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Food Company Owners Charged in Drug Tunnel Case : Smuggling: Indictment names executives of Reynoso Bros. in unfinished underground passage linking San Diego and Tijuana.

September 29, 1995|SEBASTIAN ROTELLA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The connection between Avalos and the Reynosos was revealed in April, 1993, when Mexican federal police found seven tons of cocaine in a tractor-trailer shipment of La Comadre chili peppers in the Baja border town of Tecate, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration. The destination of the load was Distribuidora de Basicos, a Tecate warehouse owned by Avalos and "guaranteed" on ownership documents by Antonio Reynoso, authorities said. Reynoso companies import La Comadre-brand chili peppers, according to the indictment.

The plot thickened a month later with the shocking murder of Cardinal Juan Jesus Posadas Ocampo, who was gunned down during a May 24 shootout between forces of Guzman and the Arellano Felix brothers of Tijuana. Guzman and the Arellanos have fought a bitter war for control of Mexico's northwest smuggling corridor. Mexican investigators say the 64-year-old cleric was the victim of mistaken identity, arriving coincidentally at the Guadalajara airport terminal just as the rival gangsters crossed paths.

A massive hunt by Mexican and U.S. agents produced the arrest of Guzman and the spectacular discovery of the cross-border tunnel 65 feet below an industrial compound in Tijuana. The almost-complete tunnel ended 120 feet south of an Otay Mesa lot where workers were constructing a cannery and warehouse for a Reynoso company called Tia Anita, authorities said.

Agents believe that the cannery was the destination because the tunnel's length--1,416 feet--corresponds exactly to a county map that incorrectly shows that distance between the origin of the tunnel and the cannery. By relying on the map, the designers of the clandestine passageway allegedly came up short.

The meticulous workmanship--walls reinforced with concrete, subterranean lighting and ventilation systems--is "a carbon copy" of a Guzman smuggling tunnel found in Arizona in 1992, agents say. They suspect the same engineers supervised both projects.

Jose and Jesus Reynoso allegedly purchased the $1.1-million Otay Mesa lot, according to the indictment. They turned the property over to a "straw owner," fugitive sports impresario Jorge Ramirez Cordova of Tijuana, to commission construction of the cannery along with Salvador Reza, the Reynosos' El Monte broker, who was arrested Thursday, authorities said.

If the tunnel had functioned, the conspirators could have taken advantage of the semi-industrial area's heavy truck traffic to load and move tons of cocaine in shipments of canned goods, authorities said.

"It would have been very easy for them," a DEA agent said. "They have a very large truck fleet. They would have operated with impunity."

Citing telephone conversations among the suspects, the indictment additionally charges Antonio Reynoso with sending 390 kilos of cocaine to a Chicago warehouse in September, 1994. And Jose Reynoso allegedly registered two Lear jets, used by the Guzman mob for transporting drugs and profits, to Reynoso companies in 1991, according to the indictment.

Indicating the size and corruptive capacity of the conspiracy, prosecutors charged that a Guzman emissary paid $1 million in 1991 to an unnamed Mexican federal judicial police official to win the release of Arturo Guzman from custody in Mexico City. Intriguingly, a U.S. law enforcement source identified that police official as Guillermo Gonzalez Calderoni, a former anti-drug chief now living in Texas after a judge denied an extradition request by Mexican authorities who publicly accused Gonzalez of corruption.

Guzman henchmen also tried to bribe a U.S. immigration inspector to help smuggle cocaine through San Diego, according to the indictment.

The indictment does not explain how or when the alleged alliance between the Los Angeles executives and the Mexican traffickers began. But Bashant said the continued assault on the Sinaloa mob and the fugitive Arellano kingpins--coupled with the woes of the Cali mob of Colombia--have caused the price of cocaine in Los Angeles to rise.

And a turf realignment among Mexican drug lords may be evolving as Amado Carrillo Fuentes of Ciudad Juarez, considered the most powerful and discreet of the Mexican mafia bosses, moves in on the northwest smuggling corridor dominated by the Guzman and Arellano cartels, agents said.

Carrillo recently took the extraordinary step of traveling to Tijuana to meet with traffickers about expanding his operations there, according to U.S. and Mexican sources.

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