"'Path of the Devil" goes through Yuma, Imperial Valley

IMPERIAL VALLEY – “This guy was asking a lot of questions and not telling me anything about who he was … things got heated up …”

“Once he realized he wasn’t getting anything from me he yelled, ‘You’re in over your head! You don’t know what the you’re doing! happens to people. … You have no idea who you’re dealing with!”

The angry man falsely identified himself as FBI, but the Yuma DEA investigator leading the investigation against a drug cartel family who operated in San Luis, Sonora and San Luis, Arizona into the U.S. traced the number, telling his private investigator (PI) teammate:

“He’s a DEA agent out of El Centro.”

“I thought he meant something about the cartel,” the PI, Randy Torgerson, said on the audiobook. “…I hung up on him. …I figured he’s either working for the CIA or the cartel. Either I don’t know how he got my number, or a criminal gave it to him.”

This small excerpt is from the revised second edition of “Path of the Devil: Camino del Diablo,” a book based on true events and co-authored by a former DEA agent, and two private investigators who toiled to attempt to bring down a powerful drug cartel family on the Mexico-side of the Arizona border. The book is also co-authored by Dianne DeMille, PhD.

Larry Lee Hardin – a Southern California resident and former DEA Senior Special Agent who was in charge of the Yuma DEA Office in the 1990s – tells the true tales of their fight against drug trafficking, filled with undercover informants, airdrop drug spots, implanting listening devices, sex, law enforcement corruption and deadly near-escapes in an unfinished five-year case where the crew collected evidence as they tried to take down a nearby cartel family, the Meraz brothers.

The network of cases spans from 1991 to 1996, according to the synopsis of the book. The tales are told through his own first-person experiences and that of PIs Jeff Pearce and Torgerson, with the book being together – and the audiobook narrated – with help from DeMille.

“For five years the three men spearheaded two separate, and simultaneous investigations in different locations that eventually merged,” according to the online synopsis on Amazon.com.

The investigation connects Yuma, San Luis (Mexico and Arizona), Calexico/El Centro and the drug trafficking of the cartel to as far as Los Angeles, points on the East Coast, also linked to Columbian and Chinese traffickers working with the Mexican cartel, according to the book and Hardin himself.

“The Meraz’s attempted to murder two DEA agents (1970s) and were connected to the murders of Enrique “Kiki” Camarena, George Montoya, Paul Seema, Jose Montoya, Dan Elkins and Michael Crow,” according to the online synopsis, among others murdered.

“(DEA Agents) Don Ware and Roy Stevenson were both kidnapped, beaten, shot and left for dead at San Luis Rio Colorado in that desert town ... because they had traced the major drug operations in San Luis, Sonora, and (San Luis) Arizona and the southwest border back to these brothers,” Hardin said in the audiobook.

“When DEA, guys like us, when we retire we go away it’s because we realize there is no ‘War on Drugs’ (because) there’s too much politics involved,” Hardin said in an interview with the Imperial Valley Press.

“We’re the greatest country in the world – and Mexico, believe it or not, they’re a good country – but at the same time it’s about the money,” Hardin said. “I learned quickly down in Columbia that it’s all controlled by the government … and corruption you can’t get rid of … you just don’t want to get killed.”

Hardin – who also worked for the DEA San Diego office, was a U.S. Marine Chaplain’s assistant, and federal corrections officer all prior to transferring from San Diego DEA to the Yuma office – said during his time in Yuma, “I knew that (since) we were working so many cases in Yuma that the only way I could get the corruption was I had to get the ports of entry, the POAs.”

“(And) Calexico had them too, oh I know very well,” Hardin said. “I got in trouble over there several times, coming across that POA in Calexico.”

Hardin also worked in immigration during the Ronald Reagan administration, having worked in Columbia for three years and six years in Mexico, he said.

“There’s a lot of great people out there,” Hardin said of local law enforcement in the Yuma / Imperial Valley region, “but it just takes one or two people to turn their heads out there or out in the desert. I could never stop the brothers, the gatekeepers, (but) my goal was to go after corruption. If I could get one (corrupt) cop, that’s all I wanted.”

“There’s layers of people that are involved in this, and the guys at the top don’t see those poor (people) with their poor meals, but everybody has to answer to somebody,” Hardin said. “To really understand you have to get a chance to read the book.”

Hardin said “the books are true” and he “can’t write anything fiction.” He said he sent his books to DEA headquarters to get their stamp of approval before the books were published, as well as corroborated by the other federal agencies mentioned within the book.

He also sent the book to then-President Donald Trump “so he could see how far the corruption had gone,” Hardin said.

Hardin worked in the DEA for 23 years, retiring in 2011. He had been fighting crime in law enforcement for over 32 years, according to his biography.

Hardin said though he’s been approached by multiple movie producers for screen play adaptations of “Path of the Devil,” he is “not doing it for the money,” saying he would not allow a screenplay adaptation of the book that is even partially fiction.

“I want it to be true. This is a sad true story,” Hardin said. “We are at war; I was fighting a war every day and I was right in there. It wasn’t just the cartel, it was my own government and people I was working with. We had so much corruption in Yuma and the Calexico POE. We had some serious problems there in Calexico,” he said.

It was that corruption – from local to state and federal levels – that made Hardin want to write this book, he said.

Hardin said legal “discovery” – reports given to defendants’ legal counsel after a one-year period – is what helps the cartels find out exactly how DEA and other U.S. agencies target the cartels, as he witnessed stacks of reports in foreign hands during his time working in Columbia and Mexico.

“I told Washington D.C. about it, I told chief counsel about it, and it’s like no one cares,” Hardin said, “but that’s why I wrote four books. Because I care.”

When asked why he chose to write these books even though drug cartels and traffickers are still alive and well, Hardin said it was his ‘need to expose corruption’ and his Christian faith that drive him to keep up the fight for the truth to come out.

“I am exposed now (but) I’m OK with it,” Hardin said. “Dianne told me today a lot of people are asking about this fourth book. I know something is going to happen with it.”

In addition to “Path of the Devil: Camino del Diablo,” Hardin and DeMille have also written “Home is Never the Same,” “Fighting My Greatest Enemy: Myself,” and “Life’s a Journey Between Heaven & Hell,” the latter of which released in April 2023.

“Path of the Devil: Camino del Diablo,” as well as the other aforementioned titles, are available on Amazon.com, including the Spanish version of “Camino del Diablo.” “Path of the Devil: Camino del Diablo” is also available on audiobook.

“God willing, the truth will get out there,” Hardin said.

Find out more at larryrayhardin.com and diannesconsultantservices.com.

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