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Tijuana Scions of Privilege Alleged to Be Drug Hit Men

Narcotics: Court document says members of \o7 los juniors \f7 elite were recruited to work for reputed kingpins.

November 13, 1996|ANNE-MARIE O'CONNOR | TIMES STAFF WRITER

TIJUANA — The young men were offered all the advantages their wealthy parents could provide: family money, connections, Catholic school educations in San Diego and the ability to pass with ease on either side of the U.S.-Mexico border.

But today, some of Tijuana's most prominent families are bracing themselves as these privileged native sons are described by authorities as hit men for Tijuana's alleged cocaine godfathers, the Arellano Felix brothers.

In an unusual statement filed recently in U.S. District Court in San Diego, Mexico's anti-narcotics czar dropped the names of six young men allegedly recruited by Arellano henchmen. To the embarrassment and consternation of many here, the young men are members of the elite socioeconomic fraternity known in Mexico as los juniors.

In the murky narcotics underworld, cartel foot soldiers are usually poor men seduced by the lure of easy cash. How did these juniors--upper middle-class scions who grew up in the shadow of the U.S. Consulate with new cars and trendy clothes--catapult proud family names from the Tijuana social pages to the files of U.S. federal court?

For the juniors, the appeal may lie in the huge sums of money available--up to $15,000 for a quick run across the border--and the kicks and glamour of moving in an outlaw world where partying came second only to profits.

Now, allegations about the rogue juniors' activities have prompted a fresh round of soul-searching in a city that has grown accustomed to mob-style violence, including the murders of seven Baja prosecutors and police commanders this year.

And as they ponder the depth of narco-corruption in Tijuana society, some are pointedly asking why more wayward juniors are not behind bars.

"The Arellano Felixes became famed for the juniors they had at their side like a protective shield," award-winning journalist Jesus Blancornelas wrote recently in his Tijuana weekly, Zeta. "These youths, because of the position of wealth and power that brought them together with the Arellanos, became untouchable for whatever murders they wished to commit."

The case against the implicated juniors spilled into U.S. courts after the Sept. 30 arrest of Emilio Valdez Mainero, 32, the baby-faced son of a deceased army colonel from Tijuana who, his widow says, once served in the presidential guard. Valdez "hires young assassins who belong to Tijuana's upper class," according to a statement by Francisco Molina Ruiz, commissioner of Mexico's National Institute for the Combat of Drugs, now on file in U.S. federal court.

Arrested along with Valdez was Alfredo Hodoyan Palacios, 25, the son of a prominent Tijuana business family who U.S. prosecutors say is wanted in Mexico for murder. His nom de guerre is el Lobo, or the wolf, they say.

FBI and Drug Enforcement Administration agents arrested Valdez and Hodoyan on Sept. 30 near Valdez's rented luxury apartment in Coronado Shores, a posh San Diego beach community, in a roundup of alleged Arellano henchmen after the Sept. 14 assassination of Baja California police commander Ernesto Ibarra Santes in Mexico City. In a subsequent search of the apartment, agents found an AK-47, which Hodoyan admitted possessing, court documents say.

Valdez's arrest was based on a relatively minor charge--failure to appear to answer to a Baja California firearms violation--and Hodoyan, accused of illicit arms possession, was held for his alleged involvement in a 1992 drive-by shooting of four men in Baja, court documents say.

Subsequent Mexican allegations presented Oct. 15 by Assistant U.S. Atty. Gonzalo Curiel accuse Hodoyan of involvement in the Ibarra killing and Valdez of plotting two slayings. Both, Curiel alleged, are members of the Arellano Felix organization, a group "dedicated to drug trafficking, and the murder of competitors and law enforcement officers who were investigating and prosecuting members."

Mexican officials have until Dec. 2 to prepare substantiating evidence and any further charges to support their request to extradite Valdez and Hodoyan, Curiel said.

Both are being held without bail in San Diego. Three other juniors named in court documents are at large. Yet another lies paralyzed in a hospital bed after being shot by a fugitive gunman at the U.S.-Mexico border crossing. Law enforcement authorities and community leaders have no firm estimates on how many of Tijuana's privileged juniors have fallen into the drug trade; at least 20 of them, however, are believed to have died in its violence over the past decade.

For parents who once watched the boys play together in grade school at Tijuana's private Instituto Mexico, the official story is a bitter pill to swallow.

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