Big-time Smuggler's Blues

Michael Hooks' wild life as Mexico's "biggest grower" of them all

I organized the cultivation of 40-100 acres of pot on 29 farms.I organized the cultivation of 40-100 acres of pot on 29 farms.American Michael Hooks, who once ran a fleet of 28 airplanes out of Sonora, Mexico into the US, from Texas to California, says he?s being jobbed by the Federal government after cooperating with them to help nail one of Mexico?s biggest drug barons, Miguel Caro-Quintero.
The Federal government won?t discuss the case, but several defense lawyers who have tangled with the Drug Enforcement Administration over the years say they wouldn?t be surprised if Hooks was getting the screws put to him even though he turned snitch after several years in a Mexican prison, because he was connected ? whether actively or not ? with the single most dramatic killing of a DEA agent in the Administration?s history.

A book about DEA agent ?Kiki? CamarenaA book about DEA agent ?Kiki? CamarenaOn February 7th 1985, DEA agent Enrique ?Kiki? Camarena Salazar was kidnapped, along with his Mexican reconnaissance pilot Alfredo Zavala Avelar, shortly after leaving the DEA Headquarters in Guadalajara on the way to meet his wife for lunch. When he didn?t show up, Camarena?s wife contacted US Ambassador John Gavin, who contacted Mexican authorities and asked that a search be started. The Mexican authorities weren?t quick to respond, so the US initiated Operation Camarena, stopping and searching every vehicle passing from Mexico into the US and turning the border crossing into a nightmare along its entire 2,000-mile span.

One month later, on March 6th, someone tipped authorities that the bodies of both Camarena and Zavala could be found on a roadside 60 miles south of Guadalajara. The DEA soon got a copy of an audiotape of the torture session that lated for nine hours and ended with two deaths. Those who?ve heard the tape say it is unbearable to listen to. The discovery of the bodies and the appearance of the audio sparked Operation Leyenda (Operation Legend), the largest manhunt in DEA history.

One of several Cessna`s running pot from Mexico to California.One of several Cessna`s running pot from Mexico to California.What provoked Camarena and Zavala?s deaths was a bust they had initiated. The two were central in taking down the centerpiece of the Caro-Quintero clan?s operations in Chihuahua, a location called ?El Bufalo? that had 13 pot farms ranging from 500 to 1,200 acres. Each of the farms had the capability of growing over one million plants each. The DEA claimed that the raid resulted in the seizure of 8,000 tons of marijuana (sixteen million pounds). Michael Hooks, the man who ran the smuggling operation for the pot, laughs at that figure. ?There might have been that much there,? he told the Fort Worth Weekly when he recently surfaced for a few days, ?but some was still growing, some was drying, some was being cleaned. In any event, the Mexican government returned a lot of it within a week or so. And it was probably returned with apologies.? Whatever the figure, it is among the biggest pot busts in history.

?Tequila? and I in Cancun.?Tequila? and I in Cancun.Michael Hooks had no part in the Camarena killing. But when Operation Leyenda began, anyone and everyone connected to the Mexican drug trade ? and particularly to the Caro-Quinteros family ? was fair game to US authorities. If it hadn?t been for that killing, Hooks would have been retired from pot smuggling years ago and running a zoo in Cancun with his wife and kids. Instead, he?s in hiding from the Quinteros and was ripped off and exposed by the DEA after he helped to set up and locate one of the Caro-Quintero brothers. He?s also lost his family.

Michael Hooks invited Cannabis Culture magazine to interview him over three days for an exclusive inside look at the world of big-league pot growing and smuggling. He is tall, slim and good looking at 53, with dark deep-set eyes. He speaks evenly in a rich baritone, with an occasional chuckle. He wears a watch, and no other visible jewelry. He does not look like what you might expect from someone who might be the biggest pot smuggler of all time.

More exotic pets.More exotic pets.He was born in Orlando Florida and grew up in Alabama. His father was ?a Navy guy?; he had one brother and one sister and ?it was a great family?. He joined the Marine Corps the week he graduated from high school, at the height of the Vietnam War. He was put to work as a radar and missile electronic technician and subsequently sent to the Mexican border with his unit in Operation Grasshopper, an operation intended to stem the flow of marijuana coming into the US. ?If you ever want to make a smuggler out of someone,? laughs Hooks, ?teach them all the places where radar can?t detect movement. I was taught every blind spot on the border.?

