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on the border line between the US and Mexico

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

How an Ex-Cop Linked to the Murder of a DEA Agent Walked Free From a Life Sentence

By Nathaniel Janowitz from VICE News

Former US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agent Enrique "Kiki" Camarena. As reported by Borderland Beat, one of the suspects involved in his murder, Juan Jose Bernabe Ramirez, was deported to Mexico earlier this month. 

MEXICO CITY — A former Mexican police officer turned drug cartel bodyguard who spent more than 30 years in U.S. prison for his involvement in the kidnapping and murder of an undercover DEA agent was released and returned to Mexico, and apparently, freedom.

The 1985 murder of Agent Enrique “Kiki” Camarena in Mexico is one of the most notorious incidents in U.S. law enforcement history, and Juan José Bernabé Ramírez played a central role, according to U.S. authorities. But forensic evidence from Bernabé’s 1990 trial that has since been thrown into question led to Bernabé's release this month, cutting short his life sentence.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) delivered Bernabé, 62, to Mexican immigration officials on the bridge that connects El Paso, Texas, and Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua on April 9. Court records show no outstanding charges for Bernabé in Mexico, meaning that authorities had no reason to arrest him once he crossed the bridge.

Bernabé's release is only the latest development related to Camarena’s death, a murder that continues to be a sore point in relations between the United States and Mexico.

Camarena worked as a Drug Enforcement Administration field agent in Mexico in the 1980s and investigated the so-called Guadalajara Cartel, named for the city where the drug traffickers were based. The Guadalajara Cartel is generally considered the first modern Mexican drug cartel and the fallout of the Camarena murder spawned several of the cartels that grew to create much of the violence the country has suffered since then.

As the Guadalajara Cartel gained power under the leadership of three Mexican kingpins, Miguel Ángel Félix Gallardo, Ernesto Fonseca, and Rafael Caro Quintero, Camarena became a major obstacle to the success of their drug production and smuggling operations. Court documents show that information obtained by Camarena led to major drug seizures, including the destruction of a marijuana plantation worth billions reportedly owned by Caro Quintero.

Soon after, five men kidnapped Camarena in February 1985 and took him to a home in an upscale Guadalajara neighborhood reportedly owned by Caro Quintero, where he was tortured for more than 30 hours prior to his death. A pilot and DEA informant of Camarena's named Alfredo Zavala was also murdered. Both bodies would be found in the neighboring state of Michoacan weeks later.

What exactly happened to Camarena is still subject to question. Many of those who are implicated say they are innocent.

In Bernabé’s California trial, U.S. authorities alleged that he was one of the bodyguards outside the house, and may have been involved in the actual kidnapping, according to court documents. They also alleged that Bernabé was involved in an armed standoff with Mexican police at the Guadalajara airport that allowed Caro Quintero to escape Mexico after the murder. Caro Quintero would be arrested in Costa Rica later that year and extradited back to Mexico.

Both Caro Quintero and Fonseca were imprisoned in Mexico in 1985 for their role in Camarena's murder, followed by Félix Gallardo in 1989.

Although Mexican authorities captured and prosecuted the three drug lords, U.S. authorities continued to go after others who they believed were involved in the case. In 1988, three other cartel bodyguards were convicted in the United States for their role in Camarena's murder. During that trial, prosecutors played a recording of one of the bodyguards talking with an undercover agent, claiming that Camarena was killed “by mistake” after his captors “got carried away” as they tortured him during their interrogation.

Undercover DEA agents in Mexico began circling Bernabé in 1989 after flipping his new boss at a Guadalajara security firm into becoming a confidential informant. On a trip to the United States, the boss turned informant introduced Bernabé to two DEA agents who were posing as a drug trafficker and his bodyguard. They prodded Bernabé over four meetings in July 1989 about what happened at Caro Quintero's house. During the first three meetings, Bernabé said he was not present during the interrogation. For the fourth meeting, the DEA agents got Bernabé drunk.

