Rafael Caro Quintero

Last updated
Rafael Caro Quintero
Born (1952-10-03) October 3, 1952 (age 66)
Other names"Narco of Narcos"
OccupationDrug producer, trafficker
Criminal statusWanted by PGR, DEA for extraditation to the US
AllegianceEx-Leader Guadalajara Cartel; member of the Sinaloa Cartel
Criminal penalty40 years (28 years served) [1]
Reward amount
US$20 million [2]
Arrested in Costa Rica on April 4, 1985. He was released from prison on August 9, 2013 on a controversial technicality.

Rafael Caro Quintero (born October 3, 1952) is a Mexican drug trafficker who co-founded the now-disintegrated Guadalajara Cartel with Miguel Ángel Félix Gallardo and other drug traffickers in the 1970s. He is the brother of fellow drug trafficker Miguel Caro Quintero, the founder and former leader of the defunct Sonora Cartel.

Illegal drug trade in Latin America

The illegal drug trade in Latin America concerns primarily the production and sale of cocaine and cannabis, including the export of these banned substances to the United States and Europe. The Coca cultivation is concentrated in the Andes of South America, particularly in Colombia, Peru and Bolivia; this is the world's only source region for coca.

The Guadalajara Cartel was a Mexican drug cartel which was formed in the 1980s by Rafael Caro Quintero, Miguel Ángel Félix Gallardo and Ernesto Fonseca Carrillo in order to ship cocaine and marijuana to the United States. Among the first of the Mexican drug trafficking groups to work with the Colombian cocaine mafias, the Guadalajara cartel prospered from the cocaine trade.

Miguel Ángel Félix Gallardo, commonly referred to by his alias El Padrino, is a convicted Mexican drug lord who formed the Guadalajara Cartel in the 1980s, and controlled almost all of the drug trafficking in Mexico and the corridors along the Mexico–United States border.


Having formed the Guadalajara Cartel in the 1970s, Caro Quintero worked with Gallardo, Ernesto Fonseca Carrillo, and Pedro Avilés Pérez by shipping large quantities of marijuana to the United States from Mexico. He was responsible for the kidnapping and murder of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agent Enrique "Kiki" Camarena, Camarena's pilot Alfredo Zavala Avelar, the American writer John Clay Walker, and dentistry student Alberto Radelat in 1985. After the murders, Caro Quintero fled to Costa Rica but was later arrested and extradited back to Mexico, where he was sentenced to 40-years in prison for murder. [1] Following his arrest, the Guadalajara Cartel disintegrated, and its leaders were incorporated into the Tijuana Cartel, Sinaloa Cartel, and Juárez Cartel.

Ernesto Fonseca Carrillo, commonly referred to by his alias Don Neto, is a convicted Mexican drug lord and former leader of the Guadalajara Cartel, a defunct criminal group based in Jalisco. He headed the organization alongside Miguel Ángel Félix Gallardo and Rafael Caro Quintero. Fonseca Carrillo was involved with drug trafficking since the early 1970s, primarily in Ecuador, and later moved his operations to Mexico.

Pedro Avilés Pérez, also known as "El León de la Sierra", was a Mexican drug lord in the state of Sinaloa in the late 1960s. He is considered to be the first generation of major Mexican drug smugglers of marijuana. He was also the first known drug lord to use an aircraft to smuggle drugs to the United States.

Drug Enforcement Administration United States federal law enforcement agency

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is a United States federal law enforcement agency under the United States Department of Justice, tasked with combating drug smuggling and distribution within the United States. The DEA is the lead agency for domestic enforcement of the Controlled Substances Act, sharing concurrent jurisdiction with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). It has sole responsibility for coordinating and pursuing US drug investigations both domestic and abroad.

