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Witness Who Tied CIA to Traffickers Must Testify Anew

July 06, 1990|HENRY WEINSTEIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A Los Angeles federal judge Thursday ordered a prosecution witness to testify for a second time in the Enrique Camarena murder trial so that defense lawyers could question him about any knowledge he has about alleged ties between the Central Intelligence Agency and Mexican drug traffickers.

U.S. District Judge Edward Rafeedie said he would allow Laurence Victor Harrison to be questioned about statements he had given to DEA agents in February that the CIA had used a Veracruz, Mexico, ranch owned by drug lord Rafael Caro Quintero to train Guatemalan guerrillas.

In an earlier interview last September, Harrison also told DEA agents that CIA personnel had stayed at the home of Ernesto Fonseca Carrillo, another Mexican drug kingpin.

Harrison testified last month that he had installed sophisticated radio communication systems for drug traffickers and that he had lived at Fonseca's house in Guadalajara in 1983 and 1984. Harrison said he became a government-paid informant last September.

Both Caro and Fonseca are currently imprisoned in Mexico in connection with Camarena's 1985 kidnaping and murder in Guadalajara.

In June, Rafeedie prohibited defense lawyers from questioning Harrison about the CIA, but Thursday he said he would permit it in light of the statements Harrison made to the DEA.

The judge ordered prosecutors to turn over copies of the two DEA interviews, stamped "secret," to lawyers for the four defendants in the Camarena trial, which is now in its seventh week.

On Thursday, a CIA spokesman denied that the agency had been involved in drug trafficking.

Moreover, CIA spokesman Mark Mansfield said the agency never trained Guatemalan guerrillas at Caro's ranch "or anywhere else," and he called Harrison's statement that CIA personnel stayed at Fonseca's house "ridiculous."

Assistant U.S. Atty. Manuel Medrano vigorously opposed the defense's request that they be allowed to further question Harrison. He characterized Harrison's statements as hearsay and said the witness had no direct knowledge of the matters he described to the agents.

But defense lawyer Martin R. Stolar asserted that the DEA interviews showed that Harrison did have direct knowledge.

In the DEA's report of the February interview, Harrison is quoted as saying that a Mexican journalist named Velasco initially turned up information that the CIA was using Caro's ranch in Veracruz to train Guatemalan guerrillas sometime between 1981 and 1984. Then Velasco passed the information on to Manuel Buendia Tellesgiron, a Mexican reporter who was assassinated in 1984 while he was investigating charges that prominent Mexican law enforcement officials had ties to drug traffickers.

The report quotes Harrison as stating that Mexico's Federal Security Directorate--the Mexican equivalent of the FBI--was used as "the front for the training camp." The report also states that Harrison told two DEA agents that Federal Security Directorate representatives "were, in fact, acting in consort with major drug overlords to esure a flow of narcotics through Mexico into the United States."

On Thursday, Juan Jose Bernabe Ramirez, one of four defendants in the Camarena case, took the witness stand and denied any involvement in Camarena's kidnaping or murder. Bernabe, 31, a former Mexican state policeman, was arrested by DEA agents in Los Angeles in July, 1989.

He had been lured here by a former Mexican police official, Federico Castel del Oro, who also had become a U.S. government informant. At the time, Bernabe was working for a security company owned by Castel del Oro and the two men came to Los Angeles purportedly to acquire some guard dogs for the security company.

Castel del Oro introduced Bernabe to a man he described as a friend--but who, in reality, was a DEA undercover agent--who was interested in what Bernabe knew about Camarena's interrogation by drug traffickers. Los Angeles-based DEA agents wanted to know what Bernabe knew about the interrogation in an attempt to determine if he had been present when it occurred.

Bernabe testified that his boss had told him to sound self-assured when talking to the man about his knowledge of Camarena's interrogation. Bernabe said that his boss, Castel del Oro, told him that they would get $25,000 in return for the information.

Shortly thereafter, Bernabe boasted to DEA agents, posing as Castel del Oro's drug trafficker friends, that he had helped Caro escape from Guadalajara after Camarena was kidnaped. The conversation was secretly videotaped and shown to jurors late last month.

He also told those DEA agents that in February, 1985, he had accompanied drug kingpin Fonseca to the house where Camarena was tortured. Last July, Bernabe told the agents he had heard Fonseca tell drug lord Caro outside the house that Camarena would have to be killed.

But on Thursday, Bernabe sharply reversed himself.

Bernabe admitted he had gone to a house in Guadalajara with Fonseca, stayed outside and saw Fonseca emerge with Caro. But he said he had not heard what the two men had said. Bernabe also testified Thursday that most of what he had said in July, 1989, was information he had learned from Mexican newspaper and magazine accounts about the Camarena kidnaping.

He denied on cross-examination that he had been at the airport when Caro escaped. Then Assistant U.S. Atty. John Carlton asked Bernabe if he had lied in order to get money. Bernabe responded, "Yes."

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