Hooks was introduced to smoking marijuana while in the Marines and began to sell small amounts shortly after he left the Corps in 1973. Just months later he was busted in North Carolina for possession of a pound with intent to distribute and got three years. Three months into his sentence he was moved to a work farm. ?But then in September 1974 when President Ford gave Nixon a pardon, well, that really pissed me off,? he says. ?I?m doing time for pot and he?s let off the hook. So I decided to take off.?

More exotic pets.He describes his escape as a six-hour blur, running through swamps to keep the dogs and prison guards off his scent. At dusk he?d come to an old farm road and caught a ride to a truck stop. He called a friend, who picked him up and gave him money to fly home to Alabama where his dad gave him cash for clothes and he hitched to California. ?I still can?t figure out why nobody got me at the airport, or why not one of the policemen who stopped me while hitching had notice of my escape. I just got lucky.?

In California he met up with some former Marine friends who had connections to big loads of pot from Mexico, and he began moving some from California back east to North Carolina and Alabama. After several months of running pot, Hooks was connected to the suppliers and began to smuggle it over the border. ?The first time I did it I used a Buick Sunbeam with a false compartment in the front,? he says, adding that it turned out to be surprisingly easy, ?and kind of became a regular thing.?

My son Ramsey & a tiger cub.My son Ramsey & a tiger cub.Not long after he?d begun smuggling, one of his buyers told two dealers from Alabama, Woodrow Brown and Harold Garmony, about him. The pair had been recently busted and had no other connections. A meeting was set up and Brown flew into the LA airport to meet Hooks, handed him a briefcase full of money, and disappeared. ?He didn?t know me from Joe Blow,? says Hooks, shaking his head as if he still can?t quite believe it. There was $25,000 in the briefcase, a down payment on 500 pounds. Another $25,000 was due on delivery.

Hooks was hooked. He went to work with his dad who ?didn?t care about me smuggling pot,? ? like his mom ? ?so long as I promised not to smuggle any other drugs?. He and his dad built a false compartment in the camper shell of a station wagon that could hold about 60 kilos of brick. The 500 pounds represented four trips from Mexicali to Whittier, California where he stashed the dope in a friend?s house. When the load was assembled he turned it over to Brown and Garmony?s drivers. The shipment went without a hitch, and Brown and Garmony asked Hooks to make a partnership. The duo wanted as much pot as Hooks could get, so Hooks and his dad went to work building airtight stashes in a 21-foot long RV. When they were done it held nearly 1,000 pounds of brick.

More outdoor beauty.More outdoor beauty.Brown and Garmony were such good dealers that Hooks soon had to have a second trailer built to keep up with their needs. ?Me and my second driver would make two or three trips a weekend, every couple of weeks. We started rolling in the dough.? A three-ton load netted Hooks, Brown and Garmony about half a million dollars, but things went sour when Hooks realized that the ?three-way split? always seemed to leave the others with a bigger cut than him. ?I probably moved about 75 tons with them and made about four million in a year and a half.? He says, ?A lot of that went into a horse ranch outside of San Diego and some other properties, and I?d bought some thoroughbreds and had them racing. That was all fun, but I finally broke off with the guys and started doing it on my own.?

Six months later Hooks was back in jail, this time in Mexico. He had been moving a two-vehicle load at night through the desert and got stopped at a checkpoint near Tijuana in Baja. The Federales got suspicious when they found the second driver had cocaine on him, so they searched the vehicles and found the marijuana. ?There were five of us and they arrested us all. In Tijuana I paid a judge $50,000 to cut the others loose and took the heat.? When asked why he would do that, he chuckles. ?One of them was my brother, and if I hadn?t, my parents would have killed me.?

