The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration confirmed yesterday the death of Amado Carrillo Fuentes, the leader of Mexico's most powerful drug cartel, who died Friday following eight hours of plastic surgery to drastically alter his appearance.

Mexican officials invited DEA agents to view the body and observe the identification procedures at the funeral home in Carrillo's home state of Sinaloa, DEA Administrator Thomas A. Constantine said in a telephone interview. The DEA agents also photographed the body.

Constantine said that according to information from U.S. intelligence and Mexican officials, Carrillo and his organization had been under increasing pressure during the last six months, forcing the drug baron to live as a fugitive. Constantine said "fairly reliable sources" indicated Carrillo recently had flown to Russia, Cuba and South American countries "constantly looking for a safe haven."

Because of that, Constantine said, Carrillo's desire to undergo massive plastic surgery made sense.

Narcotics experts estimate about 70 percent of the cocaine used in the United States -- a multi-billion-dollar trade -- comes through Mexico, and Mexican drug trafficking organizations recently have begun to take over U.S. markets from Colombian competitors.

"Amado Carrillo Fuentes was arguably the most powerful drug trafficker in Mexico," Constantine said. "The disruption his death will cause among Mexican drug trafficking organizations will be significant. Law enforcement on both sides of the border should capitalize on the ensuing confusion and redouble our efforts to destroy his organization."

The Mexican attorney general's office said in a statement late Saturday night that a man had been admitted Thursday under the name of Antonio Flores Montes to the Santa Monica hospital, a small, private Mexico City clinic, for extensive plastic surgery on his face and liposuction of his body.

The patient underwent eight hours of surgery that ended at about 7 p.m. Thursday, then was moved to Room 407 in the hospital, according to the Mexican attorney general. Between 4 and 6 a.m. Friday, a doctor making rounds discovered the patient dead in his bed, the statement said.

The attorney general's office said it conducted an autopsy and fingerprint tests on the body, but its statement added, "Although from the tests carried out so far there are indications that the body which allegedly belongs to Antonio Flores Montes is really that of Amado Carrillo Fuentes, the {attorney general} cannot, at the moment, affirm this with total certainty."

By 10 a.m. on Friday, the body had been flown by chartered airplane to Sinaloa's capital, Culiacan. Officials of the Mexican attorney general's office visited the funeral home.

Mexican authorities later removed the body and its silver-colored coffin under heavy security after a vitriolic argument with family members, according to news reports from Culiacan.

Carrillo, 41, was known as the "Lord of the Skies" because he pioneered flying large shipments of cocaine from Colombia directly to the Mexican-U.S. border in large jets. While building his empire, he skillfully negotiated with Colombian cocaine cartels to take over an increasing share of the drug distribution within the United States.

The drug baron also excelled in corrupting Mexican politicians and law enforcement officials to guarantee impunity for his actions. Earlier this year, Mexico's top anti-drug official was jailed for allegedly being on Carrillo's payroll.

Constantine said that while Carrillo's death was unlikely to affect the overall flow of cocaine flowing across the Mexican border, the drug trafficking structure would be crippled because leadership of his organization appeared to be concentrated in the hands of very few individuals. Mexican sources said, however, that they expect one of Carrillo's trusted lieutenants to take control.

Constantine said that while Carrillo may have escaped earthly justice, "I'm sure there is a special place in hell for those like him who have destroyed countless lives and devastated families on both sides of the border." Washington Post correspondent Molly Moore in Mexico City contributed to this report.