Pubdate: Thu, 3 Dec 2009
Source: Los Angeles Times (CA)
Page: A33
Copyright: 2009 Los Angeles Times
Author: Ken Ellingwood, Reporting from Mexico City
Bookmark: (Mexico Under Siege (Series))

Mexico Under Siege


The Slaying in a Coffee Shop of a Former Police Officer Marks the 
Second Recent Death of a Top-Level Informant.

It's risky being a so-called protected witness, especially when the 
targets of the criminal investigations are members of powerful 
Mexican drug cartels and dirty cops.

The government's witness protection program faced new questions 
Wednesday after the fatal shooting in a Starbucks of a former federal 
police commander who turned informant after his arrest last year for 
suspected drug ties.

Edgar Enrique Bayardo reportedly had been providing Mexican 
authorities with information on traffickers based in the northwestern 
state of Sinaloa before he died Tuesday in a hail of gunfire here in 
the capital.

Federal officials confirmed that Bayardo was a "collaborating 
witness," but declined to provide more details. Mexico City 
authorities said Bayardo was hit by at least six bullets when a pair 
of attackers burst into the Starbucks in a well-to-do neighborhood 
called Del Valle.

Authorities said a Bayardo associate and another customer were 
wounded during the late-morning attack. The bloody tableau played out 
amid a tranquil setting of soft chairs and colorful Christmas decorations.

It was the second time in less than two weeks that a high-profile 
witness has turned up dead while feeding information to authorities 
about Sinaloa traffickers.

On Nov. 20, Jesus Zambada Reyes, the 22-year-old nephew of the 
reputed Sinaloa drug lord Ismael "El Mayo" Zambada, was found dead in 
a government safe house in Mexico City. Authorities said he hanged 
himself, but questions swirled over whether he was coerced or killed 
by cartel hit men.

Investigators often rely on testimony from criminal suspects to 
penetrate the workings of drug gangs. But the Bayardo killing has 
reignited doubts about the witness protection program, which was 
already dogged by criticisms about the trustworthiness of sworn 
accounts from cloaked witnesses.

Skeptics now question whether Mexico's corruption-ridden law 
enforcement system can safeguard informants. In particular, the 
killing stoked speculation about possible leaks by the 
organized-crime unit of the federal attorney general's office, which 
Bayardo reportedly had been supplying with evidence on links between 
the Sinaloa cartel and ranking federal police.

An editorial in El Universal newspaper Wednesday said a lack of 
transparency in Mexico's court system left it vulnerable to abuse by 
suspects-turned-witnesses. The Bayardo killing "is one more sign that 
the federal government should review the use of this resource," it concluded.

Federal prosecutors on Wednesday took over the investigation from 
Mexico City officials.

Bayardo, a lawyer who had also been a prosecutor in the central state 
of Tlaxcala, was arrested last year on suspicion of taking $25,000 a 
month in payoffs from Jesus "El Rey" Zambada Garcia, the brother of 
Ismael Zambada and father of the witness who died last month. Jesus 
Zambada and his son were arrested together during a raid in October 
2008. Bayardo was arrested days after.

Bayardo and the Zambadas, part of the Sinaloa-based alliance that 
includes kingpin Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, allegedly swapped 
information about a rival gang, the Beltran Leyvas, and Bayardo was 
suspected of providing tips on planned police movements.

Bayardo also passed information to American drug agents pursuing 
members of the Beltran Leyva group, according to reports in the Mexican media.

Bayardo was never formally charged after his detention, and he became 
a key witness for prosecutors seeking evidence against traffickers 
and their allies inside Mexican federal law enforcement.

Bayardo's testimony has led to the arrests of at least four senior 
federal police officials, including the then-chief, Victor Gerardo 
Garay, according to Mexican news reports.

The daily Reforma newspaper said Bayardo moved among a trio of 
government-owned safe houses, but recently had been preparing to 
resume normal life, perhaps by teaching about police issues.

Bayardo allegedly amassed millions of dollars in real estate, jewels, 
artwork and other property, and was long rumored to have ties to drug 
traffickers as he ascended to a ranking post in the federal police. 
- ---
MAP posted-by: Richard Lake