Part I: Cartel informer goes deeper in

By Terrapinzflyer · Sep 28, 2009 · ·
  1. Terrapinzflyer
    Part I: Cartel informer goes deeper in

    On the afternoon of Oct. 6, 2006, two men drove a bronze Jeep Cherokee to a Target store in Mesa, where they bought adult diapers and baseball batting gloves.

    That evening, they picked up a third man, Ymer Orozco, at a west Phoenix truck stop, then headed east on Interstate 10. For more than an hour, the three were followed by a police helicopter overhead and by 17 officers in unmarked cars.

    But the surveillance team lost track of the Cherokee in a Tempe neighborhood, where the vehicle slipped into a garage on South Evergreen Road. The three men went into the house. At gunpoint, Ymer was ordered to take off his pants and put on the diapers. His wrists were cuffed, his legs bound in duct tape. He was interrogated and beaten with fists protected by the batting gloves. And then his head was placed in a plastic bag secured around his neck with tape.

    All the while, frantic officers circled the neighborhood, desperate to find Ymer - their undercover informer - before it was too late.

    Disdain for drug dealers

    Within the violent culture of drug smugglers and cartel killers, the story of what happened in that suburban Tempe house is as revealing as it is chilling.

    Arizona's border has been America's No. 1 drug-smuggling corridor for a decade, with metro Phoenix serving as the transportation hub. Drug lords maintain security forces to ensure payment, protect loads from theft, eliminate informants and fend off cops or competitors. Drug-related killings have claimed 11,500 lives in Mexico since 2006.

    Some of that violence extends to Maricopa County, where Phoenix has been branded as the nation's leader in kidnappings. Most involve drugs and illegal immigration.

    Ymer, a 46-year-old former milk-delivery driver, emigrated from Mexico 30 years ago and became a U.S. citizen. He married his childhood sweetheart and raised two children in Southern California.

    Ymer was not a criminal working for cops to avoid prosecution or prison but a paid operative and family man who kept a Bible in his big rig. He had quit his job and volunteered to help detectives bust major cocaine dealers, saying he could not stand to see drug criminals get rich in a business that endangers children.

    Ymer entered the realm of ruthless smugglers and rip-off artists with no experience.

    "He didn't have no criminal history, and he was kind of green to this, ya know, kind of naive," one police detective noted in an affidavit.

    During an undercover operation gone awry, Ymer was introduced to the horrors of the drug trade.

    Protecting the family

    One of the men with Ymer in the Jeep Cherokee was Edgar Javier Enriquez, a land-development manager who later told police he got into the narcotics business unwillingly.

    A civil engineer, Edgar studied at Arizona State University and once served as president of the school's Hispanic engineering association. At 28, he lived in a Scottsdale house with a swimming pool shaded by palm trees. He worked for a major Arizona home builder on multimillion-dollar real-estate projects. He said he even had speaking engagements at local schools, talking to students about business careers.

    That all changed in 2005 when, Edgar says, his uncle ran afoul of drug dealers who threatened the entire extended family.

    A drug ring rises

    In 2005, a group of robbers, or bajadores, ambushed a truckload of cocaine heading through Phoenix. The gangsters purportedly made off with more than $1 million in drugs.

    Edgar told police later that one of the thieves was his uncle. Somehow, cartel figures in Mexico learned who was responsible for the heist and threatened to kill everyone involved, as well as their relatives.

    Edgar said his uncle repaid $300,000 and begged for his life. The cartel demanded more money.

    The uncle turned to Edgar, pleading: "The family is in danger because, you know, we're continuing to run, and they're gonna catch up to us. . . . They're gonna go after the whole family, your mom, dad, whoever has money. . . . Can you help me out?"

    In June 2005, Edgar told authorities, he and others formed a narcotics syndicate to pay off the debt, enlisting relatives and acquaintances. Two of the acquaintances managed the U.S. distribution of cocaine for the powerful Pacific, or Sinaloa, Cartel, which controlled smuggling routes through the deserts of Sonora and Arizona.

    Edgar and a cousin, Rodolfo "Rudy" Ochoa, agreed to take shipments and move the drugs to relatives and associates in New York, where they could resell a $22,000 kilo of cocaine from Arizona for as much as $35,000.

    The two bought a Chevy Tahoe, hired a relative to install a hidden compartment and began making shipments. Edgar soon had his own street alias, "El Ingeniero," referring to his engineering background.

    A sting unfolds

    By March 2006, there were regular squabbles within the so-called Enriquez Drug Trafficking Organization. One member was constantly snorting cocaine, Rudy was sick of driving to the East Coast and back, and the group was barely turning a profit.

