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Camarena Figure Gets 3 Life Terms : Drugs: Honduran Juan Matta Ballesteros has received two other lengthy sentences for his role in the DEA agent's murder.

May 09, 1991|JOHN H. LEE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A three-time convicted drug trafficker was sentenced Wednesday in federal court to three life sentences for his involvement in the kidnaping of U.S. drug enforcement agent Enrique Camarena, who was murdered in 1985.

Juan Ramon Matta Ballesteros, 46, a Honduran national, will serve the concurrent triple life terms in addition to 150-year and 75-year consecutive sentences handed down by Los Angeles federal court judges during the last 17 months.

"The sentences are a joke--a political joke," Matta's attorney, Martin A. Stolar said. Stolar said Matta's conviction in the Camarena case will be appealed. Appeals in the two earlier convictions are also pending.

During the trial, prosecutors charged that Matta attended meetings to plan the abduction of Camarena in retaliation for U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency campaigns to deter cocaine trafficking in Mexico. Prosecutors described the affluent Honduran businessman as one of the most influential drug smugglers ever jailed in the United States.

Lead U.S. Prosecutor Manuel A. Medrano said hair samples that linked Matta to the crimes were found at the site where Camarena was reportedly tortured before he was killed.

Camarena was kidnaped on a Guadalajara street in February, 1985, by members of a drug ring and allegedly corrupt Mexican law enforcement officers. His mutilated body was found a month later near a ranch about 60 miles from where he was abducted.

Matta's sentencing came one day after U.S. District Judge Edward Rafeedie tentatively ruled that the case against one of three other men convicted in Camarena's murder would be retried. Rafeedie said prosecutors had provided incorrect information during the trial of Ruben Zuno Arce that had led the judge to bar evidence that might have helped the defendant.

Before sentencing Wednesday, Stolar attempted to submit a motion to retry Matta's case on the same grounds. But Rafeedie turned down the request, saying that it came late.

A speech attributed to Matta was read to the court.

"What an irony this is," the statement read. "You're going to sentence a man today for kidnaping as if he were a victimizer, and that man himself has been a victim of the most horrendous and illegal kidnaping."

Matta referred to his abduction from Honduras by U.S. marshals. Honduras has no extradition treaty with the United States.

"I am not asking mercy from you, but you should be certain that you are going to sentence an innocent man, and that it will be to God and your conscience you will have to pay for this."

"Amen, thank you," Rafeedie replied, and proceeded to sentence Matta.

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