Pubdate: Sat, 22 Dec 2001
Source: San Jose Mercury News (CA)
Copyright: 2001 San Jose Mercury News
Author: Tim Weiner, New York Times


MEXICO CITY -- A man suspected of being one of Mexico's biggest drug
traffickers is under arrest and facing extradition to the United States
after a decade of thumbing his nose at law enforcement authorities, Mexican
officials said Friday.

The suspect, Miguel Caro Quintero, has been identified by the authorities
for years as the head of one of the world's biggest drug cartels.

He reportedly succeeded his brother, Rafael Caro Quintero, who has been
imprisoned in Mexico since 1985 in the slaying of a U.S. Drug Enforcement
Administration agent, Enrique Camarena Salazar.

The United States says Miguel Caro Quintero heads the Sonora cartel, one of
Mexico's oldest and best-established drug syndicates.

The cartel ships tons of Colombian cocaine and other drugs from the Mexican
state of Sonora over the border into California, Arizona, New Mexico and
Texas, the American authorities say.

Caro Quintero faces four federal drug- and money-laundering indictments in
Arizona and Colorado, although none in Mexico.

He has lived and worked for years without apparent fear of the law,
traveling freely and conducting his business, and even calling a radio
station near Hermosillo, Mexico, to scoff on the air at American drug
enforcement authorities.

But he was arrested Thursday in Los Mochis, in Sinaloa state, while driving
on a city street, and shipped to a maximum-security prison in Mexico City.

His arrest was the latest sign of increased cooperation and trust between
the Mexican and American authorities, which American drug enforcement agents
say has grown dramatically in the past year under President Vicente Fox.

The U.S. authorities say Caro Quintero has operated with near-total impunity
since 1992, when he used bribery and threats of violence to compel a Mexican
judge to drop criminal charges pending against him.

In 1999, Mexico's Supreme Court ruled that he could be extradited to the
United States to face the federal indictments against him there, a decision
affirmed by a broader ruling on extradition by the court last year.

The Sonora cartel operates from a network of ranches in the northern border
state of Sonora, receiving Colombian cocaine and manufacturing
methamphetamine and shipping it into the United States.

Despite its notoriety, which soared with the 1985 slaying of Camarena, the
organization has long enjoyed protection from prosecution because of the
corruption of local and federal authorities.

In 1997, Thomas A. Constantine, then the chief of the U.S. Drug Enforcement
Administration, made special note of Caro Quintero.

"In an act of astonishing arrogance, he called a radio station in
Hermosillo, Mexico, last May stating that he was bothered by statements I
had made,'' Constantine testified before the U.S. Congress.

Caro Quintero "indicated that he was an innocent rancher and charges made
against him by DEA were untrue,'' Constantine said.

"He then had the audacity to give his address and invite law enforcement
officials from Mexico and the United States to visit him -- yet he remains
at large.''
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