The New York Times
February 8, 1999
Murder in Mexico: Reformers Uncover Police Plot

          By SAM DILLON

          MEXICO CITY -- When Frederick Mc Phail Jr., a 27-year-old New York University
          graduate student, was found dead here at dawn last fall in his parked car, reeking of alcohol,
          only his family knew something was outrageously wrong with official accounts of his death.

          The police said he had drowned in his own vomit after a late-night binge with liquor and women. But
          his family knew Mc Phail as a virtual teetotaler. At his last dinner, on Nov. 17 during a visit here, he
          drank one beer and three Diet Cokes.

          Mysteries like this usually disappear, unclarified, into the Mexican Government's chaotic files, feeding
          the frustrations of a society fed up with police corruption and ineptitude. But with Mexico City in the
          hands of a reform government that is seeking to root out police graft, this case ended differently.

          An enterprising detective checked Mc Phail's bank records and found cash withdrawals from
          automatic teller machines all over Mexico City in the hours before his death. That led to another
          stunning discovery. Videotape from bank security cameras showed three men withdrawing Mc
          Phail's money, all of them Mexico City police officers. One was wearing his bullet-proof vest, his
          badge number visible.

          A subsequent investigation came to a climax the other day with the arrest and indictment of five
          officers for Mc Phail's death. The authorities said the officers forced Mc Phail to drink an entire
          bottle of liquor to make him incapable of identifying them as the assailants who stole his bank cards.
          Prosecutors have identified a dozen other victims, including three foreign tourists, who they believe
          were victimized by the same rogue officers.

          The case has attracted special attention here because the murdered student's father, Frederick Mc
          Phail Sr., a wealthy American businessman who lives in Mexico, bought newspaper advertisments
          calling his son "one more victim of the violence" here. Mc Phail Sr. says the ads have brought an
          outpouring of public outrage, with 250 Mexicans and Americans telephoning him, many describing
          their own victimization by the police.

          Mc Phail Sr. has formed a nonprofit association, called Fredy Protects, that he says will seek to help
          crime victims.

          "This case shows how corruption and police violence have just become rampant in Mexico," he said
          in an interview.

          The photograph of Mc Phail Jr. in the advertisement shows a handsome athletic man with an
          easygoing smile. Born in Mexico City to American parents, Mc Phail attended high school at the
          Kent School in Kent, Conn.

          "Frederick contributed a lot to our school," Don Gowan, Kent's former dean of students, said in a
          phone interview. "He was outgoing, had a great sense of humor, just a super personality."

          The younger Mc Phail studied business administration at Universidad Iberoamericana in Mexico
          City. After receiving his B.A. in 1994, he moved to Jersey City, commuting to Murray Hill in
          Manhattan to work as a planner for a shipping company.

          In 1997, he married an analyst for a Manhattan brokerage firm and last spring began attending
          banking courses at New York University's School of Continuing Education. Enrolling in the fall in a
          graduate finance program, he returned to Mexico City to pick up his college transcripts, his father

          On Nov. 17, the night before his scheduled return to New York, he dined out with his father and
          brother. The three left the restaurant at 11:15 P.M., and Mc Phail drove off into the Mexico City

          His body was found the next morning, slumped in his car a few blocks away. Forensic examiners
          found high levels of alcohol in his blood.

          Initially, city detectives assumed that he had got wildly drunk in the red light district, but the case was
          not dropped. Examination of his bank records showed several automated withdrawals totaling about
          $800 before his death, and investigators subpoenaed videos from the banks. The photos showed
          three men huddled around the cash machines, including a uniformed officer whose badge number
          identified him as Lucio Tapia Galindo. Police records showed that on Nov. 17 he had been assigned
          to a patrol car alongside Francisco León González.

          With suspicion falling on the police, the case was transferred to a special anti-corruption unit, headed
          by Hugo Vera Reyes, the prosecutor whose investigation of fraud last year in a computer
          procurement contract led I.B.M. de México to repay $37.5 million to the city treasury.

          Reviewing police files, Vera's investigators turned up a June 1998 complaint by a Salvador Castillo
          Prieto, who said he had been seized by police officers who stole his bank cards and forced him to
          drink five tumblers of vodka. The officers were later tentatively identified as Tapia and León.

          The detail about the vodka led investigators to search through hundreds of case files, identifying 10
          other victims who had complained of being pulled over by patrol cars, compelled to drive to parking
          garages or vacant lots, robbed of their bank cards, and forced to guzzle large amounts of cheap
          liquor. The victims included tourists from Germany, Brazil and Norway.

          Some were beaten with nightsticks to force them to drink, but most agreed after psychological
          pressure, Vera said in an interview.

          Getting wind of the investigation, Tapia and León abandoned their patrol car on Dec. 7, leaving
          behind uniforms and service revolvers, Vera said. They fled north, crossed illegally into the United
          States, and found construction work in Florence, Tex. Investigators who befriended their wives
          tracked their movements, and Mexican detectives traveled to Texas and photographed Tapia, León
          and three other Mexico City officers living in a trailer park. The other officers were also traced to
          Mc Phail's murder and other crimes, Vera said.

          The rogue officers were deported by American authorities, arrested and charged with Mc Phail's
          murder and multiple counts of robbery.

                     Copyright 1999 The New York Times Company