Amado Carrillo Fuentes Death: Revenge Over the Death of Ochoa Uncle
Borderland Beat-A Narco Blast From The Past
When Castor Alberto Ochoa-Soto, 53 at the time, walked across the Paso del Norte Bridge to Mexico on Feb. 11, 1995, he likely didn’t realize he was a marked man. But his old friend, Amado Carrillo-Fuentes, wanted his 22 tons of cocaine, which was stored in a Juarez warehouse.
Colombian Drug Lord Unclaimed in Juarez Morgue
by Rafael Nuñez
Late last year I was walking in Downtown Ciudad Juárez when I bumped into a couple of acquaintances, two newspaper photographers with whom I had worked in the past. They asked if I needed a lift to the Paso del Norte Bridge, I said yes, and we were off and running.
They asked if I didn’t mind stopping off at the morgue first, since they had to take some pictures of an unidentified body, and because one of the medical examiners had been expecting them for half an hour, he was probably getting impatient.
When we got there, the doctor greeted us at the entrance, and quickly led us past the security guard and into the morgue itself. It was then I remembered something I had been wondering about for the last three years: Whether the body of Castor Alberto Ochoa-Soto, a former high-ranking member of the Medellin Cartel whose death may have led to the fall of Amado Carrillo-Fuentes, was still there in the morgue, unclaimed, since it was discovered buried in a narco-grave back in November of 1999.
When I asked the medical examiner, he said “Yeah, it’s still here, unclaimed and unthawed, as it has been for the last five years.” I asked the medical examiner if I could see the Colombian’s remains. He said “sure, why not?”
When he opened the long cabinet/cubicle/drawer Ochoa was in, the skeleton/corpse looked strangely small. No clue of who he had been. No distinctive features. Nothing. And I should know, since I saw him up-close every single day for a week during his federal trial in El Paso back in 1995. After a few seconds, the medical examiner closed the drawer and said: “Strange how people end up, isn’t it? From what I understand, this Colombian guy had a lot of money and a lot of power. And yet, here he is in death: unclaimed and unwanted. Probably no one even remembers him. Probably not even one person cares nowadays.”
When Castor Alberto Ochoa-Soto, 53 at the time, walked across the Paso del Norte Bridge to Mexico at about 11 a.m. on Saturday, Feb. 11, 1995, he likely didn’t realize he was a marked man. American immigration authorities were expelling him from the U.S., but he himself had elected to be returned to Mexico instead of his native Colombia. He had told a federal immigration judge in El Paso that he preferred to be “voluntarily returned” to Mexico instead of being shipped on a plane back to Colombia, since he had a young Mexican wife waiting for him, as well as two places of residence: a city home in Hermosillo, Sonora, and a sprawling agricultural ranch in Chetumal, Quintana Roo.
Four days earlier, in the federal courthouse in El Paso, a federal jury had declared him not guilty of bringing into the U.S. a six-ton shipment of cocaine. An immigration judge then ordered Ochoa expelled from the U.S.
His Colombian lawyers had advised him to take up the immigration judge’s offer to be deported to Colombia. They had warned him not to return to Mexico. But Ochoa’s Mexican lawyer, Antonio Tarazón-Navarro, had told him he would be safe. After all, Tarazón had been a Mexican federal attorney for many years before returning to private practice, and he knew the ropes, and had many powerful contacts in the Mexican government.
Ochoa had weighed all the advice and recommendations. And then he had made his decision: He would agree to be “voluntarily returned” to Ciudad Juárez, where he had 22 tons of cocaine stored and where he had previously brokered so many high-volume drug deals with his old friend Carrillo, who controlled the city’s drug trade.
What Ochoa couldn’t have known that Saturday morning as he walked south on the downtown international bridge was that his “old friend” had already ordered his death.
Ochoa met Tarazon at the highpoint of the Paso del Norte Bridge, under the flags from both countries. After shaking and walking no more than 20 steps into Mexico, the Colombian and his lawyer were intercepted by a group of armed Mexican federal policemen in a blue Suburban.