    Edgar's uncle, aware of the bickering and fatigue, recommended Ymer as a long-haul trucker who could transport the drugs. Neither realized that the diminutive Ymer, just over 5 feet tall, was an informer with the Los Angeles Police Department.

    On Aug. 21, 2006, after Ymer advised his LA handlers that he had infiltrated an Arizona smuggling syndicate, he was introduced to the Phoenix Police Department's Drug Conspiracy Squad, a unit that uses wiretaps to bust major traffickers.

    A sting operation was planned.

    Ymer met with Edgar, who agreed to pay an $850 transportation fee for each kilogram. He also provided cash for Ymer to buy a 2000 Kenworth tractor-trailer rig.

    A week later, Ymer was scheduled to make his first drug run to the East Coast, a trip for which he would be paid nearly $30,000.

    Edgar and Rudy picked up 35 kilograms of cocaine worth more than $750,000 from a Scottsdale stash house, leaving 13 kilos behind. The two men climbed into a black Ford truck and headed toward Desert Ridge Marketplace, where they planned to meet Ymer.

    On the way, they were pulled over by uniformed police officers for making an illegal turn. Officers placed Edgar and Rudy in the cruiser and took them to a police station for fingerprints and photographs. The truck was left parked at the side of the road.

    Edgar and Rudy didn't know it, but the traffic stop was a ruse carried out at the instruction of detectives.

    While the pair were at the police station, detectives broke into the Ford and took a duffel bag filled with drugs. The maneuver, known as a rip-off, is meant to create confusion in a drug ring. Detectives hoped the confusion and panic sowed by the charade would provide evidence to help them build their case against Edgar and Rudy.

    They also hoped that ripping off the drugs before Ymer received them would insulate him from suspicion.

    Edgar and Rudy were held for a short time while detectives took the drugs, then they were released without charges.

    Risk to informer grows

    Detective David Duron, Ymer's police handler, watched the two men return to their vehicle.

    "I could see them open the door to the black Ford truck, throw their hands in the air," Duron wrote in an affidavit.

    "I did not believe our plan . . . would place Ymer in any more danger than he was already in by virtue of his involvement (with the traffickers)."

    Under Duron's direction, Ymer phoned Edgar a short time later and left a message, asking what happened to their rendezvous at the mall. "I'm here. Where are you guys?"

    Ymer called again later and told Edgar he had waited but finally had to leave to meet a delivery deadline.

    At that point, police decided it was too risky to continue using Ymer as an informer. They sensed Edgar's desperation and feared that Ymer, as a new guy in the organization, would be among the first people suspected of betrayal by the paranoid drug smuggler.

    Duron instructed Ymer to sever all ties with Edgar.

    But Ymer argued that he and his family would be in jeopardy if he simply walked away. He pressed police to set up a more-convincing subterfuge.

    The discussion went on for weeks while Ymer continued having phone conversations with Edgar.

    Ymer was paid $7,000 for helping to set up the rip-off. He was again told to break off communications with the traffickers.

    "I gave him some fake (traffic) tickets so that he could show (Edgar) Enriquez that he had been stopped by the police," Duron wrote. "I told him that he could explain to them that he had a lot of 'heat' on him."

    Ymer answered that the tickets would not be convincing. He asked Duron to carry out a second sting.

    "You guys have to arrest me together with them" to throw off suspicion, he said. "Then you can get me out . . . and everything (is) done."

    by Dennis Wagner - Sept. 27, 2009 12:00 AM
    The Arizona Republic

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  1. Terrapinzflyer
    Part II: Panic, fear trigger a smuggler's trap

    In October 2006, Edgar Javier Enriquez joined hundreds of Mexican pilgrims in a 60-mile religious march, known as a "manda," begging God to deliver him from his troubles.

    As the leader of a Phoenix drug-trafficking syndicate, Edgar had just lost a large shipment of cocaine. He didn't know who stole the drugs. But he knew that an "enforcer" for a Mexican drug cartel had been assigned to solve the mystery.

    He also knew that if the enforcer could not hunt down the drugs, money and thieves, Edgar and his partner, who were selling the cocaine on behalf of the cartel, would be held accountable for the loss.

    "We were screwed," Edgar said. "The drugs, they were a loan. They were fronted. So now we don't have money to pay it. OK, we're screwed because they're gonna say, 'How can 35 (kilograms) disappear?' "

    In desperation, Edgar said, he joined the manda through northern Sonora, promising St. Francis that he would complete the prayerful trek from Nogales to Magdalena de Kino in return for a miracle.