Here I am relaxing with Caro-Quinteros in Acapulco.Here I am relaxing with Caro-Quinteros in Acapulco.Hooks was found guilty of trafficking and sentenced to six years and three months at the notorious La Mesa prison in Tijuana, where money can buy small private homes, women, drugs and anything else a person might want (except freedom) ? and a lack of it means one bowl of soup daily and sleeping on the ground with no blanket. Hooks had money and got himself a little house to serve his time in. He also got some respect for not bringing anyone down with him, and not long after he began his sentence he was approached by four American prisoners who told him they were building an escape tunnel and asked if he wanted in.

?At first I turned them down,? he says, ?but soon changed my mind. La Mesa wasn?t fit for a human being.? The tunnel, which Hooks says ran under a drainage ditch, was tubular and wooden framed. His job was to get rid of the dirt. At first he stuffed the walls of several little houses with it; later he rented a prison storage shack and filled that. On the day of the escape, they had a car waiting on the end of the tunnel but the guards saw them emerging near the ditch and started shooting. So they went to Plan B: everybody run. Hooks headed to the Tijuana airport, just across the border from Brownsville, California. Three guys were caught immediately; one guy escaped. Hooks made it to the airport and told the guard he and some friends got stuck and needed help. The guard let him use the phone and he called his girlfriend, who came and brought him across the border to the US.

Inspecting a garden.Inspecting a garden.The prison break brought television exposure ? not something a smuggler wants ? so Hooks sold his horse ranch, moved to Tucson and took a year off to let things cool down. When he started up again he switched from brick to sinsemilla, which allowed him to make good money carrying far less quantity. ?I was sending drivers down to pick it up in F250 Fords with camper shells. They only held about 40 kilos each, but with the sinsemilla I was buying it at $100 a kilo and selling it for over $2,000.?

Hooks stayed out of Mexico, until one of his drivers took off with a stash and he was forced to make a run past the border. On the way out he was busted in Lukeville, Arizona but luck smiled on him when the computers were down and his fingerprints couldn?t be checked, and again the following day when the judge discovered he hadn?t been given his phone call and let him go on a $50,000 bond. ?I left everything there,? he says, ?and hooked up with my old partner Woodrow Brown. We went to Puerto Vallarta and bought a little twin-engine Beachcraft plane and I started bringing out about 900 pounds of sinsemilla every couple of weeks. We?d fly it up to Sonora then take it into the states a piece at a time.?

My new Bride and I with Rafael Quintero.My new Bride and I with Rafael Quintero.On one of those trips in late 1982, a fellow he knew told him about some huge marijuana fields in the hills in Sonora, so large they were cultivated with tractors and protected by the government. It turned out to be the Caro-Quintero clan?s operation, a business that included dozens of family members but was anchored by a low-key uncle, JuanJo, and his nephews Rafael and Miguel. Hooks was asked if he wanted to move some of their product, so he made a deal for 500 kilos of the Caro- Quintero pot. He paid for the load in three days. ?Miguel Caro-Quintero liked that, and the next thing you knew it just started to snowball.? By May of 1983, Hooks estimates he?d crossed 25 tons into the US in under six months and says pilots and airplanes ?were coming out of the woodwork to work with us.?

Rafiel Quintero on a horse.Rafiel Quintero on a horse.In late June 1983, Miguel told Hooks he wanted to show him something. ?He drove me up to these gates with armed guards and we went past them to a clearing where there were maybe 80 acres of pot under cultivation. People were driving tractors; a diesel pump was putting water out from wells. I?d never seen anything so large.? What he was looking at was one of a dozen fields that ranged in size from 40 to 100 acres, just outside of Caborca in Sonora. It was the base of operations for the Caro- Quinteros. He mentioned to Miguel that the plants were growing too close together and the next thing he knew, Miguel?s brother Rafael ? whom the DEA dubbed ?The Mexican Rhinestone Cowboy? for all the jewelry he wore ? had put him in charge of growing the pot. ?I?d explain to the growers how to grow, how to space the plants, how to pinch the branches so they?d split, how to prune the branches we didn?t want. I got some resistance at first, but I had their trust because I was moving more product than anyone else.?