Caro Quintero was freed from jail on August 9, 2013, after a state court concluded that he had been tried improperly. However, amid pressure from the federal government of the United States to re-arrest him, a Mexican federal court issued an arrest warrant against Caro Quintero on August 14. He remains at large, as a wanted fugitive in Mexico, the United States, and several other countries. The United States is offering a $20 million bounty for his arrest.

Early life

Rafael Caro Quintero was born in the community of La Noria, Badiraguato, Sinaloa, on 3 October 1952. [3] His parents, Emilio Caro Payán and Hermelinda Quintero, had twelve children; he was the oldest of the males. His father worked in agriculture and grazing, and died when Caro Quintero was 14 years old. With his father's absence, he worked to take care of his family alongside his mother. [4]

At the age of 16, he left La Noria and settled in Caborca, Sonora, where he worked in livestock grazing. [5] Two years later, he worked as a truck driver in Sinaloa. [6] He also worked at a bean and corn plantation in Sinaloa before deciding to leave his home state to join the drug trade altogether in the neighboring state of Chihuahua. [7]

Caborca is the municipal seat of Caborca Municipality in Sonora. The municipal population was 85,631 (2015). The official name of the municipal seat is Heroica Caborca.


When he was a teenager, Caro Quintero allegedly began to grow marijuana on a low scale, at the ranch owned by his brother Jorge Luis. In less than five years, Caro Quintero managed to buy several other ranches in the surrounding areas and began to amass a fortune.

He is said to have first worked for the drug traffickers Pedro Avilés Pérez and Ernesto Fonseca Carrillo before forming the Guadalajara Cartel with Miguel Ángel Félix Gallardo, Juan José Esparragoza Moreno, and others in the late 1970s. [6] [7] [8] He has been cited as a pioneer of the drug trade in Mexico and has been described as one of the preeminent drug traffickers of his generation. [9] [10]

Juan José Esparragoza Moreno Mexican drug trafficker

Juan José Esparragoza Moreno, commonly referred to by his alias El Azul, is a Mexican drug lord and leader of the Sinaloa Cartel, a drug trafficking organization. Originally a member of the Dirección Federal de Seguridad (DFS) police agency, he founded the Guadalajara Cartel in the 1970s along with other drug kingpins in Mexico. Following its disintegration in the late 1980s, he went on to lead the Juárez Cartel and eventually settled in the Sinaloa Cartel. He worked alongside Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán, once considered Mexico's most-wanted drug lord.

Allegations of involvement in murders

John Clay Walker and Albert Radelat

Caro Quintero has been accused of ordering the abduction, torture, and murder of writer John Clay Walker and dentistry student Albert Radelat on January 30, 1985. According to the allegations, the two Americans were dining in a Guadalajara restaurant when they encountered Caro Quintero and his men as they accidentally walked into one of Caro Quintero's private parties.

John Clay Walker was an American journalist and aspiring novelist who was abducted, tortured and murdered in Mexico by members of the Guadalajara Cartel under orders of their leader Rafael Caro Quintero. Caro Quintero suspected Walker of working as an undercover U.S. Drug Enforcement Agent (DEA) while he lived in Guadalajara, Jalisco.

Caro Quintero is alleged to have then ordered his men to seize the Americans and take them to a store room, where they were tortured with ice picks and interrogated. John Walker died on the scene from blunt force trauma to the head. Albert Radelat was still alive when he was wrapped in tablecloths, taken to a park near the city, and buried. [11] [12] The men's bodies were found six months later buried at the San Isidro Mazatepec Park in Zapopan. The authorities believe that Caro Quintero had mistaken Walker and Radelat for U.S. undercover agents. [12] [13]

