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Zuno Arce Gets Life in Camarena Kidnaping : Courts: The Mexican businessman was convicted in December for his role in torture and murder of the DEA agent.

March 25, 1993|HENRY WEINSTEIN | TIMES LEGAL AFFAIRS WRITER

Mexican businessman Ruben Zuno Arce was sentenced Wednesday to two life terms for his role in the 1985 kidnaping and murder of U.S. drug agent Enrique Camarena.

In December, Zuno, the brother-in-law of former Mexican President Luis Echeverria Alvarez, was convicted in Los Angeles federal court of conspiring to kidnap a federal agent, kidnaping a federal agent, conspiring to commit violent crimes in aid of racketeering and committing violent crimes in aid of racketeering.

Calling Camarena's torture-murder "an enormously heinous crime," U.S. District Judge Edward Rafeedie sentenced Zuno to life terms on both of the kidnaping counts and to 10-year terms on both racketeering counts. The sentences are to run concurrently.

Zuno, 62, was considered a particularly big catch by U.S. officials because of his family's longstanding political prominence in Mexico. Zuno "smoothed relations between the (narcotics) traffickers and the politicians when necessary," Assistant U.S. Atty. John Carlton, the lead prosecutor, said in a sentencing memorandum.

"I think it was a just sentence," Carlton said after the hearing.

Robert C. Bonner, head of the Drug Enforcement Administration, said that the lengthy investigation of Camarena's slaying, which has led to seven convictions in this country, "has sent a message to drug traffickers and provided a measure of protection to DEA agents serving around the world." About two-dozen people, including Mexican drug lord Rafael Caro Quintero, have been convicted in Mexican courts of charges stemming from the murder.

The primary evidence against Zuno during his trial here last year came in the testimony of two former Mexican police officers who had worked for one of Guadalajara's drug kingpins. Both said Zuno participated in meetings during late 1984 and early 1985 in which he planned the kidnaping with drug traffickers and high-level Mexican officials

One witness also said Zuno had been at the house where Camarena was tortured. Defense lawyers attacked the credibility of the witness, saying he had admitted involvement in the slaying of four Jehovah's Witnesses in Mexico in an unrelated incident.

Zuno originally was convicted in 1990, but the verdict was overturned by Rafeedie, who ruled that an improper statement by a prosecutor had tainted the jury.

Zuno, speaking through an interpreter, made a brief plea for leniency: "I have said from the beginning that I am innocent, and I will not rest until my name has been washed clean and I can return to Mexico."

Earlier in the hearing, Rafeedie rejected a last-ditch appeal from Zuno's lawyers to grant him a new trial on the basis of "newly discovered evidence." One of the attorneys, Edward Medvene, said a witness had recently come forward with evidence that undermined the basic theory of the prosecution's case.

Medvene said the man, whose name was not revealed, had seen Camarena in a Guadalajara restaurant on the day of the kidnaping "holding hands" and acting "romantically" with Sara Cosio, the lover of drug baron Caro.

This, Medvene said, suggests that Caro killed Camarena as an act of revenge, rather than in retaliation for raids by U.S. and Mexican agents on the drug traffickers, which had cost them millions of dollars.

Rafeedie rejected the lawyer's plea for a new trial. He said tapes of Camarena's torture, which were played in federal court, showed that drug traffickers were concerned about what the agent knew about their operations.

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