During the rest of 1983 and 1984, when the Caro-Quinteros moved their fields to El Bufalo in Chihuahua and expanded considerably, Hooks bought 27 more airplanes and had six different airstrips built on 150,000 acres scattered over several ranches he purchased. ?We were running six or seven planes at a time, and when we weren?t doing that I was inspecting fields or fixing problems with the other planes. It was 24/7, non-stop with that large a system. Other smugglers were bringing in eight to ten tons by ship from Asia once a month, but I was doing 50 tons a month for those two years. Heck, the first 50 tons of the pot I helped grow, I got rid of in nine days.?

Labourers waiting for incoming planes.Labourers waiting for incoming planes.While that sounds like someone embellishing their operation, a DEA chart bears him out. It lists 28 planes, 14 pilots, seven flight crew and 20 ground crew on Hooks? end, 33 commercial properties and stash houses in Tucson, and more than 40 distributors. And those are just the US connections. The scope of the operation, once it moved to El Bufalo, was legendary in pot circles of the era ? though most thought it just that: a legend. Hooks says it was almost unimaginable. ?In 1984, when they moved the fields, there were 18 trucks carrying the buds when we harvested. There were acres of pot drying in the sun and the tarpaper sheds ? maybe 40 yards long and eight yards wide ? would be full. There were probably 3,000 people in the area working on it, from the growers to the cutters to the women making the food for the workers. There were three one-ton trucks just carrying tortillas out to the workers every day.?

One of many planes loaded with pot taking off.One of many planes loaded with pot taking off.Like the Brooklyn and Jersey mafias before them and the Cali and Medellin cartels after them, the Caro-Quinteros knew the value of taking care of their own. The family paved the streets of Caborca and put in electricity. They built churches and gave to the schools. ?They lived high and spent a lot of money on themselves and drove around in tricked-out Grand Marquis,? says Hooks, ?but they were good to everybody in the community and the community loved them. The Mexican government loved them. They were bringing in billions in US currency and not only was it helping to stabilize the Peso, everybody was getting a piece: politicians, the DFS (the Direcci?n Federal de Seguridad, Mexico?s domestic intelligence service).?

Hooks estimates that he probably made $50 million in those two years. He bought ranches, planes, and bulldozers and built several homes. He sent money north to buy property in the US. Everyone who worked with him got a Rolex every year. He had hundreds of workers. There were women and lavish parties where he flew in planeloads of guests from the US. It was endless. He laughs when he describes a deal that got him one of his biggest ranches. ?Me and a couple of buddies were drinking and this fellow came up and said he had this ranch he had to sell. It had 500 cattle on it. So we did the deal and then I turned to another guy and traded him the cattle for another ranch. That?s how it was in those days.?

This Merlin aircraft ran flights between Mexico and California.This Merlin aircraft ran flights between Mexico and California.Hooks said he believes the US knew that the operation was going on but probably didn?t know the extent of it. He said it wasn?t unusual to see US Defense AWAC (Airborne Warning and Control System) planes flying overhead at his ranches, but by constantly switching landing strips and changing airplanes and routes, he never lost a single plane. ?These guys were just so well protected,? he says. ?And so was I. There was always a DFS agent with me, everybody knew who I was; we were the good guys down there, the people bringing in US dollars.?

Another element at play in providing the unequaled protection enjoyed by the Caro-Quinteros was that, according to Hooks, the Nicaraguan Contras were training ? with the blessing of the US CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) ? at one of Rafael?s large farms in Guadalajara. ?I knew about it,? says Hooks. ?Hell, everybody did. But that was way over on another ranch, and not one most of us would ever go to, because that was a secret operation by the US government. But that certainly helped play a role in how protected the Quintero?s were.?