Enrique Camarena

Caro Quintero has also been accused of involvement in the murder of US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agent Enrique "Kiki" Camarena Salazar. In November 1984, the Mexican authorities raided a 1,000 hectares (2,500 acres) ranch known as El Búfalo in the state of Chihuahua, owned by Caro Quintero. [5] The authorities reportedly burned more than 10,000 tons of marijuana – totaling a loss of around $160 million. [12] [14] Camarena, who had been working undercover in Mexico, was said to be responsible for leading the authorities to the ranch. This allegedly prompted Caro Quintero and other high-ranking members of the Guadalajara Cartel to seek revenge against the DEA and Camarena. [15] In retribution, Camarena and his pilot Alfredo Zavala Avelar were allegedly kidnapped in Guadalajara on 7 February 1985, brutally tortured, and murdered. [16] Caro Quintero then left Mexico on 9 March 1985 with his associates and his girlfriend Sara Cristina Cosío Gaona. [12] Former Mexican Judicial Police chief Armando Pavón Reyes, after receiving a $300,000 bribe, reportedly allowed Caro Quintero to flee from the airport in Guadalajara, in a private jet, to seek refuge in Costa Rica. The police chief was fired shortly afterward, and was charged with bribery and complicity in the Camarena murder. [17]


Locals from Badiraguato, Sinaloa, Caro Quintero's hometown, recall that Caro Quintero was a benefactor in the area in the 1980s. The town's mayor, Ángel Robles Bañuelos, said in a 2013 interview that Caro Quintero financed the construction of a 40-kilometre-long (25 mi) highway in Badiraguato and helped electrify the area. The mayor recalled that before the highway was built, it would take days for people to travel in and out of Badiraguato. [18]

Arrest and aftermath

On April 4, 1985, Caro Quintero was arrested in his Alajuela, Costa Rica mansion, while sleeping, just half a mile from the Juan Santamaria International Airport and extradited to Mexico on charges of involvement in Camarena's murder. [19] [20] [21] He was sentenced to 40 years for the murder of Camarena and other crimes. [22] The US also hopes to try Caro Quintero, and the DEA still has him listed as a wanted fugitive. [23]

Caro Quintero was first imprisoned at the Federal Social Readaptation Center No. 1 maximum security prison Almoloya de Juárez, State of Mexico. Even though Caro Quintero was to face a maximum of 199 years in prison, Mexican law during that time did not allow for inmates to serve more than 40.

In 2007, he was transferred to another maximum security prison, known as Puente Grande, in the state of Jalisco. In 2010, a federal judge granted him the right to be transferred to another prison in Jalisco. [24]

Caro Quintero's Guadalajara Cartel fell apart in the early 1990s, and its remaining leaders went on to establish their own drug trafficking organizations: in Tijuana, a large family formed the Tijuana Cartel; in Chihuahua, a group controlled by Amado Carrillo Fuentes formed the Juárez Cartel; and the remaining faction moved to Sinaloa and formed the Sinaloa Cartel under the traffickers Joaquín El Chapo Guzmán and Ismael El Mayo Zambada. [25] Caro Quintero's brother Miguel Caro Quintero succeeded him and formed the Sonora Cartel, which branched out of the Sinaloa organization. [26] [27] The United States government believes that Caro Quintero ran his criminal empire behind bars through at least six of his family members, by creating a front that laundered millions of dollars through a gas station, construction company, shoe factory, restaurant, real estate development companies, among others. [28]


In the early hours of August 9, 2013, a tribunal ordered the immediate release of Caro Quintero after he had served 28 years in prison. [20] After a motion by Rosalía Isabel Moreno Ruiz, who is a state judge and magistrate [29] the Jalisco state court ruled that Caro Quintero was tried improperly in a federal courtroom for crimes that should have been treated at a state level: when Caro Quintero was given his 40-year sentence in the 1980s, he was convicted for murder (a state crime) and not for drug trafficking (a federal one). [30] [A 1] The magistrate ordered Caro Quintero's release after he had served time for other crimes he had committed throughout his reign as leader of the Guadalajara Cartel. [32]

