Slaying of editor in N.Y. traced to cocaine cartel 2 men indicted

May 11, 1993|By Los Angeles Times

NEW YORK -- Fourteen months after a crusading anti-drug editor was killed in a New York restaurant, two men were indicted yesterday in the slaying, which prosecutors said was ordered by leaders of Colombia's Cali cocaine cartel.

Investigators said the assassination brought to the streets of Queens the brutal code of the Colombian drug lords, who rarely entertain second thoughts about killing journalists in their own country.

Police charged Alejandro Wilson Mejia Velez, 19, with firing two 9mm bullets into the head of Manuel de Dios Unanue, a former editor of the Spanish-language New York newspaper El Diario-La Prensa. The suspect was arrested outside a rooming house in Miami Saturday.

Also indicted was John Mena, 24, already in custody, who prosecutors said commanded the contract killing.

Mr. de Dios was the only journalist to be slain in the United States last year. At the time of his death on March 11, 1992, he was publishing two small community magazines.

Mary Jo White, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York, said Mr. de Dios, 49, was murdered as he sat in a Queens restaurant because the drug lords were angered about articles he had written and photographs of top narcotics traffickers and their street-level dealers in Queens that appeared in his publications.

"The order for this murder came from the highest levels of the Cali cartel in Colombia," Ms. White said at a Brooklyn news conference.

"We know any murder is a heinous crime. But when the victim is murdered because he reported on the truth, we are all victims here," she said.

"This case cried out for justice," said Mayor David N. Dinkins, who attended the news conference.

"These indictments will serve as a reminder -- those who would seek to silence our society's crusaders, to murder the illuminators of our society's dark places and to undermine one of our fundamental national rights should know we will never rest in pursuing them," he said.

Queens District Attorney Richard A. Brown said that law enforcement officials gave Mr. de Dios' slaying the same attention they give the killing of a police officer.

A joint task force of homicide detectives, U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency investigators and New York State Police officers conducted the search for Mr. de Dios' killer.

"The same tactics repeatedly used by Colombian cocaine traffickers in South America to silence their critics were used here and that is something we will not tolerate," Mr. Brown said.

Ms. White noted that though only two indictments were announced yesterday, "there are others in custody involved in this crime. . . . The investigation is being continued up and down the chain."

Ms. White said the initial price for the hit on Mr. de Dios was $20,000, but that after others involved in the plot took their cuts, the gunman received far less.

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