Accused Mexican drug trafficker Rafael Caro Quintero, responding to charges leveled at an arraignment today, formally denied having had "any involvement" in the abduction and murder two months ago of U.S. drug agent Enrique Camarena Salazar.
Caro Quintero, deported to Mexico from Costa Rica Thursday, said police interrogators employed torture to force him to sign a confession detailing his alleged leadership of a massive marijuana growing and smuggling ring.
"They kicked it out of me," he said, referring to the confession, read aloud by court officials at today's hearing, held in Mexico City's Lecumberri Prison, where Caro Quintero is being held under tight security.
"The signature is mine, but the things it says are false," he said.
Unbuttoning his shirt, Caro Quintero showed court officers and reporters small scars on his shoulder, back and arms that he said were caused by police beatings. Seen from a distance of 15 feet, the wounds did not appear fresh. The accused leader of a drug traffic ring, appearing haggard but speaking with a firm voice, also said that police had deprived him of food, water and sleep and forced fizzy mineral water up his nose during his five days in custody.
Under Mexican law those formally charged with crimes are presumed guilty and Caro Quintero's lawyers face the task of proving conclusively that their client is innocent. The maximum penalty in Mexico for growing and selling marijuana is 40 years with no possibility of parole.
In the signed confession, Caro Quintero acknowledged being the coordinator and financier of a marijuana distribution network based in Chihuahua State, where nearly 9,000 tons of the illegal plant were confiscated last November, according to Mexican police figures. But he did not admit to having ordered or participated in the kidnaping and killing of Camarena.
Among the documents presented in court today, however, were signed statements by two Jalisco state police officers who said they had delivered Camarena to Caro Quintero's Guadalajara home on Feb. 7, the last day the U.S. agent was seen alive.
Following a federal trial on charges of narcotics trafficking, criminal association and illegal arms possession, Caro Quintero is expected to be charged in Jalisco state courts with complicity in Camarena's death. Asked by reporters today about the nature of his involvement with Camarena's kidnaping and killing, he replied, "None at all."
U.S. officials have alleged that Camarena was tortured by drug traffickers to obtain information about his key role in Operation Godfather, an ongoing U.S.-Mexican investigation into a cocaine smuggling operation run by two men named by drug officials as leading figures in the Mexican drug world, Miguel Angel Felix Gallardo and Jose Ramon Mata Ballesteros. Caro Quintero, said by U.S. and Mexican law enforcement officials to have been involved almost exclusively in the marijuana trade, is not thought to have been a partner in the cocaine operation.
[Later, the Attorney General's Office announced that police had arrested Ernesto Fonseca, the reputed head of Mexico's large narcotics family. A spokesman said that about 150 police detained Fonseca, about 56, and 23 suspected accomplices in a massive raid in the Pacific resort of Puerta Vallarta early Monday, United Press International reported.]
Caro Quintero, unshaven, bushy-haired and dressed in the khaki uniform of a Mexican federal prisoner, today did not look like the alleged drug lord who rose from humble Sierra Madre mountain origins to command a vast narcotics empire while still a young man. In a deposition today, he reported his age as 29, although U.S. officials say they have seen a birth certificate placing his age at 33.
"He is a classic case of a gomero made good," one U.S. official remarked, using the Mexican slang word for the peasant collectors of the opium sap that is later refined into heroin, long the most lucrative export of Caro Quintero's native Sinaloa State.
He has amassed a fortune of tens of millions of dollars in real estate holdings alone, Mexican and U.S. authorities reported.
In a statement read at today's arraignment, Caro Quintero listed his occupation as "cattle rancher" and said his income is a modest 100,000 pesos monthly, equivalent to $430 at current exchange rates.