The release of Caro Quintero outraged the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama; the United States Department of Justice said they were "extremely disappointed" with the drug lord's release and stated that they were going to pursue Caro Quintero for pending charges in the United States. [33] The Association of Former Federal Narcotics Agents expressed their disappointment, too, but stated that Caro Quintero's release was a result of the corruption that besets Mexico's judicial system. [34] Mexico's Attorney General Jesús Murillo Karam also expressed his concern vis-à-vis the case, stating that he was "worried" about Caro Quintero's release and that he would investigate whether additional charges were pending in Mexico. [35]

On August 14, 2013, a federal court granted the Office of the General Prosecutor (Spanish: Procuraduría General de la República, PGR) an arrest warrant against Caro Quintero after the United States government issued a petition to the Mexican government. Once the Mexican authorities re-arrest Caro Quintero, the U.S. government has a maximum limit of 60 days to present a formal extradition request. [36] Mexico's Attorney General clarified, however, that if arrested, Caro Quintero cannot be extradited to the United States for the murder of Camarena, because Mexican law prohibits criminals from being tried for the same crime in another country. U.S. lawyers, nonetheless, may argue that Caro Quintero's initial trial was illegitimate in the first place and that double jeopardy is not applicable. In order for Caro Quintero's extradition to be accepted by Mexico, the United States has to present other criminal charges and accept that he would not face the death penalty if convicted, because there are no laws for capital punishment in Mexico. [37]

Following Caro Quintero's release from prison on August 9, he has not been seen in public. [38] There were rumors, however, that he had paid a visit to his hometown of Badiraguato, Sinaloa. [39]

On March 7, 2018, the Mexican military used Black Hawk helicopters to search for Caro Quintero, dropping Marines into the mountain villages of La Noria, Las Juntas, Babunica, and Bamopa, all in the Badiraguato Municipality, but their hunt was unsuccessful. [40] Caro Quintero is among the 15 most-wanted fugitives of Interpol. If arrested abroad, he will be immediately extradited to Mexico. [41] [42] The US government is offering a $20 million bounty for his capture. [43] [2]

Proceso interview

On July 24, 2016, while still on the run, Caro Quintero gave an interview to Proceso magazine. [44] In this interview he claims he did not kill Enrique Camarena. He told the reporter that after his release from prison, he was visited (separately) by "El Chapo" Guzman and Ismael "El Mayo" Zambada. He claims he told them he did not want to return to the business. He also told the reporter that he was no longer a drug trafficker, and peace was the only thing he desired.

Huffington Post interview

Huffington Post journalist Anabel Hernández visited Caro Quintero in his home in Mazatlan, Mexico in April 2018. [45] Despite having security guards, Caro Quintero was no longer able to live the lavish lifestyle he had when he was a major drug lord, was now living in a shabby mountainous home, and appeared to be aging and frail. [45] During the interview, he rehashed that he wanted to be left in peace and that he also spends his days looking for drones. [45] He also revealed that he was suffering from an ill prostate and was not speaking to his wife Diane or any of his children. [45] He also denied allegations of being a senior leader in the Sinaloa cartel or being active in the drug trade. [45] Former DEA agent Mike Vigil, who previously lead the DEA international operations and was highly active in investigating Mexican drug operations, [46] described Caro Quintero as "a shell" of his former self and stated that it was "ludicrous" to look into allegations that he might have leadership in the Sinaloa Cartel. [45] Vigil even stated "Right now, we don’t have any information that he is actually working with anybody." [45] It was acknowledged that Caro Quintero's cousin Sajid, who was arrested by US authorities in October 2017 and plead guilty to charges of drug trafficking and money laundering in a California courthouse on January 25, 2018, [45] may have started these allegations in order to make a deal with prosecutors. [45]

In media

Caro Quintero is portrayed in Narcos: Mexico by Tenoch Huerta Mejía.

See also


  1. Though DEA agent Enrique Camarena Salazar worked for the U.S. Embassy in Mexico, he did not hold a "diplomatic post". If he did, his murder would have been considered a federal crime under Mexican law. [31]

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