Another of the airplanes used to fly courier missions.Another of the airplanes used to fly courier missions.Hooks? assertion is backed up by noneother than former DEA agent Celerino Castillo, the man who blew the whistle on the Ronald Reagan-era Oliver North Contra scandal, in which the US government allowed the right-wing Contra revolutionaries of Nicaragua to move cocaine into the US to provide them funding to purchase arms to topple the democratically elected government of Nicaragua. ?I was working in Guatemala at the time,? Castillo told Cannabis Culture. ?We had word the Contras were training there at a Caro-Quintero ranch. Well, my buddy in the DEA, Kiki Camarena, kept asking the US government for more help to take down these huge dope ranches he?d heard about, but the government wouldn?t give it to him. Later we figured out that the reason he didn?t get more help was that the US government didn?t want those ranches disturbed.? But Camarena was persistent and in the late summer of 1984, despite Castillo?s assertion that the US government didn?t want to interfere, Camarena made a move that appeared small at first: one of the fields got busted, and 36 workers were taken in, all of whom were released three days later with no arrests. Only male plants were found, which were pulled up for the television cameras. Hooks said he later was told that Kiki Camarena had been behind it all. ?Miguel said someone high up in the government told his brother and apologized for the disturbance.?

This 404 Cessna was used to haul marijuana to California below radar.This 404 Cessna was used to haul marijuana to California below radar.However, Camarena had seen more than one little field. He?d taken pictures of all of the growing plantations in Chihuahua and brought them back to his superiors, who began pressuring the Mexican government to take action. ?And then on November 6th 1984, it went down,? says Hooks. ?I was in Caborca getting my bulldozer to make a new airstrip in Chihuahua when I got a call from Miguel telling me the gringos had come and that we had problems. The next thing you know, it?s all over the television with the DEA saying they got eight thousand tons. Bullshit. A couple of weeks later we got at least 100 tons of it back, because I moved that much of it myself between December and January.? And then c ame the Kiki Camarena disappearance, which Hooks claims he knew nothing about. It happened just days before Hooks was to marry a woman from California whom he?d known a long time, with Miguel as his best man.

Two more planes follow as my plane takes off from a Mexican airstrip.Two more planes follow as my plane takes off from a Mexican airstrip.Hooks and his new wife flew to Cancun where they bought a condo and tried to lay low because of all the heat. When he did start selling again, he made a deal with the local Federales and their commandante to act as his protection. But he says things weren?t the same. The big fields were gone; Rafael got caught in Costa Rica not long after Camarena?s body was found and was brought back to Mexico where he was convicted of the killing and sentenced to over 100 years (later reduced to 40). Many of the people the Caro-Quinteros had paid off for protection were being fired or arrested, leaving everyone else who had been connected with the operation either funding their own protection, like Hooks, or living without it. But even paying for protection didn?t guarantee any, and when the commandante on Hooks? payroll got transferred suddenly, the new man they brought in had Hooks arrested. Among those arresting him were agents from INTERPOL (International Criminal Police Organization). He was brought to the new man who asked him why he hadn?t set things up, and he said he was waiting for an introduction. It was too late for that, he was told, and he was being shipped to the US the following day. ?Hell, I couldn?t go back there. They had me on Continuing Criminal Enterprise, breaking out of prison, all sorts of things. I?d have done 20 years to life in the US.? The commandante said there was nothing to hold him on in Mexico, but that if maybe he had some drugs they wouldn?t send him back. Hooks called an associate and told them to plant some drugs on his boat.

Landing a load of pot in the Navajo Desert.Landing a load of pot in the Navajo Desert.The next day, accompanied by INTERPOL and the DEA, along with Mexican authorities, Hooks was taken to his boat and it was searched. Within minutes about a half an ounce of marijuana and a few grams of cocaine were discovered. The commandante announced that Hooks would be charged in Mexico for the drugs rather than shipped back to the US ? a favor he paid him $40,000 for. Despite the payoff, Hooks was brought to a holding cell at the INTERPOL office where he was put in isolation over the next eight days, during which he was interrogated and beaten regularly. ?They kept wanting me to talk about Miguel, but I wouldn?t say anything about him. I admitted knowing Rafael ? heck, he was already doing over 100 years, so I couldn?t hurt him ? and I admitted moving pot, but I never admitted even knowing Miguel. They knew I did, but I wouldn?t say it. That?s why they kept beating me so badly.?

