Rafael Caro Quintero was known as “the Prince” because of a fondness for luxury clothing and ostentatious jewelry during the time he headed up the notorious Guadalajara Cartel in the 1980s.
Part of that obsession was on display recently when the Mexican drug lord, who had been convicted of the torture and murder of a DEA agent more than three decades ago, was finally captured by Mexican forces.
Long one of the FBI’s most wanted men, Caro Quintero, 69, appeared in one photo flanked by the masked Mexican marines who captured him near the town of San Simon in Sinaloa.
Attorney General Merrick Garland said the US would seek his immediate extradition.
“There is no hiding place for anyone who kidnaps, tortures, and murders American law enforcement,” Garland said. “We are deeply grateful to Mexican authorities for their capture and arrest of Rafael Caro Quintero.”
But Mexico hasn’t always been quick to arrest men like him. Two years ago, Mexican president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador declared the drug war over and said that the government would no longer target narcotics traffickers. Caro Quintero’s arrest came after pressure from the White House, a Mexican official told Reuters, and the same week that Lopez Obrador visited Washington.
In 2013, Caro Quintero was released from prison on a technicality after serving 28 years for the murder of Drug Enforcement Administration agent Enrique “Kiki” Camarena. At the time, the drug boss said he was no longer a part of the country’s criminal underworld and even pleaded poverty in a 2016 interview with a Mexican reporter.
“He’s lying,” Robert Almonte, a Texas-based security consultant and expert on Mexican cartels, told The Post. “He never left the drug business.”
Not only did Caro Quintero direct drug trafficking from his Mexican prison cell, he started a new cartel as soon as he was released, Almonte alleged. Mexican intelligence leaked to the press that Caro Quintero was working with the Juarez Cartel to take over drug trafficking in parts of Sonora state that had been dominated by the Sinaloa Cartel — once controlled by Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman.
Caro Quintero started the Caborca Cartel, named after the city in Sonora, almost as soon as a Jalisco appeals court ordered his release in August 2013. The Mexican Supreme Court upheld the sentence in a November 2013 decision, but it was too late — Caro Quintero had escaped. The court argued that the man known as the “Narco of all Narcos” had been improperly tried in federal and not state court in the killing of Camarena.
Part of the reason that Caro Quintero was treated with kid gloves is likely to due to his son, Hector Rafael Caro Elenes, an Olympic equestrian, Almonte said. Caro Elenes represented Mexico during the Beijing Games in 2008. He won a gold medal two years earlier at the Central American and Caribbean Games in Colombia. In 2013, the DEA said the Department of the Treasury had named Caro Elenes as well as his mother and three brothers on a list of those involved in profiting from illegal drugs. That designation was removed last year, according to a Department of the Treasury press release.
In the 2016 interview with Mexican reporter Anabel Hernandez, Caro Quintero denied killing Camarena and said he was writing a book about his life that would expose the “truth” about what took place in February 1985 when the DEA agent was kidnapped off the streets of Guadalajara and brutally tortured before being executed. A physician reportedly gave Camarena amphetamine shots so he could stay alive during the torture sessions to prolong his suffering.
Caro Quintero was originally slapped with a 40-year sentence for masterminding the murder of Camarena, who was accused of tipping off Mexican forces in 1984 to a marijuana plantation — worth more than $160 million — that Caro Quintero and his partners controlled. Camarena’s death led to the demise of the Guadalajara Cartel
The Caborca Cartel, which Almonte said has lately specialized in selling fentanyl as well as cocaine, is locked in battle against the Sinaloa Cartel, which is run by Guzman’s sons since his arrest in Mexico in 2014. El Chapo is currently serving a life sentence for drug trafficking and murder in a high-security Colorado prison. His conviction was upheld earlier this year.
Now that Caro Quintero is once again behind bars, the battle for control of trafficking in Sonora and Sinaloa states will become intense. This week, the US Embassy in Mexico issued an alert for “potential confrontations between criminal organizations and Mexican security forces” following the arrest of Caro Quintero.
According to the alert, the current Department of State’s Travel Advisory for Sinaloa is Level 4: Do not travel due to crime and kidnapping. The Travel Advisory for Sonora is Level 3: Reconsider travel due to crime and kidnapping.
“Criminal organization assassinations and territorial disputes can result in bystanders being injured or killed,” the alert says.
Parts of Sonora are under siege due to the battle between El Chapo’s sons —Joaquín Guzmán López, Ovidio Guzmán López, Iván Archivaldo Guzmán Salazar and Jesús Alfredo Guzmán Salazar — and gangs fighting for Caro Quintero, according to a report.
Caro Quintero has been among the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted fugitives, with information leading to his capture worth a $20 million bounty, since 2018. Two years later, a federal court in Brooklyn indicted him on several counts of drug trafficking.
The bounty for Caro Quintero dwarfed the rewards for other fugitives on the list. Today, the highest bounty at $1 million is for Jose Rodolfo Villareal Hernandez, an alleged mobster wanted for murder.
“His extradition is long overdue,” Almonte said of Caro Quintero. “He needs to come to our country to face justice.”