When record checks found that up to 30 unmarked police vehicles appeared to have been stolen north of the border, outraged San Diego County officials demanded action by both governments.
But it is common knowledge among police and journalists in Tijuana that some stolen vehicles end up in possession of Mexican officers and can be seen parked outside the headquarters of the federal, state and municipal forces.
"There were a lot of cars being stolen in Southern California," Escobedo continues, "and they were all coming to Mexico. Those cars were used by federal police, by state police, by state police wives, by state policeman's mistress, by her brother, by the attorney general. Everybody that was in some kind of power was driving one of these cars."
In addition to buying the stolen cars -- "mostly Cherokees, Explorers, and Suburbans" -- from the thieves, Escobedo says, state and federal policemen were confiscating them. "They could tell by the way people were driving them, by the California plates, and by the condition of the car that it was probably stolen. So they would pull it over and say, 'We know this car is stolen.' The driver, who is very nervous, says, 'Oh, it's my aunt's car.' They tell him, 'Bullshit, it's stolen.' So they just take it away, and it was like a black market of stolen cars."
The cars that they didn't keep for themselves, their wives, or their mistresses, "They would dismantle them for the parts," Escobedo says. "You are talking about $25,000 to $30,000 car, maybe $40,000 car, that was ripped off, and the insurance company got it back, but it was worth only $8000."
The newly appointed chief of the Mexico City police department`s intelligence division is a former CIA informant who was charged in 1982 with involvement in a car-theft ring operating in southern California in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
The stolen-car ring, made up mostly of Mexican federal law-enforcement agents, was crippled when 14 defendants were convicted and sentenced to prison in the United States.
Miguel Nassar Haro, a Tijuana-based commander in the now disbanded Federal Security Directorate, was indicted by a grand jury in San Diego. He was implicated by the federal grand jury in an international ring that specialized in stealing luxury cars in the Los Angeles area and smuggling them across the border for customers in Mexico.
In 1982, Miguel Nazar Haro, then chief of Mexico's Federal Security Directorate, the country's equivalent of the CIA, was forced to resign after he was indicted in San Diego on charges of involvement in a massive car-theft ring that stole luxury vehicles in the United States and supplied them to members of the Federal Security Directorate and other officials.
He was arrested in San Diego, but jumped bail set at $200,000 and fled back to Mexico. In December 1988, Nazar Haro was appointed chief of intelligence for the Mexico City police department but was forced to quit two months later.
U.S. police and government officials say federal police in Mexico's northern border states have revived a practice of placing orders for stolen cars with rings operating in southern California. That practice led to a U.S. indictment against the then-chief of the Mexican secret police in 1982.
Luxury cars stolen in the United States also frequently turn up in the hands of federal police, as in the case of an $82,000 Porsche 911 Turbo Cabriolet swiped from a San Diego dealer last year. According to Gloria Laxson, business manager for Hoehn Motors, the car, one of only two such models in southern California at the time, was eventually recovered from a federal police commander.
State government sources say the stolen-car issue may have been one reason for the sudden transfer last week of the Federal Judicial Police commander in Tijuana, Jose Luis Larrasolo, after three months on the job. Reporting on the transfer, the Tijuana weekly newspaper Zeta published a photo of vehicles loaded on flatbed trucks for shipment to Larrasolo's new assignment in the central state of Michoacan.
"Almost all of the vehicles driven by Larrasolo's federales were stolen from their original owners in the United States," Zeta reported.