Rafael Caro Quintero (born October 3, 1952) is a Mexican drug lord who co-founded the now-disintegrated Guadalajara Cartel with Miguel Ángel Félix Gallardo and other drug traffickers in the late 1970s. He is also the founder and current suspected leader of the newly formed Caborca Cartel based in
Sonora Sonora (), officially Free and Sovereign State of Sonora ( es, Estado Libre y Soberano de Sonora), is one of 32 states which comprise the Federal Entities of Mexico Mexico ( es, México ; Nahuan languages: ), officially the United Mexican ...
. He is also the brother of fellow drug trafficker Miguel Caro Quintero, the founder and former leader of the defunct Sonora Cartel. Having formed the Guadalajara Cartel in the 1970s, Caro Quintero worked with Gallardo, Ernesto Fonseca Carrillo, and Pedro Avilés Pérez by shipping large quantities of marijuana to the United States from Mexico. He was responsible for the kidnapping and murder of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agent Kiki Camarena, Enrique "Kiki" Camarena, Camarena's pilot Alfredo Zavala Avelar, the American writer John Clay Walker, and dentistry student Alberto Radelat in 1985. After the murders, Caro Quintero fled to Costa Rica but was later arrested and extradited back to Mexico, where he was sentenced to 40-years in prison for murder. Following his arrest, the Guadalajara Cartel disintegrated, and its leaders were incorporated into the Tijuana Cartel, Sinaloa Cartel, and Juárez Cartel. Caro Quintero was freed from jail on August 9, 2013, after a state court concluded that he had been tried improperly. However, amid pressure from the federal government of the United States to re-arrest him, a Mexican federal court issued an arrest warrant against Caro Quintero on August 14. Caro Quintero is still wanted for his previous affiliation with drug trafficking and involvement in the 1985 murders. He remains at large, as a wanted fugitive in Mexico, the United States, and several other countries. The United States is offering a $20 million bounty for his arrest, the highest such value of all fugitives currently listed in FBI's FBI Ten Most Wanted Fugitives, Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list. Caro Quintero lost his final appeal to avoid extradiction to the United States on March 27, 2021.

Early life

Rafael Caro Quintero was born in the community of La Noria, Badiraguato, Sinaloa, on October 3, 1952. His parents, Emilio Caro Payán and Hermelinda Quintero, had twelve children; he was the oldest son. His father worked in agriculture and grazing, and died when Caro Quintero was 14 years old. With his father's absence, he worked to take care of his family alongside his mother. At the age of 16, he left La Noria and settled in Caborca, Caborca, Sonora, where he worked in livestock grazing. Two years later, he worked as a truck driver in Sinaloa. He also worked at a bean and corn plantation in Sinaloa before deciding to leave his home state to join the drug trade altogether in the neighboring state of Chihuahua.

Criminal career

When he was a teenager, Caro Quintero allegedly began to grow marijuana on a low scale, at the ranch owned by his brother Jorge Luis. In less than five years, Caro Quintero managed to buy several other ranches in the surrounding areas and began to amass larger amounts of money and influence. He is said to have first worked for the drug traffickers Pedro Avilés Pérez and Ernesto Fonseca Carrillo before forming the Guadalajara Cartel with Miguel Ángel Félix Gallardo, Juan José Esparragoza Moreno, and others in the late 1970s. He has been cited as a pioneer of the drug trade in Mexico and has been described as one of the pre-eminent drug traffickers of his generation.

Personal Information

Allegations of involvement in murders

John Clay Walker and Albert Radelat

Caro Quintero has been accused of ordering the abduction, torture, and murder of writer John Clay Walker and dentistry student Albert Radelat on January 30, 1985. According to the allegations, the two Americans were dining in a Guadalajara restaurant when they encountered Caro Quintero and his men as they accidentally walked into one of Caro Quintero's private parties. Caro Quintero is alleged to have then ordered his men to seize the Americans and take them to a store room, where they were tortured with ice picks and interrogated. John Walker died on the scene from blunt force trauma to the head. Albert Radelat was still alive when he was wrapped in tablecloths, taken to a park near the city, and buried. The men's bodies were found six months later buried at the San Isidro Mazatepec Park in Zapopan. The authorities believe that Caro Quintero had mistaken Walker and Radelat for U.S. undercover agents.