    The prayers were not answered.

    So Edgar agreed to join the cartel's enforcer in a plot to kidnap and torture the one man who could tell them what happened to the missing drugs.

    The day the cocaine was stolen, Edgar and his partner, Rodolfo "Rudy" Ochoa, were headed to Desert Ridge Marketplace in north Phoenix to meet a trucker, Ymer Orozco, whom they had hired to deliver the drugs to New York.

    It was their first deal with Orozco, who had agreed to a fee of nearly $30,000.

    Before the rendezvous, Edgar and Rudy were stopped by uniformed police in a patrol car for making an illegal turn. The pair were detained for pictures and fingerprints. When officers released them a short time later, they returned to Edgar's black Ford truck at the side of the road and discovered the drugs were gone.

    They suspected that Ymer must have been part of the rip-off plot, somehow arranging for corrupt police to make the stop while cohorts raided the truck.

    Ymer was, in fact, part of the heist. Police believed the heist would create confusion and panic in the drug ring and help them build a case.

    Rather than conspiring with bandits or another cartel, Ymer was employed by Phoenix narcotics detectives as an informer, paid to infiltrate the criminal organization.

    Will kill their family

    Edgar maintained contact with the ruthless Pacific, or Sinaloa, Cartel through a pair of Arizona representatives. One was a drug-shipment arranger known as "El Profe," or The Professor. The other, he said, was a man named Luis Hernandez, identified in court papers as a former member of the Mexican military with special-forces training. Edgar said he was the stepson of a drug lord known as Segundo del Pacifico, the cartel's second in command.

    They allegedly gave Edgar two weeks to find the drug thieves or pay off the debt.

    Edgar said he tried to borrow on his house, but the loan was denied.

    He and Rudy decided to deliver their remaining 13 kilos of cocaine to New York buyers, hoping the proceeds would mollify cartel leaders temporarily.

    That plan also failed: Rudy was arrested on Sept. 26, 2006, as he arrived in Long Island with the drugs. (He later pleaded guilty to conspiracy, receiving a five-year prison sentence, according to court records.)

    Back in the Valley, Edgar was alone.

    "Hope was lost," he said. "I get a call from this guy, El Profe, . . . coming directly from his superiors in Mexico. I better be telling the truth, or whoever had their drugs, they were gonna kill them and their family. They are saying, 'Hasta el gato les vamos a matar.' " ("We will even kill your cat.")

    A trap is set

    Edgar said Luis began dogging him, so there was no recourse but to find Ymer and make him identify those involved.

    Together, they set a trap, contacting the truck driver and claiming that a huge shipment of narcotics, 1,500 kilos, was coming from Mexico to be stored in a Valley warehouse. Edgar said he needed Ymer to deliver some of that load to the East Coast.

    Ymer, who feared that he was suspected in the rip-off, saw the proposal as a clean way to exit his undercover job. If he set up another sting, police could arrest him along with the suspects, while seizing a cocaine stash worth upward of $30 million. Later, Ymer could be transferred to an out-of-state prison and then freed.

    His handler, Detective David Duron, said he agreed to the operation only because Ymer refused to break off contact with the suspects and "was going to proceed irrespective of whether there was police surveillance and involvement."

    Ymer arranged to meet Edgar on Oct. 6, 2006, at a truck stop on 59th Avenue at Interstate 10, and then follow him to a warehouse where the drugs were stored.

    Detectives put a GPS tracking device in Ymer's diesel rig. They also installed a hidden device on Edgar's truck that morning while it was parked outside a Scottsdale deli.

    But Edgar and Luis didn't use that vehicle. Before meeting Ymer, they switched to a Jeep Cherokee.

    The two men ran several errands. Luis picked up a gun at his house and dropped off $10,000 cash. At a Target store, they bought batting gloves to protect their hands while throwing punches and adult diapers because that's what cartel henchmen in Mexico use to prevent messy torture sessions.

    Said Edgar: "They don't want to deal with someone that's scared or crying and pooping on himself, you know."

    by Dennis Wagner - Sept. 28, 2009 12:00 AM
    The Arizona Republic
  2. Terrapinzflyer
    As Phoenix officers close in, drug traffickers grill informer

    At 6:20 p.m. on Oct. 6, 2006, Ymer Orozco pulled his diesel rig into a truck stop in west Phoenix, just off Interstate 10.

    The slight, 46-year-old father of two climbed out and headed into the Waffle House at 59th Avenue.

