FBI’s Most Wanted now includes Mexican cartel boss suspected in DEA agent’s slaying

The FBI on Thursday added Mexican cartel boss Rafael Caro-Quintero to its Most Wanted list, and State Department officials have offered $20 million for his capture — the largest cash reward for any fugitive in the world.

It is the first time a suspect sought by the Drug Enforcement Administration has been included among the FBI’s top targets. Caro-Quintero is a notorious and uniquely reviled figure at the DEA, blamed for the kidnapping and murder of Enrique “Kiki” Camarena, a DEA agent who was tortured to death in 1985 while investigating the now-defunct Guadalajara Cartel. 

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 following 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 Huffington Post from a safe house in Mexico, Caro Quintero, 63, insisted he’s out of the narcotics business and just 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 acting DEA chief Robert W. Patterson.

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” Guzman, the jailed Sinaloa Cartel leader awaiting trail in New York federal court. 

At a time when relations with Mexico have been strained by President Trump’s criticism of the government and claims that the U.S. ally doesn’t 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 if Mexican government representatives had been invited, calling it a United States government event. 

Patterson, the DEA chief, assured that Mexican authorities continue to cooperate closely with the U.S. to hunt Caro-Quintero, saying his 2013 release by a lower-level judge had amounted to an embarrassment for the government. 

Camarena is a martyred figure at 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 the organization, and Caro-Quintero blamed Camarena for the bust, ordering his murder.

Cartel gunman 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 in 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 somewhere in Mexico.

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