A Tijuana man accused of heading an immense marijuana-smuggling operation could face a mandatory life prison term under an indictment unsealed Wednesday by federal prosecutors.
Francisco Javier Caro-Payan, 29, is charged with running a drug ring that bribed American and Canadian border inspectors, shipped more than 100 tons of marijuana into the United States from Mexico, and collected more than $25 million in profits in one seven-month period alone.
The Mexican--a cousin of Rafael Caro-Quintero, the reputed drug lord accused of masterminding the kidnaping and slaying of U.S. drug agent Enrique S. Camarena in 1985--has been in custody since early June in Montreal, where he reportedly was lured by undercover agents promising the payoff of a multimillion-dollar drug debt.
Federal prosecutors in San Diego now plan to request his extradition to stand trial on the U.S. indictment, which was returned by a grand jury Sept. 4 but kept secret until Wednesday, according to U.S. Atty. Peter Nunez.
Caro-Payan--known in drug circles as "The Doctor," according to prosecutors--had been charged in a less extensive marijuana conspiracy in 1984. But because new charges cannot be brought after a defendant has been extradited, prosecutors said they wanted to have the most comprehensive indictment possible in place before seeking Caro-Payan's return from Canada.
The new indictment charges Caro-Payan with operating a continuing criminal enterprise that collected at least $10 million a year in gross receipts--an offense that carries a minimum mandatory sentence of life with no possibility of parole. He is the first defendant in San Diego to face the penalty--the maximum permitted by federal statute--since it went into effect last October, Nunez said.
Caro-Payan's six co-defendants include his wife, 25-year-old Yolanda Caro, who waived extradition and is being held at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in San Diego.
In Custody Without Bail
As part of their alleged conspiracy, the indictment says, Caro-Payan's organization paid a part-time U.S. Customs inspector, Jose Barron, $50,000 per vehicle to wave cars and trucks loaded with marijuana through the San Ysidro border checkpoint. Barron, a San Diego city parks supervisor, has been in custody without bail since May on graft and drug-smuggling charges. Federal agents seized $650,000 in cash from Barron, whose reported U.S. government income was between $14,000 and $29,000 in the three years before his arrest, according to court records.
Timothy Neeb, an Ontario, Canada, man who has been charged separately, is named in the new indictment as the representative of Caro-Payan's drug network who arranged for a Canadian border officer to pass marijuana-laden vehicles across the U.S.-Canadian border without inspection. Christopher Dodd, a Canadian customs service supervisor in British Columbia, was arrested in June by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police on drug-smuggling charges.