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Mexican drug lord who murdered California DEA agent back in custody after 9 years free

July 19, 2022

Rafael Caro Quintero, a founding member of the Guadalajara and Sinaloa cartels and long a fugitive from U.S. justice because of his connection to the torture-murder of a DEA agent with strong ties to Fresno, is in custody in Mexico.

Caro Quintero, sought on a $20 million reward in connection with the death of the agent, Enrique “Kiki” Camarena, was captured Thursday in the town of Choix in Sinaloa state, according to the Mexican newspaper La Jornada. He was freed from a Mexican prison on a technicality in 2013 after serving 28 years for the 1985 abduction and murder of Camarena.

The murder took place after Camarena’s investigation led to the destruction of a vast Caro Quintero marijuana-growing operation in Chihuahua state. He was tortured for several days before he was slain.

The murder of Camarena was a personal loss to retired Fresno police detective Pete Santellano, who called Camarena his best friend when the two worked narcotics cases in Fresno in the 1970s and ‘80s. Camarena was originally from Baja California, but became a DEA agent and at one time lived in Fresno with his family.

In May 2021, a Mexican court ruled that Caro Quintero could be extradited to the United States, after he filed various appeals against his surrender to the United States justice system.

Retired police detective reacts

Reached at his Fresno home, Santellano was skeptical that Caro Quintero will ever see a U.S. court, and could possibly escape.

“That’s great,” said Santellano of his arrest. “But nothing’s going to really happen. He won’t last long in jail. It’s a different country.”

Caro Quintero is from Badiraguato, Sinaloa, also the home of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, the former leader of Sinaloa Cartel, now imprisoned in the U.S.

According to La Jornada, Caro Quintero had been released on Aug. 9, 2013 due to an injunction that argued errors in the judicial procedure, a sentence that was later reversed by the Supreme Court of Justice of Mexico, which ordered his re-arrest.

Since regaining his freedom, he had been one of the most-sought cartel leaders in Mexico. According to La Jornada, the U.S. will have 60 days to request Caro Quintero’s extradition. A Mexican judge will determine whether he must serve additional time in a Mexican prison before any extradition takes place.

A branch of the Mexican armed forces, La Marina, was responsible for the capture, according to the Spanish Newspaper El Pais.


© 2022 The Fresno Bee

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.