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Testimony Ties Former Top Mexican Officials to Cartels

Trial: U.S. seeks to seize $9 million from ex-deputy attorney general. Court told of cash, cars offered as bribes.

March 13, 1997|MARK FINEMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

HOUSTON — Mexico's former deputy attorney general and other former top Mexican officials took luxury cars and suitcases stuffed with cash as bribes to protect tons of cocaine destined for the United States, according to testimony Wednesday in a U.S. federal court here.

Citing a yearlong investigation based on reliable informants, U.S. Customs agent Robert Rutt stated that former Deputy Atty. Gen. Mario Ruiz Massieu received bribes, in one case as much as $1 million, from Mexico's largest drug-smuggling cartels. With the jury out of the courtroom, Rutt testified that the money was funneled through the then-chief of Mexico's federal police force, Adrian Carrera Fuentes.

The bodyguard of a former Mexican federal police commander then testified to the eight-member federal jury that he placed two large suitcases packed with $10, $20 and $50 bills into Ruiz Massieu's blue Gran Marquis in August 1994, when Ruiz Massieu was in the car. Ruiz Massieu served as one of Mexico's top counter-narcotics officials at the time.

The testimony was delivered during the third day of a civil trial in which U.S. officials are seeking to seize more than $9 million that investigators found in Ruiz Massieu's Houston bank account in March 1995. Testimony stopped short of naming former Mexican President Carlos Salinas de Gortari or members of his family.

But through a series of witnesses during the past three days, U.S. federal prosecutors have presented a sweeping portrait of corruption that appeared to penetrate every level of Mexican drug enforcement during Salinas' tenure in the nation that U.S. officials say transships up to 75% of the cocaine sold in the United States.

Wednesday's testimony came on the eve of a scheduled U.S. House vote on whether to overturn President Clinton's decision last month to certify Mexico as an ally in the war on drugs.

Clinton said Wednesday that he will veto the decertification move if it is approved by Congress in its current form. The congressional action is driven partly by disclosures of widespread drug corruption in Mexico.

Ruiz Massieu, who has sat riveted, and often smiling, at his defense table throughout the testimony this week is not charged with any crimes in the United States.

Although he is under indictment in Mexico on charges of obstructing justice and illegal enrichment and has been under house arrest in New Jersey on immigration matters, U.S. District Judge Nancy Atlas, who is presiding over the civil case here, stressed at the outset: "We are not trying Mr. Massieu. That is not the issue. The issue is the money."

The former Mexican prosecutor, who won a series of extradition cases in Newark after he was first detained in New Jersey on March 3, 1995, insists that the $9 million came from his family fortune and from generous government bonuses that he received from Salinas.

But on Wednesday, Customs agent Rutt and Raul Macias, who was assigned as bodyguard to a senior federal commander for six years ending in 1995, were the first to link Ruiz Massieu in court to the profits generated by tons of South American cocaine that are smuggled through Mexico and across the southern U.S. border.

Rutt said informants told Customs investigators that Ruiz Massieu received five cars, including the Gran Marquis, and cash bribes from drug cartels that included Mexico's largest, the Juarez cartel, allegedly run by Amado Carrillo Fuentes.

"Amado Carrillo Fuentes . . . paid bribes and payoffs to [federal police chief] Adrian Carrera Fuentes, who gave them to Mario Ruiz Massieu," Rutt stated from the witness stand. The testimony was kept from the jury as "hearsay" evidence because it relied on secondhand sources.

After the five-man, three-woman panel was ushered back into the courtroom, it heard Macias testify for five hours in detail through a translator about Ruiz Massieu's involvement in an Aug. 4, 1994, drug shipment that caused a national furor over corruption when it surfaced six months later.

A drug cartel jet was seized after it landed in a clandestine airstrip in Zacatecas state carrying 10 tons of cocaine. But less than two tons of it reached Mexican federal police headquarters in the state capital.

Federal highway patrol officials who disclosed the drug scandal in 1995 told The Times then that the rest of the shipment had been taken by corrupt federal police and attorney general's office officials.

On Wednesday, Macias testified that his commander ordered him to weigh and repack the cocaine at federal police headquarters in Zacatecas that day, filling many of the original cocaine boxes with wood. He helped burn those boxes in place of the confiscated contraband, he said, while he sent at least eight tons of cocaine on a truck to Aguascalientes and then, presumably, into the United States.

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