A 77-year-old man has been arrested in the 1985 killing of a Drug Enforcement Administration agent — a horrific death that marked the first time a cartel had attacked and killed a U.S. drug agent.
Ezequiel Godinez Cervantes was taken into custody by Mexican police Thursday in Mexicali, Mexico, after the Federal Bureau of Investigation tipped off authorities when Godinez crossed the border.
Godinez was handed over to U.S. authorities at the border and arraigned Thursday in federal court in El Centro. It was unclear whether he has a lawyer.
Godinez is accused of kidnapping and torturing San Diego DEA agent Enrique “Kiki” Camarena Salazar — an act that forever changed how the U.S. fought drug cartels.
The Texas native was a member of the now-defunct Guadalajara Cartel, Baja California state police indicated.
“The killing of an American agent on foreign soil was a huge game changer for the United States,” said Gretchen Von Helms, a criminal defense attorney who has no ties to the case. “They were obviously very interested in protecting their agents down there and at the time the DEA operated in Mexico much like it was in the United States. You didn’t believe that you could be killed.”
In February 1985, Camarena disappeared while working undercover. A month later, he was found dead on a ranch on the outskirts of Guadalajara, Mexico.
Officials said Camarena was tortured and murdered by the Guadalajara Cartel, which blamed the agent for the takedown of a marijuana plantation.
The cartel was reportedly run by Miguel Ángel Félix Gallardo and Rafael Caro Quintero, the latter of whom was added to the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted Fugitives list in 2018 — with a death. million bounty — for his supposed involvement in Camarena’s
Camarena’s legacy can be seen throughout the county with schools, a library, a foundation, and even an annual golf tournament named after him. Netflix’ “Narcos: Mexico” even portrayed Camarena’s career and eventual death.
“His name is really a household name. He’s very honored and very revered. And the law enforcement comes behind to protect his memory and to honor his memory,” said Von Helms.
In the 1990s, he was charged with the 1985 slayings of two U.S. residents in Guadalajara. The men, one from Texas and the other from Minnesota, unwittingly entered a bar where drug traffickers were partying and were stabbed with ice picks and beaten to death.
Godinez was arrested in Texas in 1996, but the charges against him were dropped the next year.