With pistols and machineguns in hand, the federales ordered the Colombian and his lawyer to get in the Suburban, which headed south into Juárez, going against the bridge traffic, which was conveniently being ordered out of the way by other federal agents on foot stationed at the toll booths and at 50-foot intervals on the bridge itself, thus opening up a lane for the Suburban to return back down the Mexican side of the bridge.
Needless to say, at 11 a.m. on a Saturday, all this was witnessed by numerous people, including motorists driving north on the bridge toward El Paso, as well as the regular tollbooth employees, according to press accounts. No investigations into those accounts were undertaken, and when I went to interview witnesses several days later, they refused to answer my questions.
|Ochoa Brothers-At their peak worth 6B each|
Ochoa, balding and soft-spoken, was a high-ranking member of the Medellín Cartel, uncle to Fabio Ochoa and his brothers, the leaders of the cartel’s inner circle, who had at one time been close associates of the cartel’s former leader, the late Pablo Escobar.
Ochoa first arrived in Mexico in 1984, when he was in charge of coordinating and overseeing the safe transport and delivery of the cocaine shipments coming from the main Colombian narcotraffickers.
(at left; Fabio Ochoa said to be the true drug king of Colombia)
He traveled frequently to Ojinaga to coordinate and oversee the shipments of cocaine into the U.S. That’s where he meet Carillo, who was then a young man in Ojinaga, earning his keep and learning the trade as a handyman and hired gun under “El Pablote,” Pablo Acosta, who had been the first Mexican narcotrafficker to work with the Medellín cartel.
By late 1987, the cocaine trade was booming in other areas of Mexico, and Ochoa had decided to center his operations in Hermosillo, Sonora. In 1989 Amado arrived to take over the family business after his older brother Cipriano Carrillo-Fuentes, the top drug capo in the region, was murdered in 1989.
By then Ochoa, settled in Hermosillo, divorced his Colombian wife – an act that had generated many problems inside the Ochoa clan back in Colombia – and married a beautiful young local named Nora Sandoval, a move that made him appear more trustworthy in the eyes of his Mexican colleagues. He had four residences in four different Mexican states, all strategically located very close to clandestine airfields where small, Cessna-type planes loaded with cocaine landed on a regular basis. His favorite property was in the southern state of Quintana Roo, where along with a large agricultural farm, he also enjoyed the benefits of a government contract, with state-government financing, in which he used his heavy equipment machinery to execute a regional reforestation project.
Amado’s close friendship with Ochoa at this time was a great help to the Mexican drug capo when it came to understanding the intricate details of international narcotrafficking. DEA sources explained that, back then, the Colombians never divulged any secrets about their business to their Mexican counterparts quite simply and frankly because they just didn’t trust them.
Ochoa was an expert in the distribution and transportation of cocaine, and had worked in that capacity for all the main Colombian drug cartels. He knew all the angles, all the connections between producers, packers, and all the intermediaries who move shipments or loads throughout Mexico. He also knew quite a bit about the distribution contacts, networks and routes in the U.S. So in all those aspects, he greatly to Amado’s understanding of how the whole business worked.
In early 1994 Ochoa traveled to Juárez to look up his old friend to ask for help in crossing a 28-ton shipment of cocaine into the U.S. In June, Ochoa was arrested while waiting inside the U.S. Immigration office located at the Paso del Norte Bridge to pick up an entry visa he had illegally “bought” through a man he thought was an American drug dealer, but who in reality was a DEA informant. The DEA had surveillance videotapes of a six-ton shipment of cocaine being crossed into the U.S. through the bridge in several vehicles. The DEA also had audiotapes of the meetings in Juarez between the informant and Ochoa, where all the logistics of the crossings had been ironed out.
Amado thought this meant he could safely keep the 22 tons of cocaine left behind after Ochoa. Carillo, like the U.S. prosecutor on the case, never expected that the Colombian would eventually be declared not guilty by a U.S. court. When it happened, Carillo took matters into his own hands secure the cocaine, which was worth about $3 billion.
Ochoa was not inconsequential, however, and neither was the value of the cocaine. And there was another aspect of the killing that caused a great deal of unease and ill will among narcotrafficking circles in Colombia and Mexico — the crime was seen as the end of the Colombian cartels’ upper hand and control when it came to the cocaine trade between Mexico and the U.S.
