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