    After a 50-minute wait, he received a call on his cellphone from two men, Edgar Javier Enriquez and Luis Hernandez, who had parked down the street in a Jeep Cherokee. They asked Ymer to join them.

    Each had a different reason for wanting to meet.

    Ymer, an undercover police informer, was setting up a sting so authorities could bust a major Arizona drug ring.

    Edgar, an Arizona drug trafficker, was trying to find out who stole a fortune in cocaine from him, putting his life in jeopardy.

    Luis, an enforcer for a Mexican cartel, wanted to recover the cocaine and money for his drug-lord bosses.

    The day did not go the way any of them planned.

    After receiving the call, Ymer walked outside the restaurant and down the street. Detective David Duron, a veteran narcotics officer and one of 17 surveillance-team members staking out the Waffle House, immediately phoned to ask what was going on.

    Ymer said he had been instructed to meet the suspects. Duron warned his informer not to get into a car with Edgar and Luis, no matter what.

    Yet moments later, Ymer climbed into the Cherokee, which drove off.

    Lt. Vince Piano, commander of the Phoenix Police Department's Drug Conspiracy Squad, called for a patrol unit to make an immediate stop. Duron persuaded him to hold off.

    The Cherokee followed an erratic route into the East Valley, trailed by a police helicopter and 17 officers in unmarked cars. Duron phoned Orozco twice during the drive, detecting no problem. He pulled his unmarked car alongside the Cherokee, checking to see if Ymer was in trouble, and saw no signs of duress.

    The Cherokee entered a quiet residential enclave in Tempe. The police helicopter was ordered to withdraw because of its noise. Unmarked cars were forced to back off. The suspects and informer vanished.

    Who's fooling whom?
    Weeks before the meeting at the Waffle House, police had surreptitiously seized 35 kilograms of cocaine from Edgar's truck.

    They were hoping that the maneuver, known as a rip-off, would lead to desperate mistakes that would help them take down the so-called Enriquez Drug Trafficking Organization. Ymer, whom Edgar had hired to drive the 35 kilograms of cocaine across the country, helped authorities set up the rip-off as part of a sting operation.

    In the aftermath, Duron instructed Ymer to cease all contact with the suspects because they might have figured out his involvement in the theft.

    Ymer, who had volunteered to help police bring down smuggling operations, protested that drug lords would know he orchestrated the theft if he just walked away, and the cartel would retaliate against him and his family.

    They argued for more than a month, until early October, when Ymer got another call from Edgar. He was told that a shipment of cocaine, roughly 1,500 kilograms, would be arriving soon at a Phoenix warehouse. He was offered a job delivering some of that stash to New York.

    With the prospect of a $30 million drug seizure, Ymer persuaded police to carry out one last sting operation.

    Under the plan, an army of cops would sweep down and make arrests as Ymer arrived at the warehouse. Ymer would be thrown in jail with the suspects so that drug lords could not identify him as a snitch. Later, Ymer could be transferred to an out-of-state prison and then freed. He and his family would be safe.

    But Edgar and Luis had a plan of their own. They knew Ymer helped arrange the earlier rip-off that cost them more than $750,000 and figured he was planning another heist.

    But, this time, they had no huge cocaine shipment, no warehouse. They made up the story to lure in Ymer so they could interrogate him.

    Conflicting stories
    There are divergent accounts of what happened once the Jeep Cherokee pulled up to the beige tract home on South Evergreen Road in Tempe. But some aspects of that evening are not in dispute.

    Ymer, wearing blue pants and a green shirt, was ordered to put on adult diapers. He then was handcuffed and forced into a closet, his ankles wrapped in duct tape.

    Edgar says Luis, who was brandishing a gun, demanded to know who stole the drugs. When Ymer claimed ignorance, he was given a black eye.

    Edgar admits to putting on a baseball batting glove and joining in the beating, saying he feared for his own life.

    "I was kind of desperate because I was thinking, you know, I was gonna get in that same situation as Ymer, and put me on the ground and say, well, now you two are gone," he said. "I was so scared I didn't want to show any weakness. I hit Ymer on the other eye . . . to knock some sense into him. I say, 'Ymer, they're gonna kill me. They're gonna kill my family. They're gonna kill you.' "

    Minutes later, a plastic bag was placed over Ymer's head, secured with tape against his face and neck.

    Luis would tell police later that he was in the garage at the time. Edgar, conversely, claimed he had left the room, but returned when he heard struggling noises from the closet.

    "So I walked in and . . . Luis had his hand over him," Edgar said. "He had tape over Ymer. . . . Ymer was, like, struggling. Luis put all his weight on top."

