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Family Hopes Abrego Arrest Will Bring Answers to Son’s Kidnapping

February 5, 1996

BROWNSVILLE, Texas (AP) _ Adelina Ramirez last saw her son 6 1/2 years ago. He was standing outside their home with handcuffs clasped tightly around his wrists and a gun pointed at his head.

Three men in coats and ties, claiming to be federal agents, shoved 18-year-old Albert Ramirez into a car and sped away.

That was Aug. 6, 1989. The Ramirezes’ dimming hopes of ever learning Albert’s fate renewed this week, thanks to the arrest in Mexico of reputed drug lord Juan Garcia Abrego.

Garcia Abrego, reputed head of the Gulf cartel, a powerful drug-dealing organization based just across the border in Matamoros, is to be arraigned Tuesday in Houston on charges of drug trafficking, conspiracy and money laundering.

The indictment does not charge Garcia Abrego with murder but accuses him of ordering ``the murders of numerous individuals.″

The Ramirezes say they have no doubt Garcia Abrego ordered their son’s kidnapping, and maybe worse.

``All we want from him is to let us know, let us know what really happened,″ Mrs. Ramirez says. ``And if they did kill him, tell somebody so we can go pick him up and bring him home. He deserves a decent burial.″

Albert’s disappearance is one of several unsolved crimes in the Rio Grande Valley that local authorities have linked to Garcia Abrego, and they, like the Ramirezes, want to close the books.

``You always try to be optimistic,″ says Cameron County District Attorney Luis Saenz, ``but knowing the history of Juan Garcia Abrego, I frankly doubt that he’s going to clear up any of these cases.

``He didn’t get to be who he is by being softhearted,″ Saenz adds. ``He is the most ruthless criminal that’s ever been known in this area. Given his reputation, I doubt he’s going to cooperate.″

He’s nicknamed La Muneca, or The Doll, for his baby face, but authorities contend Garcia Abrego is a hot-tempered, vengeful man who made anyone who crossed him pay dearly.

Beyond the Ramirez kidnapping, authorities here have linked at least five unsolved murders to Garcia Abrego.

On May 14, 1991, at the height of a turf war between the Gulf cartel and a rival gang, the bodies of William de Jesus Botero Maya and his wife, Judith Poensont Guerra, both Colombians, and their attorney, Dolores Mendoza of Brownsville, were found in a wooded area east of town.

All suffered multiple gunshot wounds, and the women’s hands were bound behind their backs _ one with handcuffs, the other with a seat belt.

``That was a Juan Garcia Abrego hit,″ says George Gavito, an investigator for the district attorney’s office and a member of a Drug Enforcement Administration task force at the time of the killings.

According to Gavito, Botero was an assistant to Garcia Abrego’s chief rival, Oliverio Chavez.

``Him and Chavez were moving cocaine through, and they did not have the blessing of Juan Garcia Abrego,″ Gavito says.

Garcia Abrego has also been linked to the murders of Armando Barrera and Norberto Hernandez Paz, witnesses who testified against Gulf cartel hit men. The hit men were convicted of gunning down Gerardo Luis Quintanilla on May 13, 1991. Quintanilla was believed to be a lieutenant of Oliverio Chavez.

The witnesses’ bodies were found April 8 and 9, 1993. Barrera was shot nine times in the back. Hernandez, shot once in the head and once through a kneecap, was found on his back with his legs bent under him ``as if he had been kneeling,″ police said in news accounts at the time.

None of these cases was solved.

Of all the crimes that point toward Garcia Abrego, the Ramirez case stands out in the minds of local law officers because it was one of the first times that drug-trafficking violence had spilled across the Rio Grande onto Texas streets.

``For the longest time the river represented a haven ... a wall,″ says former Brownsville police Chief Victor Rodriguez, who led the kidnapping investigation. ``This indicated the river would no longer be a barrier, that someone could sit on one side of the river and order criminal activity on the other. That was rather scary.″

Police linked Albert Ramirez’s disappearance to the July 2, 1989, shooting death in Matamoros of Oscar Elizondo, the son of the drug lord’s girlfriend.

Garcia Abrego allegedly ordered the kidnapping because he thought Albert had something to do with Elizondo’s murder. The Ramirezes and former Chief Rodriguez contend he had no part in the shooting.

Rodriguez and Gavito are urging prosecutors to try to find some answers for the Ramirezes.

``For their sake, they ought to find out where he is so they can get him and bury him,″ Gavito says.

The Ramirezes, while relieved Garcia Abrego has been captured, said they feel like they’re back to square one. The waiting has begun all over again.

``They’re making us go through what we did 6 1/2 years ago,″ Mrs. Ramirez says. ``We feel the frustration right now; we feel the anger. We’re walking the same road again, and I still don’t know where Albert is.″

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