Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story stated Ezequiel Godinez-Cervantes was arrested in connection with the killing of DEA Special Agent Enrique Camareno. Mexican authorities released that information, but the DEA has since issued a release to confirm Godinez-Cervantes was arrested on two warrants for violating the terms of his supervised release.
A convicted drug trafficker implicated in the 1985 torture and killing of a DEA agent was arrested in Mexico and returned to California to face a charge of probation violation.
U.S. Citizen Ezequiel Godinez-Cervantes, 77, was arrested Wednesday in Mexicali by authorities acting on information from the FBI that he had crossed the border.
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Godinez-Cervantes 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.
According to officials with the DEA, Godinez-Cervantes was wanted since October 2018 for probation violations involving a 1997 federal court case in California, court records indicate. That case involved a previous prison-escape conviction in 1997.
Godinez-Cervantes, a Texas native, was a member of the now-defunct Guadalajara Cartel, Baja California state police indicated.
According to a press release issued by the DEA Friday evening, Godinez-Cervantes has a historical connection to Rafael Caro-Quintero, who is wanted for his alleged involvement in the notorious kidnapping and murder of San Diego-based DEA Special Agent Enrique "Kiki" Camarena in 1985 in Mexico.
Last April, the FBI added Caro-Quintero to the FBI Top Ten Most Wanted Fugitives List. Today, the Department of State’s Narcotics Rewards Program is offering a reward of up to $20 million for information leading to the arrest and conviction of Caro-Quintero, the DEA said.
The cartel was implicated in the agent's slaying and witnesses also implicated Godinez-Cervantes, although he was never charged with the killing, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported.
The same witnesses implicated Godinez-Cervantes in the 1984 kidnap-killings of four Jehovah's Witnesses as they sold religious books door-to-door in Mexico. But Godinez also wasn't charged in their deaths, the paper reported.
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-Cervantes was arrested in Texas in 1996, but the charges against him were dropped the next year. He was also was convicted of federal drug trafficking charges in Texas in the 1990s.
The horrific killing of Camarena marked the first time a cartel had attacked and killed a U.S. drug agent.
"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.
"His name has morphed into a symbol of the drug wars between the United States and Mexico," Von Helms told NBC 7.
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 July 2014, Camarena’s son, Enrique S. Camarena Jr., took his oath as a San Diego Superior Court judge, following in his father’s “legacy of duty.”
He was 11 years old when members of the narco-trafficking cartel tortured and murdered his father.
Last May, the DEA Special Agent in Charge for the San Diego Division announced the takedown of the “biggest and baddest” drug traffickers, motivated by Camarena’s death.