    After Ymer was still, Edgar told investigators, Luis announced that the truck driver belonged to a rival Mexican syndicate, the notorious Arellano-Felix Cartel.

    Edgar said he was relieved because the Pacific, or Sinaloa, Cartel, which had fronted him the cocaine that was stolen, would no longer hold him accountable for the missing drugs. But he had a new concern: "Now I'm thinking it's gonna be a drug war," he said. "Now, for sure, they're gonna kill my family, they're gonna kill me, everything is gonna go down."

    Informer still missing
    On the streets outside, cops were frantically searching for Ymer, who no longer answered his phone.

    Detectives knew that Luis had the house on South Evergreen. They kept the residence under surveillance but did not enter.

    At 10:30 p.m., more than three hours after picking up Ymer, Edgar and Luis left the house in an Oldsmobile. They drove to an apartment on Broadway Road, picked up Luis' girlfriend, then started driving around with no apparent destination.

    Edgar, who had spotted several dark sedans (presumably unmarked police cars) following in his rear-view mirror, was terrified that hit men from the Arellano-Felix Cartel already were after him. He began looking for a police station, figuring it would provide safe haven.

    "(If) we go into the local police department, they ain't gonna do nothing, you know?" he said.

    Instead, police pulled over the Oldsmobile.

    "We were happy," Edgar said, thinking he had just been saved from a rival gang.

    Edgar and Luis were arrested shortly after midnight. Thirty-five minutes later, police entered the house on Evergreen Road and found Ymer's body. They also discovered handcuffs, guns and about 20 pounds of marijuana wrapped in cellophane bricks.

    The autopsy report says Ymer was smothered and also suffered multiple contusions and abrasions to his lips, nose, cheek, head and torso.

    Duron, the detective, later summarized the homicide:

    "They wanted him to talk and they were going to scare him until he said something. Apparently, he suffocated."

    No trial date set for jailed defendants
    Edgar Javier Enriquez, 31, and Luis Hernandez, 26, are awaiting trial in Maricopa County Superior Court on charges of first-degree murder, kidnapping and drug offenses.

    They could face the death penalty if convicted. No trial date has been set.

    One month after Ymer Orozco was killed, Enriquez gave police his account of events in a lengthy “free talk.” Under a limited-immunity agreement, the government could use the statement as evidence only if he reached a plea agreement or if he gave conflicting testimony in court.

    There is no plea deal.

    Key statements from his free talk cannot be independently verified because Enriquez and Hernandez are the only living witnesses.

    Hernandez's attorney, Richard Gierloff, declined to comment. Lawrence Kazan, a lawyer for Enriquez, could not be reached.

    Ymer's widow and two children have sued the city of Phoenix and members of the Drug Conspiracy Squad for wrongful death and negligence.

    In U.S. District Court filings, the family's attorney, Joel Robbins, said police mishandled the sting operation and failed to give Ymer a reasonable escape from the case.

    “Motivated, at least in part, by their desire to complete a drug bust involving hundreds, and potentially thousands, of kilos of cocaine, defendants were indifferent to the danger,” Robbins wrote. “As a result … (Ymer) died.”

    Georgia Staton, an attorney for the city, said neither she nor her clients would discuss the case.

    In a motion for dismissal, Staton said informers are aware of the danger in dealing with narcotics traffickers. She argued that detectives took appropriate measures to protect Ymer, who “would be alive today” if he had stopped communicating with the suspects. “Orozco controlled his own destiny by staying involved in spite of (police) orders to the contrary,” Staton wrote. “The record is uncontroverted CQ that he repeatedly ignored directives intended to lessen the dangers.”

    Robbins responded in court that police are responsible for controlling informants, as well as protecting them. He noted that detectives agreed to the fatal sting, set up surveillance yet failed to save Ymer.

    Ymer's daughter, who asked not to be named, said family members fled their home in fear the day after the murder. She said they have struggled since then, emotionally and financially. “It's still not healed,” she said.

    The daughter, 22, recalled talking with her dad about the danger of undercover work in the days before his death. “He said, ‘I'm not going to clean up the whole world, but if I can keep drugs from at least one kid's hands, that's a good thing.'”

    The wrongful death case is pending.

    The murder defendants remain in jail.

    Edgar, during his talk with investigators, expressed fear that cartel hit men would take revenge on him and his family. “Am I talking? Yes,” he said. “Why? To come and put a final end to this because, you know, just too much happened. … The death of Ymer, (inaudible), that should never have happened, you know?”

    by Dennis Wagner - Sept. 29, 2009 12:00 AM
    The Arizona Republic
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