Drug War Cowboys

The DEA may finally get its man

Michoacán drug runners were being apprehended throughout the United States, particularly in the rural Midwest and the West Coast. Six-figure money wires to Michoacán were coming from as far north as Yakima, Washington.

"All the biggest wires from some of these cities on the West Coast were flowing into Michoacán," the agent says. "And this wasn't money back from [people working] construction to their family. This was big money."

In 1999, Mexican and U.S. agents were getting numerous tips that Vasquez had fled Michoacán for Compeche. They learned, too, that he had a new wife.

FBI and DEA offices were flooded with tips once Vasquez-Mendoza made the Ten Most Wanted list.
FBI and DEA offices were flooded with tips once Vasquez-Mendoza made the Ten Most Wanted list.

Federales and DEA agents chased Vasquez through Compeche into Puebla. There, they learned that Vasquez was making regular phone calls from a telephone booth to his wife's family.

Using high-tech surveillance equipment, DEA officials pinpointed the phone booth from which the couple was making calls. They staked out the booth and, a few days later when Vasquez and his wife showed up to make another call, agents nabbed him.

Vasquez was flown to Mexico City to verify he was the correct suspect. Once he was identified, U.S. officials in Arizona and Washington began flooding Mexican officials with what they hoped was the evidence and paperwork necessary to get Vasquez extradited.

For any hope of extradition, U.S. officials had to agree that they would not seek the death penalty, which is not allowed under Mexican law. Mexico's foreign minister also has not allowed Vasquez to face a conspiracy murder charge and aggravated assault charges that American prosecutors had filed against him.

Still, seven counts remain, including first-degree murder.

"We've had some real good cooperation with a number of Mexican prosecutors," says Tom Hannis, an assistant U.S. attorney who is handling the case.

On November 30, Vasquez filed his last appeal in an attempt to prevent extradition. If that appeal is denied, Vasquez could be on a plane to Phoenix.

That's a big could, though, according to U.S. attorneys and DEA officials.

"We could be in limbo again, too," the assistant U.S. attorney says, referring to the convoluted appeals process that could continue at the judge's whim.

If and when Vasquez arrives in Phoenix, he will be turned over to Glendale police and then delivered for his initial appearance in Maricopa County court. He then probably will be transferred to Maricopa County Jail.

Expect a media blitz.

"It's a big deal, and once he comes, we're going to spread the word," Molesa says. "So many people in several different agencies in the U.S. and Mexico worked so many long, dangerous hours on this case. They deserve a little appreciation for a job well done."

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