July 15, 1998

In Breakthrough, Mexican Official Testifies in Texas Drug Case

Related Articles

  • Undercover Anti-Drug Operation Strains U.S. Ties With Mexico (June 6)
  • Dangerous Allies: U.S. Helps Mexico's Army Take Big Anti-Drug Role (Dec. 29, 1997)
  • Drug Case in Mexico Tests Pact With U.S. (Nov. 11, 1997)


  • Join a Discussion on Drug Policy

    HOUSTON -- After years of blocking U.S. efforts to investigate corruption in their ranks, Mexican law-enforcement officials have allowed the jailed former head of their national police to travel secretly to the United States to testify about drug payoffs at high levels of the Mexican government.

    In what U.S. officials described as a ground-breaking collaboration between the two countries, former Police Director Adrian Carrera Fuentes told a federal grand jury in Houston in June that he collected nearly $2 million in drug bribes in 1993 and 1994 and turned the money over to a former colleague, Mario Ruiz Massieu, two officials familiar with the testimony said.

    U.S. investigators said Carrera's account could be the evidence they have long sought in what has been a frustrating effort to prosecute Ruiz Massieu, who was arrested in New Jersey three years ago, or extradite him to Mexico to face charges there.

    Mexican officials took the case so seriously that they agreed to let Carrera travel to the United States in the midst of an angry dispute over the Clinton administration's failure to alert them to a huge U.S. undercover operation to stop money laundering by Mexican banks.

    U.S. officials are hopeful that the testimony of Carrera and other new witnesses may eventually prompt Ruiz Massieu to testify himself about allegations of corruption in the inner circle of former President Carlos Salinas de Gortari. The discovery of more than $130 million that was deposited in Swiss banks by Salinas' elder brother, Raul, has led to corruption investigations in Europe, the United States and Mexico.

    But U.S. officials said Mexico's decision to allow Carrera to testify here was probably most important for the precedent it sets.

    "This is extremely important to the relationship," one U.S. law-enforcement official said. "When you have as much cross-border crime as we and Mexico have, the ability to share these witnesses is a significant breakthrough for our ability to prosecute."

    A lawyer for Ruiz Massieu, Cathy Fleming, said that Carrera's reported testimony contradicted previous sworn statements he had given. She said, "If he tells the truth now, Mario will have no problems."

    The two governments have traded court witnesses and confidential informants many times before. But Carrera is the first witness to reach the United States from the upper ranks of the Mexican government after taking advantage of a new law that has modernized that country's justice system by allowing prosecutors to protect cooperative witnesses and plea-bargain with criminals.

    Carrera, 55, held senior posts in Mexico's prison system and police force during most of the six years Salinas was president. He also worked closely with Ruiz Massieu, who served twice as a deputy attorney general and who, during six months in 1994, supervised federal police and anti-drug operations.

    After Ruiz Massieu fled Mexico in early 1995 and was arrested at Newark International Airport, Carrera was charged in Mexico City with having helped him to cover up the role of Raul Salinas in ordering a political assassination.

    Although the authorities never made a case against Carrera at that time, he was arrested again in late March during a raid by the new Organized Crime Unit of the police force he once led. Confronted with what was by then considerable evidence of his involvement in drug trafficking and other crimes, he opted to become the new squad's most important cooperating witness to date.

    Carrera is now serving a a four-year prison sentence as part of his plea bargain. In court proceedings this year in Mexico City, he has confirmed much of what U.S. officials long suspected about him.

    While serving as the warden of the Mexico City prison where he is now being held, Carrera told a Mexican court, he met several major drug traffickers as inmates. Shortly after he took over as a commander in the Federal Judicial Police, one inmate, Amado Carrillo Fuentes, had been released and summoned him to a safehouse in a stylish Mexico City neighborhood.

    According to a summary of Carrera's testimony reported in the Mexico City newspaper Reforma, "He asked whether he would be given protection to continue in his drug-trafficking activities. Adrian Carrera told the trafficker he would dispatch police agents to guard him and he promised not to persecute him."

    Carrera said he met Amado Carrillo again in 1993, and repeated that he would not to bother him in Mexico City. The trafficker handed Carrera an attache case containing more than $300,000 in cash, and, he shouted to one of his lieutenants to buy the police official a new Cadillac -- "the most luxurious one there was."

    Carrera was also quoted as saying he earned a commission of $1,500 for every kilogram of cocaine he allowed to move freely to the United States through Mexico. If true, that account would underscore how payoffs to Mexican officials exploded in the early 1990s after traffickers there began to demand a cut of as much as half the cocaine they smuggled for Colombian cartels. Until then, the Colombians had typically paid their Mexican partners between $1,000 and $2,000 for each kilo transported north; thereafter, the Mexicans began to earn as much as $10,000 a kilo by selling their shares of the cocaine directly to U.S. distributors.