Enrique "Kiki" Camarena

Caro Quintero has also been accused of involvement in the murder of US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agent Enrique Camarena (DEA Agent), Enrique "Kiki" Camarena Salazar. In November 1984, the Mexican authorities raided a ranch known as El Búfalo in the state of Chihuahua (state), Chihuahua, owned by Caro Quintero. The authorities reportedly burned more than 10,000 tons of marijuana – totaling a loss of around $160 million. Camarena, who had been working undercover in Mexico, was said to be responsible for leading the authorities to the ranch. This allegedly prompted Caro Quintero and other high-ranking members of the Guadalajara Cartel to seek revenge against the DEA and Camarena. In retribution, Camarena and his pilot Alfredo Zavala Avelar were kidnapped in Guadalajara on February 7, 1985, taken to a residence owned by Quintero located at 881 Lope de Vega in the colonia of Jardines del Bosque, in the western section of the city, brutally tortured, and murdered. Caro Quintero then left Mexico on March 9, 1985 with his associates and his girlfriend Sara Cristina Cosío Gaona. Former Mexican Judicial Police chief Armando Pavón Reyes, after receiving a $300,000 bribe, reportedly allowed Caro Quintero to flee from the airport in Guadalajara, in a private jet, to seek refuge in Costa Rica. The police chief was fired shortly afterward, and was charged with bribery and complicity in the Camarena murder.


Locals from Badiraguato, Sinaloa, Caro Quintero's hometown, recall that Caro Quintero was a benefactor in the area in the 1980s. The town's mayor, Ángel Robles Bañuelos, said in a 2013 interview that Caro Quintero financed the construction of a highway in Badiraguato and helped electrify the area. The mayor recalled that before the highway was built, it would take days for people to travel in and out of Badiraguato.

Arrest and aftermath

On April 4, 1985, Caro Quintero was arrested in his Alajuela, Costa Rica mansion, while sleeping, just from the Juan Santamaria International Airport and Extradition, extradited to Mexico on charges of involvement in Camarena's murder. He was sentenced to 40 years for the murder of Camarena and other crimes. The US also hopes to try Caro Quintero, and the DEA still has him listed as a wanted fugitive. Caro Quintero was first imprisoned at the Federal Social Readaptation Center No. 1 maximum security prison Almoloya de Juárez, Almoloya de Juárez, State of Mexico. Even though Caro Quintero was to face a maximum of 199 years in prison, Mexican law during that time did not allow for inmates to serve more than 40. In 2007, he was transferred to another maximum security prison, known as Puente Grande, in the state of Jalisco. In 2010, a federal judge granted him the right to be transferred to another prison in Jalisco. Caro Quintero's Guadalajara Cartel fell apart in the early 1990s, and its remaining leaders went on to establish their own drug trafficking organizations: in Tijuana, a large family formed the Tijuana Cartel; in Chihuahua, a group controlled by Amado Carrillo Fuentes formed the Juárez Cartel; and the remaining faction moved to Sinaloa and formed the Sinaloa Cartel under the traffickers Joaquín Guzmán Loera, Joaquín ''El Chapo'' Guzmán and Ismael Zambada García, Ismael ''El Mayo'' Zambada. Caro Quintero's brother Miguel Caro Quintero succeeded him and formed the Sonora Cartel, which branched out of the Sinaloa organization. The United States government believes that Caro Quintero ran his criminal empire behind bars through at least six of his family members, by creating a front that laundered millions of dollars through a gas station, construction company, shoe factory, restaurant, real estate development companies, among others.