I arrive at an airstrip in northern California.I arrive at an airstrip in northern California.He was finally brought to a federal prison in Mexico City and put in the maximum- security wing. He was tried and sentenced to 25 years. He appealed twice during the next four years and finally got his sentenced reduced to 16 years and three months. He spent, he says, about a million in payoffs during the appeals. He?d also spent money making the prison bearable. He?d bought three cells, and had a kitchen put in one of them and a bedroom in another. His wife, who?d had one baby in Cancun and another shortly after his arrest, had their third as a result of a conjugal visit. But by the end of the second appeal, she?d gone home to California. ?It was still a maximum security prison and it was just too much for her to take.?

Hooks said he began to get wind that Miguel was taking his ranches on the pretext that he owed money. And Miguel, being the guy he was, could get away with it. Hooks verified the rumors; his condo in Cancun had been put in Miguel?s name and completely remodeled. He began to get furious. ?I?m in prison because I wouldn?t give this guy up, and he?s out there and he?s lost some loads and needs some funds, so he decides to get it from me. Well, I wasn?t going to stay in prison ten to twelve more years for him while he was on the outside ripping me off. I wanted him to go to prison and see what it was like to have somebody fucking you over and there?s nothing you can do about it. So I told my wife to call the US attorney?s office and tell them that I?d tell them what I knew about the Camarena killing.?

We recovered the load from this crash landing.We recovered the load from this crash landing.What Hooks knew was that shortly after Camarena?s disappearance, Rafael asked him if he knew a DEA agent named ?Camarena?. Hooks says he told Rafael he didn?t and Rafael said that was okay, because ?he?s been taken care of?. It wasn?t much information, considering that Rafael had already been convicted of the killing, but it was enough to get Hooks included in a prisonexchange with Mexico that sent him to a federal pen in Tucson, Arizona. Shortly after he returned, a deal was struck to give Hook s light sentences on his Continuing Criminal Enterprise and prison escape charges ? about 65 months ? in exchange for working with the DEA to try to get Miguel Caro-Quintero to a country from which he could be extradited by the US.

We recovered the load from this crash landing.The DEA?s idea was a sting. The first stage had Hooks calling Miguel from prison to set up a deal for 3,000 pounds of pot with a friend of his, an undercover DEA agent. (The federal paperwork Hooks provided backs his claims up.) The phone calls were audio taped on Miguel?s end, and video and audio taped on Hooks? end. The pot was delivered to the agent in Tucson (the Caro-Quintero stronghold in the US), giving the Americans something Miguel wouldn?t be able to wrangle out of should he ever be arrested. The only glitch was that Miguel sent low quality pot instead of sinsemilla and the agent said his buyer?s couldn?t use it, but that he?d keep it on consignment and unload it over time.

The second stage of the sting had Hooks calling Miguel again, this time with the story that his friend (the undercover agent) had a good connection for cocaine in Colombia, but he could only move it as far as El Salvador. Would Miguel take the loads from El Salvador into Mexico and then on to Tucson? The DEA was hoping that Miguel would be interested in meeting his new ?partners? during the first shipment and meet them in El Salvador. When he did, he?d be arrested. A deal had already been worked out between El Salvador and the US that would extradite him if he stepped onto Salvadoran soil ? when it all went down however, Miguel sent someone else in his place.

The day of my bust in Cancun.The day of my bust in Cancun.Hooks, meanwhile, served his five-plus years and was released to a halfway house in 1997. Including his time in Mexico he?d served just over ten years for the Cancun bust. He reentered the regular world as a minimum-wage night janitor, moved through a series of unmemorable jobs he prefers not to talk about, and kept his head down and his profile low.

Two years later, the US Attorney?s office asked if he?d help with Miguel?s extradition should he ever be arrested on the 3,000 pounds of pot. Hooks told them yes, on condition that the US government paid him $3 million ? in the ballpark of what Miguel had stolen from him. He didn?t hear back from the government until 2001. According to Hooks, (the State Department will not discuss the case at all and so it can?t be verified) the US State Department and Mexican officials had a meeting about Miguel in San Diego in early 2001. Hooks was told that the Mexican government balked at agreeing to extradite Miguel on any charges leveled against him in the US except for the 3,000 pounds of pot, because of the evidentiary tapes of those conversations. The assistant US Attorney on Hooks case couldn?t promise the $3 million Hooks had asked for, but notified him that he?d be eligible for the reward the US government had offered ? ?up to $5 million dollars? ? for helping arrest Miguel. The State Department also noted that the identity of anyone contributing to the arrest would be kept strictly confidential.