US authorities in El Paso, Texas, escort Juan Jose Bernabe Ramirez, 62, to the U.S.-Mexico international boundary at the Paso del Norte Bridge, where he was deported into Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua.

One of the agents would later testify that Bernabé admitted that evening to being present at Camarena's interrogation, although that statement was never recorded. Bernabé later said he had consumed thirteen beers that night, and in a recording of him in a car at the end of the night, he denied being present at Camarena's interrogation.

After those July meetings, his boss helped Bernabé receive a temporary visa to return to the United States, where he was arrested and tried.

Bernabé's ensuing 1990 trial proved to be especially high-profile because of his co-defendants: another former bodyguard named Javier Vásquez Velasco, infamous Honduran drug trafficker Juan Ramón Matta-Ballesteros, and the brother-in-law of former Mexican president Luis Echeverría, Rubén Zuno Arce. Prosecutors alleged that all four men were involved in the planning, kidnapping, and murder of Camarena.

During the trial, Bernabé admited to being a bodyguard for Fonseca but denied being involved in Camarena’s murder. The jury found Bernabé guilty on three charges, two related to Camarena’s kidnapping and murder and a third as an accessory for helping Caro Quintero escape Mexico. In 1991, Bernabé was sentenced to life on the kidnapping count, plus two ten-year sentences on the other counts.

His co-accused were also convicted on various charges related to Camarena’s kidnapping and murder. But the convictions in Bernabé's 1990 trial, as well as the 1988 trial of the three bodyguards, have been thrown into doubt due to the testimony of an FBI agent named Michael Malone, who was found in the late 1990s to have exaggerated his forensics expertise.

Malone's testimony in the two Camarena murder trials, along with numerous other high profile cases, have since been determined to exceed “the limits of science.” Malone said he found hairs at the alleged crime scene that were Camarena’s, evidence which later was determined to be insufficient.

The questions raised by Malone’s evidence cast uncertainty over the basic facts of the case - where Camarena was killed and who was present.

One of the bodyguards from the 1988 trial, René Verdugo Urquídez, was released in 2019, after winning his motion to throw out the sentence because of Malone's disputed testimony. In 2019, Bernabé also successfully sought to have his sentence thrown out and the Court accepted his guilty plea on lesser charges. He was then released this month for time served.

Mike Vigil, a DEA agent who worked with Camarena in Mexico in the early 1980s, said Bernabé had managed to evade justice.

“Bernabé is like a slippery fish who slid out of the hands of American justice on a mere technicality,” said Vigil. “We're talking about a very violent man with a very violent history.”

The release also comes after the controversial 2013 release of Caro Quintero, who was serving a 40-year sentence.

Caro Quintero spent nearly 30 years in a Mexican prison before walking free on a technicality that was soon determined unlawful by the country's supreme court. His release outraged U.S. officials who expected his extradition after finishing his sentence in Mexico.

Vigil told VICE World News that when he interrogated Matta-Ballesteros after his arrest in the late 1980s, the Honduran drug lord claimed that Caro Quintero killed Camarena. He expects Bernabé to reenter the criminal underworld, potentially joining Caro Quintero.

“I can assure you that this is a man that will go back to drug trafficking because that is the only profession that this man knows,” said Vigil.

“We have sent a catalyst into Mexico again to start working with these violent cartels.”

Source: VICE Magazine


  1. Almost two tons of liquid meth found in a house in culiacan.

  2. Makes you wonder. Does the US even have good evidence against RQC? I mean, evidence that places him at the crime scene when Kiki was murdered. Feels like maybe the US is going by hearsay, gut feeling, and emotion. Idk

    1. They recorded the interrogation and the DEA got a hold of them. So at the very least they know who was involved and what they did before the murder.

    2. *they recorded it on audio tape

    3. 604 lol no evidence my butt, plenty of recordings, wake up read more BB.

