After Operation Condor, the Sinaloan mobsters found a paradise in capital city of Jalisco state and Mexico's second largest city. There they found a welcome committee of the Guadalajara elite and crooked government officials and cops. The rich Tapatios (natives of Guadalajara) with shady businesses on the side would introduce the kingpins to their friends in the city government: The notoriously corrupt DFS (Directorate of Federal Security) would use their agents to provide the fleeing gangsters safe houses, fronts for their illegal businesses and security.
The newly arrived capos quicky established the notorious La Langosta Sinaloa style seafood restaurant and El Yaqui restaurant, both mobster hangouts. They also acquired the Lebanese Sports Club, the Malibu, Americas and Holiday Inn Hotels, the Del Real Suites, the Salon Aztlan nightclub. They built Isaac's Restaurant, Marseilles Suites, and bought huge luxurious ranches: La Herradura ranch in Villa Purificacion, Jalisco; La Provincia ranch in Puente Grande, Jalisco and Villa de Guadalupe in Atequiza, Jalisco besides the huge 30 acre mansion on 1839 Acueducto Street in the posh San Javier Hills section of Guadalajara belonging to Rafael Caro Quintero.
The crooked DFS provided the gangsters with DFS badges, authorized and signed by DFS Chief Jose Antonio Zorrilla Perez, so that if any city cop or anybody not in the know stopped them, they could flash the badge and go on their merry way.
Among the drug dealers was up and coming pot dealer Rafael Caro Quintero and his partner and relative by marriage Ernesto Fonseca Carrillo "Don Neto". Fonseca had been in the business for years and was mentoring, along with Pedro Aviles before his death, Caro in the drug trade. Rafael was a fast learner and soon was a young millionaire with a penchant for women and gold. Another partner of Fonseca and Caro Quintero was an ex state cop and fellow Sinaloan named Miguel Felix Gallardo. Gallardo was a slick businessman and was rapidly setting up contacts in South America and specializing in trafficking tons of Cocaine from Colombia to the U.S via Guadalajara.
The trio soon after their arrival formed the so called "Guadalajara Cartel". Manuel Salcido Uzeta "El Cochi Loco" (Crazy Pig) also worked with Caro Fonseca and Gallardo. He provided muscle and was a drug kingpin in his own right, who owned hotels, restaurants and discotheques in the city and in the resort city of Mazatlan, near the hamlet of San Juan where he was born. Juan Jose Esparragoza 'El Azul" (Blue, nickname he earned for his complexion was so dark he was almost blue), Javier Barba Hernandez, lawyer turned gangster and a platoon of crooked Jalisco state cops served as bodyguards and protection.
Don Ruben Zuno Arce, son of an ex governor, brother of an ex First Lady and a native of Mascota, Jalisco, well known among the Mexican elite, served as a mediator between the drug traffickers and those high up in the government. Don Ruben sold Caro Quintero one of his mansions in Guadalajara and delivered payments and messages to the government officials who needed turn a blind eye to the cartel's illegal doings.
Rafael Caro Quintero, born in La Noria, Sinaloa, near Badiraguato was nephew of the late old time drug lord Lamberto Quintero Paez. He along with his brothers and other uncles, had huge pot farms in Northern Mexico. One huge plantation was located in Bufalo, Chihuahua, with other large farms in Sonora, Zacatecas and San Luis Potosi. He made the desert green, right under the governments nose. Caro and Fonseca invested millions of dollars in this new ranch at El Bufalo. Thousands of workers worked in the growing and cultivation of marijuana. Rafael would harvest the weed and send it up north in tractor trailers to several customers he had in the border states. At the age of 29, he was worth almost 400 million dollars.
With the money he bought hotels, restaurants and car dealerships in Guadalajara. He was also known to buy his crooked cop friends brand new Grand Marquis. Caro Quintero, who would dress in the finest cowboy gear and gold, would hold meetings with the local comandantes: Look the other way and be greatly rewarded. Be a pain in the ass and look down the wrong end of an AK-47. Most were smart enough to accept bribes or gifts in the form of brand new cars, or prized Arabian horses.
