By Marty Graham
SAN DIEGO (Reuters) - Federal authorities offering a $5 million reward for a fugitive Mexican drug lord who killed a U.S. anti-narcotics agent in the 1980s have taken the unusual step of plastering his face on billboards in southwestern border states.
Rafael Caro Quintero, the former leader of the Guadalajara drug trafficking cartel, disappeared almost a year ago after a Mexican court freed him from a Mexican prison on a technicality.
He had served 28 years of a 40-year sentence for the 1985 slaying of U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agent Enrique "Kiki" Camarena. Three months after he vanished, Mexico's Supreme Court overturned the lower court's decision and prosecutors issued an arrest warrant for Caro Quintero.
Now billboards have gone up near the Mexican border in El Paso, Texas, Phoenix, Arizona, and Los Angeles, California.
"We will never stop looking for him," DEA spokesman Vijay Rathi said on Thursday. "The billboards are just part of the strategy. ... We put them up in high traffic areas where people going back and forth to Mexico will see them."
Camarena was 37 when he was kidnapped, tortured and killed following a number of successful drug busts in Mexico. His murder spurred one of the largest DEA investigations ever undertaken.
Caro Quintero was freed from the Puente Grande prison in the western Mexican state of Jalisco in August 2013 after a Mexican court ruled he should have been tried at the state level, rather than on federal charges.
That ruling was overturned by the Mexican Supreme Court after he disappeared. Caro Quintero was also indicted for the kidnapping and murder of Camarena by a Los Angeles federal grand jury in 1991.
Rathi said Caro Quintero's release appalled police on both sides of the border. "Our Mexican law enforcement partners were just as shocked as we were," the spokesman said.
(Reporting by Marty Graham; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Jim Loney)