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Journalist's Death Unravels Network : Killing in Mexico Reveals Trail of Police Corruption

July 07, 1989|MARJORIE MILLER | Times Staff Writer

In February, 1987, Sales also announced the Buendia killing was "not a political case, but a police case." He said El Chocorrol had been eliminated as a suspect for lack of evidence. In January, 1988, the government assigned Garcia Dominguez as special prosecutor on the case, and he too said he would begin the Buendia investigation from scratch.

President Carlos Salinas de Gortari took office last Dec. 1 vowing, like his predecessor, to clean up government corruption. But unlike De la Madrid, who stopped after jailing two government officials, Salinas has kept up a steady pattern of arrests: union chief Hernandez Galicia, stock market tycoon Eduardo Legorreta, reputed drug lord Miguel Angel Felix Gallardo and other lesser-known traffickers and officials.

Opposition politicians charge that Salinas is undertaking a series of publicity-seeking "spectacular blows" without fighting systematic corruption. But Ed Heath, the departing chief of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration here, disagrees.

"There is somebody at the top to start to set new standards. . . . There is at least the outward conviction of a leader who says, 'I want this changed.' A lot of people in the lower ranks of state and federal law enforcement are fearful they might lose their jobs now because the Mexican government is trying to clean up this problem. We are very encouraged by what we see," Heath said.

On June 12, the government announced that former police commander Zorrilla was the "intellectual author" of the Buendia murder. Zorrilla was not at home when police first arrived to arrest him, but he was picked up at another residence days later.

A week later, former secret police officer Juan Rafael Moro Avila was arrested. Moro Avila, a mustachioed part-time actor and motorcycle enthusiast, took the spotlight before a roomful of reporters to make his defense. Ochoa, or El Chocorrol , was the real assassin, he said, and was killed to keep him from talking. Officials also said El Chocorrol was the gunman.

Moro Avila told reporters that Zorrilla ordered his underlings--Jorge Maldonado, Raul Perez Carmona and Juventino Prado--to commit the murder. On the day of the crime, Moro Avila said, he was having lunch at a restaurant when Prado called him over a police radio to go by motorcycle to the Zona Rosa.

When he reached a downtown intersection, Moro Avila added, Carmona said to wait. A few minutes later he heard gunshots.

But in a later statement, Moro Avila changed his story. He said he arrived after the murder had taken place and saw Buendia's body lying on the sidewalk. In both versions, El Chocorrol got on the back of Moro Avila's motorcycle and the two sped away. Moro Avila claims, however, that he did not know Ochoa was the murderer until after he was killed.

Ochoa "was not a friend of mine. I don't associate with dark-skinned people, only with fine people," Moro Avila said.

Despite Moro Avila's conflicting declarations, the government arrested Juventino Prado and Raul Perez Carmona, heads of the Mexico City Intelligence Directorate, and former security agents Sofia Naya, Jorge Lozada and Francisco Orozco.

Zorrilla, like everybody else, denies involvement in the killing or a cover-up. It is not the first time, however, that officials have linked him to criminal activities.

Police sources say that Zorrilla was on the payroll of Rafael Caro Quintero, the reputed drug lord who is in jail for the 1985 kidnaping and murder of the Guadalajara-based U.S. drug agent Camarena.

At least half a dozen witnesses in Garcia Dominguez's official investigation of the Buendia case said Zorrilla received money and cars from Caro Quintero and payoffs from sub-commanders who worked for drug traffickers throughout Mexico. One police source said Caro Quintero admitted during interrogation that he paid Zorrilla $4 million a year for protection.

Caro Quintero and his men also carried security police credentials signed by Zorrilla. Although investigators on the Camarena case saw the credentials, they later disappeared when the investigation was turned over to the Federal Security Directorate.

U.S. officials have long believed that security police were present during the interrogation and torture of Camarena.

The Federal Security Directorate, a secret intelligence agency, was used in the 1970s to combat urban and rural guerrilla groups and was headed from 1977 to 1982 by Miguel Nazar Haro. Nazar resigned from the post after he was indicted in San Diego in connection with a luxury car-theft ring. Some of the stolen vehicles turned up in the possession of security agents. Prado, Perez Carmona and two other police officials also were indicted in the San Diego case.

Nazar Haro turned over command of the security directorate to Zorrilla. By then, the agency had a reputation of torturing political opponents and making them "disappear."

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