Immigration officials said Wednesday that special visas had been granted to six men identified by Mexican and U.S. officials as participants in the alleged kidnaping in Baja California of a suspected drug trafficker wanted for questioning here in connection with the torture and murder of a U.S. narcotics agent in Mexico.
John Belluardo, a spokesman for the Immigration and Naturalization Service in Los Angeles, said the six men, four of whom are members of the Mexican State Judicial Police, and the families of the men--a total of 29 people--received permission to enter the United States on Feb. 2.
Other sources said that the immigration permits were issued in Los Angeles at the request of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
Federal sources have said that the decision was made to bring them into the United States after they reported receiving threats from Mexican drug traffickers upset at their role in the alleged abduction of Rene Martin Verdugo.
Verdugo, who is being held in the federal Metropolitan Correctional Center in San Diego on marijuana smuggling charges, is being questioned by U.S. authorities about the murder of DEA agent Enrique S. Camarena in Mexico last year.
Meanwhile, it was also learned Wednesday that U.S. investigators have tied Verdugo to the site where Camarena was tortured before he died.
Federal sources familiar with the case and who did not want to be identified told The Times that investigators have recovered physical evidence linking Verdugo to the Guadalajara house where Camarena was taken when he was kidnaped on Feb. 7, 1985. The American agent's battered body was discovered in a shallow grave March 5, 1985, at a ranch outside Guadalajara.
These sources declined to reveal the nature of the evidence, but they stressed that it shows only that Verdugo, 34, was at the scene and not that he participated in the torture. However, they say that they have reason to believe that Verdugo witnessed the beatings inflicted on Camarena before he died. DEA sources have said that the house was being used by Rafael Caro Quintero, a notorious Mexican drug trafficker who is in a Mexico City prison charged with Camarena's murder.
Howard Frank, Verdugo's attorney, denied the investigators' allegations. "I don't believe it," Frank said. "He had absolutely nothing to do with what happened and was not there."
The INS admission Wednesday on the special visas seems sure to fuel the controversy and unanswered questions surrounding the apprehension of Verdugo, who also has been identified as a San Felipe land developer.
At a Jan. 29 court hearing, Verdugo said he was abducted in San Felipe, Baja California, by six Mexican men, driven to Calexico and shoved through a hole in the border fence into the arms of waiting U.S. marshals and arrested.
Mexican police say they have received unconfirmed reports that the kidnapers were paid with funds supplied by U.S. officials.
After the Jan. 29 hearing, spokesmen for the DEA and Marshal's Service denied having any knowledge of the alleged abduction. They said that it was against their agencies' policies to participate in or promote the kidnaping of a foreign national in his country of origin. U.S. officials have acknowledged that when they took Verdugo into custody on Jan. 24 he was already blindfolded and handcuffed.
On the day after Verdugo's arrest, spokesmen for the Marshal's Service and the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City said that Verdugo was arrested at the Calexico port of entry when he attempted to return to Mexico.
Mexican and U.S. officials have identified the six men suspected in the alleged abduction. Four are members of the Mexican Judicial State Police. On Tuesday, Mexican law-enforcement officials in Mexicali said that the four state policemen implicated in the Verdugo incident "disappeared" Jan. 15 and were summarily fired when they failed to return to work after three days.
The INS's Belluardo said that 14 people have been issued six-month visitors' visas good until Aug. 2, while 15 have been "paroled" into the United States until May 2. Belluardo explained that paroled persons "are allowed to enter this country for special reasons," but he declined to reveal the reasons in this case. Belluardo did say that paroled aliens are eligible for extensions of their permits and for permanent residency status after living in the United States for a year.
Belluardo also declined to reveal where the 29 people are living, except to say that their visas allow them to travel throughout the United States. Several federal sources have told The Times that the 29 are under the protection of the DEA.
Meanwhile, on Wednesday, U.S. District Judge J. Lawrence Irving ordered the government not to encourage Verdugo's alleged kidnapers to return to Mexico before a Feb. 28 hearing on the circumstances of Verdugo's arrest.
"The decision on whether they remain (in the United States) should be theirs and theirs alone," Irving said at a hearing in U.S. District Court in San Diego.