. The State Department, under its Narcotics Rewards Program, has offered a reward of up to $5 million for information leading to the capture of Carrillo.

The indictment filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia charges Bermudez and co-defendant Andres Rodriguez-Fernandez with allegedly conspiring to manufacture and distribute five kilograms or more of cocaine knowing and intending that the cocaine will be imported into the United States between on or about 2001 and Sept. 25, 2008. The indictment also includes two substantive counts, charging the defendants with manufacturing and distributing five kilograms or more of cocaine knowing and intending that the cocaine will be imported into the United States on two separate occasions, March 31 and Sept. 24, 2007. The indictment also contains a forfeiture allegation.

On May 27, 2009, Bermudez was designated by the U.S. Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) as a Specially Designated Narcotics Trafficker. The designation freezes Bermudez’s assets in the United States and prohibits him from engaging in any financial transactions with any U.S. company or individual. Earlier this month, the government of Colombia seized 194 assets belonging to Bermudez, valued at approximately $76 million, including apartment buildings, malls, aircraft and ranches.

If convicted, Bermudez faces on both indictments a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years and a maximum sentence of life. The US worked with Mexican and Colombian officials to facilitate the investigation, arrest and extradition of Bermudez.

Douglas McNabb and other members of the firm practice and write extensively on matters involving Federal Criminal Defense, Interpol Litigation, International Extradition and OFAC Litigation.

The author of this blog is Douglas McNabb. Please feel free to contact him directly at mcnabb@mcnabbassociates.com or at one of the offices listed above.

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