The Mexicans arrested Rodríguez-López in La Paz on September 6, 1996, calling him a key link between Colombia's Cali cartel and the notorious Arrellano-Félix brothers. Mexico's National Institute for the Combat of Drugs (INCD by its Spanish initials), a branch of the Mexican attorney general's office (PGR by its Spanish initials), announced it had seized six fishing boats, a yacht, a helicopter, and a small plane it said were registered to him.
Meanwhile, back in Panama, Castrillón was causing an embarrassing political fuss. Rumors began circulating that he would go public with the names of Panamanian politicians who had assisted his drug operations. According to a December 1998 account in the Washington Post, Castrillón had given at least $51,000 to the campaign of incumbent Panamanian president Ernesto Pérez Balladares, who admitted his campaign accepted the money but denied knowing Castrillón.
The scandal caused such an uproar in Panama that Enrique Alberto Pretelt, son-in-law of President Balladares, later took out a full-page advertisement in the Panamanian newspaper La Prensa denying any ties to Castrillón or Rodríguez-López. "I, ENRIQUE ALBERTO PRETELT ARAUZ, out of the respect I feel for the public in general, wish to explain I never had or have business or personal relations, or relations of any kind, with José Castrillón Henao, Manuel Rodríguez-López, Divaldo Cano or with any corporation related to them. I also wish to explain I never interceded officially or unofficially before government authorities in favor of any of the aforementioned persons."
Panama ultimately amended its laws to allow the expulsion of foreign nationals in prison there. Days after the amendments took effect, on May 31, 1998, Panamanian authorities handed Castrillón over to waiting U.S. DEA agents, who whisked him to Miami, where he currently awaits trial on charges of drug smuggling and money laundering. One of Castrillón's principle codefendants in that case is American James Gordon Williams, a 52-year-old Jacksonville, Florida, fish importer and owner of a company called Carribean Fisheries. In 1996 Williams was arrested in the Ecuadorian port city of Guayaquil and charged with being one of Castrillón's main U.S. connections, helping to smuggle 31,000 kilos of cocaine into the United States.
According to a government affidavit filed in January 1998 by a Drug Enforcement special agent in San Diego, Williams had "met with Rodríguez-López after Castrillón's arrest in Panama and told Rodríguez-López to get out of the business because law enforcement efforts were forthcoming. Rodríguez-López told Williams that he had a shipment of cocaine en route at that time and could not get out of the business." Both Rodríguez-López and his daughter France, the affidavit said, told an informant that "Williams was Rodríguez-López's point of contact for U.S. distribution of cocaine and that cocaine came from mid-ocean transfers to Rodríguez-López's vessels."
(In December 1998, Williams was convicted by a panel of three Ecuadorian judges and sentenced to eight years in a Quito prison for laundering drug money on behalf of Castrillón. Though Williams has also been indicted in the United States, the U.S. Justice Department says it doesn't want him extradited back to America. Williams claims his association with Castrillón was a legitimate fishing partnership. His family has enlisted the help of several congressman and former president Jimmy Carter in an attempt to have Williams returned to the United States, with no success thus far.)
With both Castrillón and Rodríguez-López behind bars, the United States government moved to seize their considerable assets. On March 7, 1997, prosecutors filed a civil forfeiture case against what they said was Castrillón's San Diego headquarters, the three-bedroom condominium on the 26th floor of the One Harbor Drive complex downtown, with its sweeping views of San Diego Bay and the Pacific Ocean.
Though the condominium was in the name of Manuel Rodríguez-López, the government said there was plenty of evidence that it belonged to Castrillón. They traced a convoluted series of transactions, beginning in 1993, when, the government alleged, Castrillón had paid $367,200, "in seven payments over a period of months with drug proceeds," for Unit 2106. Four years later, in March 1996, prosecutors said, Castrillón traded that unit, along with $210,000 in cash and a $102,000 promissory note to HSD Ventures, the company marketing the One Harbor complex, in exchange for a better unit, 2105, with a purchase price of $610,000.
"At the time Castrillón purchased the Defendant condominium 2106 at 100 Harbor Drive, San Diego, CA," prosecutors alleged, "he placed title to it in a nominee owner, Claimant Rodríguez. In titling in the name of a nominee who Castrillón controlled, Castrillón was attempting to conceal his true ownership and control of the condominium, as well as to conceal the source of the funds used to purchase the defendant property.
"The seller of the property, HSD Ventures, the property managers and interior decorators dealt directly with Castrillón in the purchase and decorating of the property. Castrillón's niece was the contact person for the sale and any subsequent requests by HSD. Castrillón arranged for the utilities for the property, which were in the names of his nephews, Fred Esvindo Barcos and Victor Savin for telephone lines, and Patricio Navarro for San Diego Gas and Electric. Castrillón listed the property as an asset on his personal financial statement. Castrillón carried a picture and escrow documents for the purchase in his personal files."
To further bolster its case, the government said it was prepared to produce a string of witnesses who would testify they dealt with someone calling himself Rodríguez-López, but who they said matched photographs of Castrillón. "At the time of the purchase [of unit 2105] Castrillón was occupying the trade-in unit 2106. Meetings were held between the seller and Castrillón and Castrillón's niece, Maria Pilar Ivey. Castrillón met with the president of HSD Ventures...met with an interior decorator, and chose the artwork and sculptures."
Anne LeBaron, a real estate saleswoman working for the One Harbor Drive complex, identified Castrillón as a man calling himself Manuel López she met at the condo. "Ivey once asked that Ms. LeBaron leave unit 2105 open one evening so that Castrillón and Ivey could enjoy the night view. LeBaron stated Ivey had explained to her that confidence was necessary because Mr. Castrillón had both a wife and a girlfriend."