Caro Quintero was sentenced to 40 years for murder soon after, but a Mexican judge ordered his release in 2013 and he has since disappeared, evading efforts by U.S. and Mexican authorities to recapture him.
“The message we’re sending here today is we want this guy in custody. We’re not going to let him get away,” FBI Deputy Director David Bowdich said in an interview after his appearance alongside top officials from the DEA, State Department and the U.S. Marshals.
In New York, U.S. attorneys unsealed a grand jury indictment Thursday charging Caro Quintero with heading a splinter organization of the Sinaloa Cartel, North America’s wealthiest and most powerful drug trafficking organization.
James Hunt, the top DEA official in the agency’s New York Division, said in a statement that the DEA “will never forget” Camarena’s murder, and the new indictment “sends a message to the Cartel that time makes no difference in our efforts to stop their drug trafficking and related violence.”
In a January interview with HuffPost from a safe house in Mexico, Caro Quintero, 65, insisted that he is out of the narcotics business and wants to be left alone. But the federal indictment accuses him of jumping back into the drug trade, alleging his involvement in an “international conspiracy” to traffic heroin, methamphetamine and cocaine between 2015 and 2017.
“He’s not just an old man trying to live out his final days; he’s an individual trying to run a criminal organization,” said Robert W. Patterson, the acting DEA chief.
In Mexico, Caro Quintero is known as the “godfather” of the drug trafficking business, having mentored many of the underworld bosses who succeeded him, including Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzmán, the jailed Sinaloa Cartel leader awaiting trial in federal court in New York.
At a time when relations with Mexico have been strained by President Trump’s criticism of the government and claims that the U.S. neighbor does not do enough to stop drugs, the absence of any Mexican officials at Thursday’s announcement was notable.
A top State Department official declined to say whether Mexican government representatives were invited, calling it a U.S. government event.
Pattersonsaid Mexican authorities continue to cooperate closely with the United States to hunt Caro Quintero, whose 2013 release by a low-level judge Patterson said had embarrassed the Mexican government.
Camarena is a martyred figure at the DEA, and his death is considered a watershed moment in the counternarcotics fight. He was investigating the Guadalajara Cartel in 1984 when Mexican troops raided a massive marijuana farm owned by the organization, and Caro Quintero blamed Camarena for the bust, ordering his murder.
Cartel gunmen grabbed Camarena off the street soon after, taking him to a ranch where he was tortured. A cartel physician reportedly injected Camarena with amphetamines to keep him awake and prolong his suffering.
His death outraged the United States and launched a sprawling DEA investigation.Bounty hunters seeking U.S. reward money at one point abducted the doctor suspected by the DEA of aiding Camarena’s torture, as well as another cartel figure who was eventually convicted and sentenced to time in U.S. federal prison.
Despite U.S. requests, Caro Quintero was never extradited.
DEA officials said they believe he is still hiding in Mexico.