    4. RCQ was not there. That is Hollywood stuff. El Principe no es pendejo.

  3. RCQ is as bad as they come. Forget Camarena, and look at the person. Narcissist, sinsemilla grower of a huge acreage of the same, protected by police, government, etc. I didn't mind the drug trade until him and Gallardo came into being. Their egos drove violence and market share into such a higher level. That was accompanied by guns, corruption and violence. Now he is broke, unhealthy, etc. . . look at Caborca

    1. He's far from being broke my friend he's got 5 million dollar condos all over Manhattan and miami

    2. Man pick up a book and stop watching narcos Quintero was nothing more than a puppet, a thug that got lucky when the regan administration asked the CIA to do whatever it takes to get guns in the hands of the contras Quintero happened to be the perfect dumbass and was so high off smoking base his last 4 brains cells didn’t stand a chance against those classic brainwashing CIA techniques. Who do you think Anabel is referring too in her book when speaking about the incident quintero and Fonseca speak of 2 “brothers “ they refer to as los gueros? Man you guys are really swallow minded enough to actually think these guys would risk the kind of money they were making over some big pot field? They didn’t need it what they were moving cost more than gold gram for gram. Only one group of interest that doesn’t care for money for personal enrichment but rather sees it as a tool, a necessity if you will to accommodate future events to their benefit. We all know those Anglo boys would never let a spic like Felix Rodriguez run the show just another name for your minds to dowel upon the people that killed Camerena were simply the dogs of the people that tell the Mexican government get on your knees and open your mouth. How many of our presidents were on these pig skin cousin fuckers we like little boys clubs payroll? Why don’t you dig a little. the DFS, arce, along with those little rent a hero, rouge ex intelligence Cubans that played the shit out of them for a green card. On orders from Gallardo who was ordered by his owners the same people that had the power to allow the CIA to do whatever the fuck they wanted inside Mexico and guess who told them to order the Mexicans to give the order to Gallardo? Quintero was involved but he’s too fucking stupid to have gotten that far and Fonseca was old school the man cried when he found outer was killed. They got framed used fucked suckered
      But they didn’t know Rafa was given an ace card, every stop to think why the fuck would they record themselves interrogating and torturing an American federal fucking agent I mean really think about it why was it recorded? Well you see Uncle Sam can be a little bit of a bitch sometimes and well there’s a reason the us doesn’t just invade us like they did panama when everyone including the janitors in every us federal agency know every fucking Mexican president since before de la Madrid and Echeverría were trafficking. Caro holds evidence that if made public not only would some Americans not sleep well at night but there will be a revolution in Mexico overnight how else did he get out you really believe they can’t find him. But what group gave Caro the evidence? You see those are the real puppet masters

  4. This is extremely frustrating, Calexico has never forgotten and will never forget the injustice they committed. Kiki was a Hero and his legend was one of the reasons why I chose to go into my occupation.

    1. Suits him right for meddling in another country, they didn’t pick up kiki off the street in the US they did so in Mexico ... what do you think the US’s stance would be if a Mexican cop was killed on US soil while conducting an investigation on gun runners trafficking firearms into Mexico... guns and the people who buy them are directly killing Mexicans, on the US ppl are just trying to get high and some die in the process

    2. 7:31 Kiki Camarena did his job, competently and honorably, in spite of limitations from México accepted by the US, where rogue agents used the contras war on Nicaragua to traffick drugs to the US, the US letter soup is covering up the facts to save face for the last 35 years, but there was a recording of the interrogation under torture the US has disappeared, probably it is still classified.

    3. Kiki should’ve thought more like a paisa and less like an American cowboy

  5. The us don't care they had almost 30yrs to extradite rcq and nothing

    1. @10:05
      Its not that U.S. dosent care
      if that was so they wouldnt after so many years are atill looking for who was all involoved
      guess they still need solid proof

  6. Seems like the US has forgiven everyone involved. If they really wanted they’d be able to snag RCQ.

  7. Ohh they care about his $$. In Mexico you can walk away from any charges, crimes, convictions, etc. as long as you can pay off the right peoples.

  8. This could be like another Chino anthrax, maybe the dea wants to use him to track caro quinteros location. The fact he was freed on a technical error from the states? seems mind boggling after the amount of tears the US government shed over quinteros release.


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