A view of the bust from a police car.A view of the bust from a police car.Nine months later, in December 2001, Miguel was arrested in Sinaloa, Mexico. Hooks expected to be paid at least a sizeable amount of the $5 million dollar reward, but the Feds recoiled and offered him $300,000 instead, with another couple hundred should Miguel be extradited and Hooks testify at trial. Hooks said if he wasn?t going to get the reward, he wanted no part of it. ?That wasn?t enough money to have me go into hiding from the Caro-Quintero clan for the rest of my life,? he says. ?I didn?t want to have to give up my kids.?

But unknown to Hooks, at a press conference held by the Mexican government announcing the arrest just hours after it went down, his name was released as the person responsible. The following morning every major Mexican daily mentioned his name.

Police shot & killed our beloved tiger cubs.Police shot & killed our beloved tiger cubs.He discovered that he?d been a walking dead man for two months when, in February, he was notified that the Federal government had sent a request for extradition for Miguel with his name on the affidavit. ?Two days later I was out of Tucson and have not been back since,? says Hooks, who adds that the only way the Mexican government could have known about his involvement in the case was a leak from high US Federal officials. He?s certain that his exposure was payback for being too clever for the US government to catch. Calls to several defense attorneys who have considerable experience tangling with the DEA say that may well be the case. One prominent Alexandria, Virginia defense attorney says, ?I had a case one time where a person in the witness protection program was exposed when he got into a spat with the government over payment of a dental bill. So getting even with a guy even vaguely connected with the Camarena killing could certainly provoke the Feds to release his name.? Another attorney said the high-level administrator Hooks blames in his case has done the same thing in the past.

Celerino Castillo, a friend of Camarena?s and a former DEA agent in Guatemala, says that the DEA has a reputation for burning their snitches. ?That?s what they do. They figure you were a drug-dealing scum, and now you?re a snitch as well, so they like to burn you after they?ve squeezed you.? Terry Nelson, who served in the U.S. Coast Guard, Border Patrol, and U.S. Customs in Central and South America in a law enforcement career that spanned 30 years, backs up that characterization. DEA bosses ?would burn their own friggin? mothers to get an arrest,? he said. ?That was their reputation, and it was earned: I had a lot of [snitches] say they wouldn?t deal with the DEA exactly for that reason.?

Hooks was not the only one astounded that the government would put him in jeopardy. Assistant US Attorney Jim Lacey resigned from Hooks? case over the breech, calling it ?unethical, immoral and illegal? in his letter of resignation.

Two mexican police arrest me (far left).Two mexican police arrest me (far left).Hooks has tried to apply for the reward promised ? he?s got mountains of letters to and from senators, but no one from the State or the DEA will respond to him. He?s still hopeful but prison time has made him a realist as well. ?Look. I was left to hang out and dry. I can?t get a real job,? ? he does day work to feed himself ? ?I can?t establish a home, can?t be with my kids, can?t start a new family. I hope I?ll get the reward some day, but if I don?t, I don?t. I still hope I help educate the American public that when the US government puts these high rewards on people, it?s not what it looks like. I?d hate to see someone else in my position.?

In the end, Miguel Caro-Quintero may never be extradited. According to the DEA, he and his brother Rafael continue to run their organization from the relative comfort of the Matamoros prison where they are serving time, and his political influence is still strong. And if that?s true, he certainly has the power to reach out and eliminate Hooks if he knew where to find him.

I asked Hooks one more question before he disappeared into the woodwork. Was it all worth it? ?No. At the time it was. The money was there, the adrenalin rush was there, and that lasted for years at a time. And it was just pot ? I didn?t think there was anything wrong with it then, and I don?t now. People dream of doing what I did and I lived that dream. But these last years, being on the run? That?s like being in prison still. I get by with a fake name. I can?t have relationships. I can?t get a real job. I can never see my kids and I hardly talk with them. I can?t take a chance that Miguel would try to get to me through them. So,to answer your question, no it wasn?t worth it in the end.Two mexican police arrest me (far left).

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