Through their contacts in the Mexican government the Central Intelligence Agency learned of the Guadalajara Cartel. The CIA was well aware of the cartels operations in Mexico and they really werent deemed a threat. Rafael Caro Quintero even lent out his remote ranches in Veracruz and Jalisco to the CIA so they could train anti Communist Nicaraguan guerrillas. Parties held by Caro, Fonseca and Gallardo, attended by government officials, Mexican and American alike, were not uncommon.
Miguel Felix Gallardo, born poor in Bellavista, Sinaloa was an ex Sinaloa state cop and bodyguard to the governor of the state. An intellectual with a knack for business, he soon started buying real estate, owning several legit businesses all over Mexico and partnering with a Honduran chemist named Ramon Mata Ballesteros. Through Ballesteros he made contacts in Colombia and soon established a pipeline of drugs with which he would flood the US with Cocaine. Felix Gallardos private jets, loaded with Cocaine touched down at Guadalajara international airport regularly.
Old lazy eyed Ernesto Fonseca Carrillo was an old time bandido. He had been trafficking for ages, coming from a family who was in the business for generations. He was married with dozens of mistresses and the father to many illegitimate children. A playful goofy man with his friends and terror to his enemies, he introduced his nephew Rafael Caro into the business.
Tall, fair skinned and blue eyed Manuel Salcido Uzeta "Cochi Loco' , had a reputation as a sadistic killer. Known to his friends and family as Crazy Pig, his mother had given him that nickname as a child; he wouldnt stay still and would run around the house like a crazy pig. Others contend that he earned his nickname by the way he took delight in murdering his rivals. Contradictions exist to Salcido's true nature: One day one of his pistoleros botched a job and staring down the barrel of an irate Salcido Uzeta's gun, he decided to be a smart ass one last time. "Boss, don't be mad, slap me a few times and I wont fail you next time". Salcido cracked a smile and lowered his gun, sparing his pistoleros life and seeing the man had guts, bought him a drink.
For years the Guadalajara cartel prospered, netting millions of dollars and practically taking over the city. In the early 1980's the U.S Drug Enforcement Agency's Guadalajara office would start to investigate the groups business and identify its leaders. With a handful of agents, the DEA track the Cartels movements and build up cases against almost everyone in the cartel. But the Mexican government didnt care and the Jalisco state cops were on the traffickers pay roll. Governors Flavio Romero de Velasco and his successor Enrique Alvarez del Castillo seemed uninterested in the thugs that actually ran Guadalajara.
Through the hard work and tenacity of the DEA agents, including one in particular, DEA Special Agent Enrique Camarena Salazar, they would bust one by one the cartel's operations and put the Mexican Federal Judicial Police to work for the first time ever against the mafiosos. In November 1984, the Mexican Army and Federales raided the huge marijuana farm at El Bufalo, Chihuahua thanks to Camarenas investigations. Other large but not as huge as El Bufalo, farms were raided in Sonora and Zacatecas. The Mexican Government denied such huge pot farms existed in the country and El Bufalo was a huge embarrassment. This cost the Cartel, and Caro Quintero himself millions of dollars in profits.
El Bufalo, along with almost 10,000 tons of marijuana burned down by the army, went up in flames.
Caro's and Fonseca's farms were being raided and destroyed. Gallardos planes were being detained and searched. Properties were being confiscated, money lost. Camarena was becoming a huge nuisance to the cartel's operations. Up to this point, the cartel had no knowledge of who the informant was but a crooked cop would soon betray Camarena to the traffickers.
Agent Camarena had to be dealt with. Something had to be done. And fast.
(Next: The Guadalajara Cartel Part III: The Torture and Murders of Camarena and Zavala and the fall of the Cartel)