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Mexican Tied to U.S. Agent's Death May Be Gone but He Isn't Forgotten

April 02, 1985|JUAN M. VASQUEZ | Times Staff Writer

GUADALAJARA, Mexico — High on a sandy hill overlooking the city, sheltered by 10-foot-high concrete walls and a grove of trees, stands the best-known house in Guadalajara.

It does not appear on tourist maps, and it does not get as many visitors as, say, the museum that used to be the home of celebrated muralist Jose Clemente Orozco.

This house, still under construction, is the property of Rafael Caro Quintero. Uninvited visitors are not at all welcome, although the house is the object of considerable curiosity these days.

Because of the abduction and killing of Enrique S. Camarena, a U.S. narcotics agent, the affairs of Caro Quintero have come under close scrutiny, as have those of several other men reputed to be top figures in Guadalajara's illicit narcotics trade.

U.S. Ambassador John Gavin has labeled Caro Quintero and one of his associates, Miguel Angel Felix Gallardo, the "intellectual authors" of the Camarena episode. Both men, as well as other reputed Guadalajara drug dealers, have gone into hiding and are being hunted nationwide by police.

Police Arrive Too Late

Caro Quintero is reported to have been seen at a ranch in Sonora, at a hotel in Hermosillo and at various other places in Mexico, but in each case the police were said to have arrived just after he and his entourage had departed.

The evidence of Caro Quintero's presence and power in Guadalajara, as well as that of his friends and cronies, remains strong. He may be gone, but he is not forgotten.

Exhibit A is the house at the far end of Acueducto Street, a mansion first noticed last year by agents of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, among them Camarena. As far as U.S. officials know, the house has never been searched or raided by the Mexican police.

U.S. officials estimate that the wall alone around the 40-acre compound cost several hundred thousand dollars. The mansion itself, they say, is probably worth several million.

A photographer for an American newspaper who drove up to the site recently and took pictures from the street was followed later by unidentified men until he left Guadalajara.

U.S. officials and Mexican newspapers have reported that Caro Quintero and other important figures in the drug trade own a number of important and legitimate businesses in Guadalajara and that these were used to "launder" money obtained in the illicit narcotics trade. These businesses include several of the city's major hotels, an auto dealership, restaurants, nightclubs and discotheques.

Proceso, a weekly news magazine, reported that Caro Quintero and his associates own 300 Guadalajara businesses, either wholly or in part. Asked about this figure, a U.S. official said he "would not be surprised."

Caro Quintero is believed to be in his mid-30s, a native of a small town near Culiacan in the western state of Sinaloa, which in the early 1970s was headquarters of the narcotics trade in Mexico. After Mexico's federal government started Operation Condor, a campaign to destroy marijuana and opium poppy fields in the northwest, the drug traffickers moved their operations to Guadalajara, where they are said to have arranged for police protection.

At first they were hardly visible, but as their power and wealth increased, Guadalajara became aware of their presence. They drove big new American cars with tinted-glass windows. They favored cowboy shirts and belts with big buckles and wore heavy gold bracelets, chains and rings.

Every now and then, they turned the quiet, colonial streets of Guadalajara into a modern Dodge City. They fought gun battles, sometimes among themselves and sometimes with the police.

One such incident erupted last Nov. 20, when a fight that began at a restaurant called El Tio Lucas resulted in a wild nighttime chase through the streets. Policemen firing semi-automatic weapons tried to stop a speeding car, and its occupants returned the fire.

When the car was finally stopped, its driver and passengers dead, police counted more than 100 scars where bullets had struck but failed to penetrate. The car was heavily armored.

Details of this incident are recounted in statements given to the authorities by state police officers accused of taking part in the Camarena abduction. Several policemen said that Caro Quintero enjoyed the protection of the police in Guadalajara but that wherever he went, he was accompanied by bodyguards.

His departure from the Guadalajara airport aboard a private jet two days after Camarena disappeared was described by one U.S. official as a typical "power play." Caro Quintero, according to this official, showed up with at least a dozen bodyguards, all of them armed. Caro Quintero himself is said to have been carrying an AK-47 assault rifle.

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