    Nothing in Carrera's account appears to conflict with U.S. intelligence reports compiled even before he took over as head of the federal police.

    According to several officials, one such report quoted an informant as saying that Carrera had been Amado Carrillo's honored guest at a ranch south of Mexico City in July 1993. Another report, a copy of which was reviewed by The New York Times, states that Carrera "allegedly took bribes from the drug cartels to protect their drug shipments and appoint Mexican Federal Judicial Police comandantes working for the drug lords."

    At their own initiative, Mexican law-enforcement officials arranged to bring Carrera to Houston, where he testified June 3 to a federal grand jury that was just starting to hear new evidence against Ruiz Massieu compiled largely by investigators from the U.S. Customs Service.

    The testimony had already been scheduled when a diplomatic uproar broke out over revelations that Customs agents had operated undercover in Mexico as part of a huge money-laundering sting called Operation Casablanca. Still, U.S. officials said they were surprised and relieved when Mexican law enforcement officials apparently decided it would serve no purpose to postpone or cancel Carrera's scheduled visit to Houston despite the furor.

    In a civil proceeding last year, the same U.S. attorneys won the forfeiture of some $8 million that they said was bribe money from narcotics traffickers that Ruiz Massieu had stashed in Texas banks.

    Until now investigators have not been able to make a criminal case against him in the United States. He has also overcome four attempts by the Mexican government to win his extradition from New Jersey, where he was first jailed on Customs charges, then held under house arrest on immigration charges case and is now awaiting the outcome of a deportation case against him.

    According to two officials familiar with Carrera's secret testimony in Houston, he told the grand jury that in 1993, Ruiz Massieu learned that Carrera was growing rich on the traffickers' bribes and was angry that he was being left out.

    That was a problem for Carrera because Ruiz Massieu was his direct superior at the attorney general's office and because both Ruiz Massieu and his elder brother, Jose Francisco Ruiz Massieu, had helped Carrera win his job.

    "Carrera said his relationship with Ruiz Massieu was deteriorating because Ruiz Massieu was not getting a piece of the action," said one official, who like others, spoke on the condition he not be named. "So he took affirmative steps to correct that problem.

    Between November 1993 and August 1994, Carrera delivered six cash payments of about $300,000 each to Mario Ruiz Massieu, he was quoted as having testified. The timing coincides closely with cash deposits that court records show Ruiz Massieu having made in his Texas accounts.

    Officials said it remained somewhat unclear from Carrera's testimony what if anything Ruiz Massieu might have done in return for the money. But Carrera said he collected the cash from a couple of federal police commanders in the provinces who were being paid directly by the traffickers.

    According to police intelligence reports from both countries, one of the two commanders whom Carrera named, David Grajeda Lara, was the central figure in the diversion of some eight tons of cocaine that was seized by Mexican highway police officers after it was flown to the remote airstrip of a mining company near the northern town of Sombrerete in August 1993. Mexican and U.S. officials said Grajeda, who later reportedly died of a heart attack, seized the confiscated cocaine on behalf of the Federal police and then sold it back to the traffickers.

    Ruiz Massieu was later in charge of an investigation into the reported diversion. His inspectors found no evidence of wrongdoing, but U.S. agents later seized part of the shipment as it came across the border. Grajeda Lara was promoted to the federal police command in Monterrey, the most important city in northern Mexico.

    Some Mexican officials have hinted that in debriefings with the Organized Crime Unit, Carrera has provided incriminating information against not only Ruiz Massieu but also against Raul Salinas and others close to the former president. Raul Salinas remains in jail in Mexico on charges of ordering the murder of Jose Francisco Ruiz Massieu, and officials in Switzerland said they will soon confiscate more than $132 million that Salinas deposited in banks there, asserting that it came from drug traffickers' bribes.

    Some Mexican officials cautioned that although Carrera was apparently close to Carlos Salinas' private secretary, Justo Ceja -- another secret U.S. intelligence report made available to The New York Times quotes an informant as saying that they attended the Super Bowl together in Atlanta in 1994 -- his contacts with the Salinas family were still being investigated.

    Even so, U.S. investigators did not hide their hope that if Ruiz Massieu is faced with the prospect of going to jail on money laundering or drug-conspiracy charges, he might finally agree to testify about his own knowledge of the former president's closest associates.

    "Until now he has held out pretty well," one law-enforcement official said of Ruiz Massieu. "We'll see how it goes if he gets indicted."

  • Home | Site Index | Site Search | Forums | Archives | Marketplace

    Quick News | Page One Plus | International | National/N.Y. | Business | Technology | Science | Sports | Weather | Editorial | Op-Ed | Arts | Automobiles | Books | Diversions | Job Market | Real Estate | Travel

    Help/Feedback | Classifieds | Services | New York Today

    Copyright 1998 The New York Times Company