Mexico’s most notorious kingpin, Rafael Caro Quintero, was released Aug. 9 from Puente Grande federal prison in Jalisco where he had been incarcerated for the past 28 years. He left the facility at dawn, several hours before the release order was made public. The First Appellate Tribunal in Guadalajara found in March that Caro Quintero was improperly tried for the 1985 torture-killing of DEA agent Enrique “Kiki” Camarena, and that charges should have been brought at the state rather than federal level. Federal prosecutors immediately appealed to the Supreme Justice Court of the Nation, which refused to rescind the lower court’s decision. The Third Circuit Tribunal, also in Guadalajara, has now followed through by issuing Caro Quintero an amparo—a judicial order barring any federal action against him.
Caro Quintero, a founder of the Guadalajara Cartel, was sentenced to 40 years in 1985, the maximum allowed under Mexico’s penal code—although prosecutors had sought 199 years. Also receiving 40 years (in lieu of 150 sought by prosecutors) was his co-defendant Ernesto Rafael Fonseca AKA “Don Neto”—the number two man in the Guadalajara Cartel. Mexico’s Federal Judicial Council (CJF) has issued a statement clarifying that the amparo does not cover “Don Neto,” who will remain imprisoned.
Caro Quintero and Don Neto supposedly ordered Camarena kidnapped, tortured and killed in retaliation for a federal police raid on their giant marijuana plantation at Rancho Búfalo, Chihuahua. Camarena, who reportedly provided the intelligence for the raid, was abducted in Guadalajara with his Mexican pilot in February 1985; their bodies were both found in shallow graves a month later, with signs of extreme torture. According to testimony, a physician was forced to revive Camarena when he was on the brink of death to subject him to further torture. Caro Quintero was arrested at his Costa Rica mansion in April and extradited to Mexico. The Guadalajara Cartel was eventually absorbed into the Tijuana Cartel, in turn acquired by the Sinaloa Cartel.
Jalisco’s governor, Aristóteles Sandoval (PRI), protested Caro Quintero’s release, calling it a “shame” and implying he will take state action, saying his office will be “monitoring and responding to” the situation. The US was not given prior notification of the release. “The Department of Justice and the Drug Enforcement Administration learned today that at dawn Rafael Caro Quintero was released from prison,” said Justice Department spokesman Peter Carr. The DEA, meanwhile, said it “will vigorously continue its efforts to ensure Caro Quintero faces charges in the United States for the crimes he committed.” Caro Quintero is still listed as one of the DEA’s five top international fugitives, and US authorities believe he continued to control money laundering operations from behind bars.
“Caro Quintero continues to launder the proceeds from narcotics trafficking and he maintains an alliance with drug trafficking organizations such as the Sinaloa Cartel, most notably with Esparragoza Moreno’s network,” said Treasury Department spokesman John Sullivan, referring to Sinaloa Cartel honcho Juan José Esparragoza Moreno AKA “El Azul.”
However, Mexico’s Prosecutor General of the Republic (PGR) issued a statement saying no extradition request has yet been made for Caro Quintero. (Borderland Beat, Tico Times, Radio Formula, El Universal, Sipse, Sipse, La Crónica de Hoy, Aug. 9; Excélsior, March 28)
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