In the early hours of August 9, 2013, a tribunal ordered the immediate release of Caro Quintero after he had served 28 years in prison. After a motion by Rosalía Isabel Moreno Ruiz, who is a state judge and Magistrate#Mexico, magistrate the Jalisco state court ruled that Caro Quintero was tried improperly in a federal courtroom for crimes that should have been treated at a state level: when Caro Quintero was given his 40-year sentence in the 1980s, he was convicted for murder (a state crime) and not for drug trafficking (a federal one). The magistrate ordered Caro Quintero's release after he had served time for other crimes he had committed throughout his reign as leader of the Guadalajara Cartel. The release of Caro Quintero outraged the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama; the United States Department of Justice said they were "extremely disappointed" with the drug lord's release and stated that they were going to pursue Caro Quintero for pending charges in the United States. The Association of Former Federal Narcotics Agents expressed their disappointment, too, but stated that Caro Quintero's release was a result of the corruption that besets Mexico's judicial system. Mexico's Attorney General (Mexico), Attorney General Jesús Murillo Karam also expressed his concern vis-à-vis the case, stating that he was "worried" about Caro Quintero's release and that he would investigate whether additional charges were pending in Mexico. On August 14, 2013, a federal court granted the Attorney General of Mexico, Office of the General Prosecutor (Spanish: ''Procuraduría General de la República, PGR'') an arrest warrant against Caro Quintero after the United States government issued a petition to the Mexican government. Once the Mexican authorities re-arrest Caro Quintero, the U.S. government has a maximum limit of 60 days to present a formal extradition request. Mexico's Attorney General clarified, however, that if arrested, Caro Quintero cannot be extradited to the United States for the murder of Camarena, because Mexican law prohibits criminals from being tried for the same crime in another country. U.S. lawyers, nonetheless, may argue that Caro Quintero's initial trial was illegitimate in the first place and that double jeopardy is not applicable. In order for Caro Quintero's extradition to be accepted by Mexico, the United States has to present other criminal charges and accept that he would not face the death penalty if convicted, because there are no laws for capital punishment in Mexico. Following Caro Quintero's release from prison on August 9, he has not been seen in public. There were rumors, however, that he had paid a visit to his hometown of Badiraguato, Sinaloa. On March 7, 2018, the Mexican military used Black Hawk helicopters to search for Caro Quintero, dropping Marines into the mountain villages of La Noria, Las Juntas, Babunica, and Bamopa, all in the Badiraguato Municipality, but their hunt was unsuccessful. Caro Quintero is among the 15 most-wanted fugitives of Interpol. If arrested abroad, he will be immediately extradited to Mexico. The US government is offering a $20 million bounty for his capture. At the time of the arrest of Caro Quintero's cousin Quintero Navidad in the U.S. state of California in 2017, it was acknowledged Navidad had become an associate of Sinaloa Cartel leader Ismael Zambada-Garcia, a.k.a. El Mayo. On May 1, 2019, Caro Quintero's longtime associate Ezequiel Godinez-Cervantes was arrested for violating his parole. In January 2020, Caro Quintero's nephew Ismael Quintero Arellanes was arrested in Mexico on drug and weapons charges. On May 26, 2020, Caro Quintero's lawyer filed for an appeal to drop not only more recent drug trafficking charges, but also charges filed against him in 2015 regarding the kidnapping and qualified homicide of DEA agent Kiki Camarena, Enrique “Kiki” Camarena and Mexican pilot Alfredo Zavala Avelar, stating Caro Quintero did not have any chance of obtaining the financial resources needed to survive a new trial. In court documents, the lawyer stated “The plaintiff argues insolvency, because he says he is more than 60 years old, is neither retired nor has a pension, and given the fact that he is a fugitive from the law, cannot work or perform any activity to earn money.”https://www.theyucatantimes.com/2020/05/mexican-drug-lord-rafael-caro-quintero-pleads-poverty-in-bid-to-escape-arrest/ The appeal was filed before the First Collegiate Court in Criminal Matters in Mexico City. Convicted former Guadalajara Cartel leader Ernesto Fonseca Carrillo, Ernesto Fonseca, “Don Neto”, is accused of conspiring with Caro Quintero in the murder of Camarena and the pilot, but was later transferred to house arrest due to his advanced age.https://www.explica.co/rafael-caro-quintero-for-whom-the-us-offers-20-billion-says-he-has-no-money/ In June 2020, it was revealed that Sinaloa Cartel's Los Salazar affiliate was now a major figure in Sonora's drug trafficking business.https://www.infobae.com/america/mexico/2020/06/24/va-a-caer-antes-que-muera-de-viejo-la-advertencia-de-mike-vigil-a-caro-quintero-el-narco-de-narcos/ However, both Rafael and Miguel Caro Quintero had recently rejected offers to join the Sinaloa Cartel due to a fallout with the sons of imprisoned former leader Joaquín Archivaldo Guzmán over leadership status. Despite this, both were said to be on good terms with de jure Sinaloa Cartel leader Ismael "El Mayo" Zambada, who was now in poor health.https://www.infobae.com/america/mexico/2020/06/24/va-a-caer-antes-que-muera-de-viejo-la-advertencia-de-mike-vigil-a-caro-quintero-el-narco-de-narcos/ Ex-DEA agent Mike Vigil continued to downplay Caro Quintero's role in the drug trafficking business and stated that "He will fall before he dies of old age." A Mexican court dismissed suggestions that the murder of Enrique Camarena was purely a Mexican affair and opened the door to extradiction on 1985 murder charges of the former DEA agent on March 27, 2021.