Carrillo, for his part, denied to the Colombians he was responsible, and told them that Ochoa had absconded with his own cocaine. In response, according to confidential informants who had formerly been members of the Juárez cartel, Fabio Ochoa-Vásquez, one of the three brothers who had inherited Pablo Escobar’s leadership role (Fabio Ochoa later arrested and sent to prison in the U.S.), sent a conciliatory message to Juárez: “What has happened, has happened. We feel for our uncle’s untimely death. Perhaps it was bad luck, perhaps it wasn’t. In any case, we’re not interested in revenge.”
Nevertheless, sources close to the Ochoa family in Medellín said that underneath the apparent calm, family members were furious, according to press accounts by Hermosillo journalists after the arrest of Colombian narcotraffickers who were arrested in Hermosillo. They just weren’t capable of retaliating, and much less of starting a war between Colombian and Mexican narcotraffickers. So the Ochoa clan sent back word to Amado that they were willing to let bygones by bygones, and continue doing business with him. Privately, a source close to the Ochoa family said that they were merely biding their time, lying low, patiently waiting for their moment of vengeance.
That longed-for moment might have been July 4, 1997, when Carrillo died on an operating table in a second-rate hospital in Mexico City, while he was having plastic surgery to change his face, in an attempt to evade capture by the U.S. and Mexican authorities once and for all.
The official report said that Amado had died as a result of the anesthesia — that the anesthesiologist had applied too much of it. Curiously, several nurses and other hospital personnel present during the surgery told the authorities that an “unknown doctor” had walked into the operating room several times, and then disappeared.
Also, two Colombians were among the team of doctors performing the surgery. One of the three plastic surgeons who performed the operation on Carrillo, Pedro López Saucedo, also known as Pedro Rincón, is alive and living in the U.S. as a member of the Witness Protection Program “in exchange for information on the Cartel de Juárez.”
In the end, with the major actors dead, one, Ochoa, was left alone and unclaimed, in a Juarez morgue, shrunken and stuffed in a locker. His body, and that of his lawyer, Tarazon, was found in 1999, buried in a ranch owned by one of Carrillo’s subordinates.
The other actor, Carrillo, had a different kind of send off. In fact, he may have received more attention from Ochoa’s family than did Ochoa.
In Guamuchilito, Sinaloa, the rural Mexican hamlet where Amado was born, the Jefe de Jefes’ funeral was held in mid-July of 1997.
|Amado Carrillo “Lord of the Skies”
Below: The remains of two of the three plastic surgeons who botched Carrillo’s surgery.
The Carrillo-Fuentes family had received many, many floral arrangements and funeral wreaths, but in their grief, they had let some of the village people set these next to the coffin without reading the cards to see who they came from. “The whole village was there at the funeral,” said a villager with whom I spoke on a visit to Hermosillo. They were there, he said, to honor the memory of one who, to them, had been a hero: He built outdoor cement basketball courts and several other sports playing fields; he had renovated the village church; he had personally paid for the medical treatments of many villagers, including expensive surgeries in faraway hospitals; and his family had employed and helped almost everyone in Guamuchilito.
“After the funeral, when some of us were helping the family clear away the funeral wreaths, we couldn’t help ourselves and out of curiosity started reading the cards that accompanied these wreaths. Somebody noticed that one of the cards said ‘All good things come to those that know how to wait’ and near the bottom of the card, right before an illegible signature, ‘Greetings from the Ochoa family in Colombia.’ We thought we should notify one of Amadito’s brothers or sisters about this card.
“After they read it, they asked us to point out the wreath that had come with this card. It was composed entirely of black roses. One of Amadito’s brothers, and one of his sisters, quickly picked up the wreath, set the card back on it, and then took into the house. This was the only wreath they kept. All the other ones were thrown away and eventually burned.”
About the author: Rafael Nunez is an award-winning bilingual journalist working in the Juárez/El Paso area since 1994, including a stint covering the narco-beat for El Norte.