''Proceso'' interview

On July 24, 2016, while still on the run, Caro Quintero gave an interview to ''Proceso'' magazine. In this interview he claims he did not kill Enrique Camarena. He told the reporter that after his release from prison, he was visited (separately) by "El Chapo" Guzman and Ismael "El Mayo" Zambada. He claims he told them he did not want to return to the business. He also told the reporter that he was no longer a drug trafficker, and peace was the only thing he desired.

''Huffington Post'' interview

Huffington Post journalist Anabel Hernández visited Caro Quintero in his home in Mazatlán, Mexico in April 2018. Despite having security guards, Caro Quintero was no longer able to live the lavish lifestyle he had when he was a major drug lord, was now living in a shabby mountain home, and appeared to be aging and frail. During the interview, he rehashed that he wanted to be left in peace and that he also spends his days looking for drones. He also revealed that he was suffering from an ill prostate and was not speaking to his wife Diane or any of his children. He also denied allegations of being a senior leader in the Sinaloa cartel or being active in the drug trade. Former DEA agent Mike Vigil, who previously led the DEA international operations and was highly active in investigating Mexican drug operations,https://www.pri.org/stories/2014-11-05/retired-dea-agent-dishes-his-years-spent-infiltrating-mexican-and-colombian described Caro Quintero as "a shell" of his former self and stated that it was "ludicrous" to look into allegations that he might have leadership in the Sinaloa Cartel. Vigil even stated "Right now, we don’t have any information that he is actually working with anybody." It was acknowledged that Caro Quintero's cousin Sajid, who was arrested by US authorities in October 2017 and pled guilty to charges of drug trafficking and money laundering in a California courthouse on January 25, 2018, may have started these allegations in order to make a deal with prosecutors.

In popular culture

Caro Quintero is portrayed in ''Narcos: Mexico'' by Tenoch Huerta Mejía.

See also

*List of fugitives from justice who disappeared *Mexican Drug War




* * * * {{DEFAULTSORT:Caro Quintero, Rafael 1952 births Fugitives wanted by Mexico Fugitives wanted by the United States Guadalajara Cartel traffickers Living people Mexican drug traffickers Mexican drug war Mexican crime bosses Mexican money launderers Mexican people convicted of murder People convicted of murder by Mexico People from Badiraguato Municipality People named in the Panama Papers People sanctioned under the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act