Key Mexican drug cartel suspect extradited to U.S.

Appears in court in El Paso, Texas

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A drug cartel responsible for killing thousands of people in Mexico’s border cities has been dealt another law enforcement setback with the extradition of a key player to the United States on charges of smuggling heroin, cocaine and marijuana into west Texas for later shipment to other parts of the United States.

Felipe Dominguez-Vargas, a purported “cell leader” of the infamous Juarez drug cartel, made his initial appearance in federal court in El Paso on Monday, where he waived his detention hearing and was ordered to remain in custody pending trial.

The violent Juarez cartel, which controls major smuggling routes into the United States for billions of dollars worth of illegal drug shipments annually and is known to have beheaded its rivals and mutilated their corpses, has suffered significant setbacks over the past several months at the hands of Mexican and U.S. law enforcement authorities, including:

• The sentencing in December of drug kingpin Gilberto Salinas Doria in federal court in New York to 27 years in prison for importing at least 200 tons of cocaine into the United States. The sentence was handed down after he pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges following his extradition from Mexico in March 2007.

Prosecutors said Salinas Doria received at least 200 tons of cocaine and arranged for their shipment and delivery to wholesale distributors in New York and other U.S. cities.

• The extradition in April to the United States of Juan Jose Quintero Payan, one of the founders of the Juarez cartel, who was accused of running a smuggling operation for more than two decades.

Quintero Payan had been sought by U.S. authorities since 1985 and was convicted in Mexico on drug charges in 1999. While Mexico denied an extradition request in early 2000, it was accepted in 2006. He is the uncle of Mexican drug kingpin Rafael Caro Quintero, who was convicted in Mexico in the 1985 killing of U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agent Enrique “Kiki” Camarena.

• The May extradition of Mario Villanueva Madrid, a former governor of the Mexican state of Quintana Roo, who was accused of taking “millions of dollars” in bribes to order his state police to serve as armed guards for Juarez cartel smugglers as they off-loaded and transported more than 200 tons of cocaine from Colombian speedboats that eventually found their way to the U.S.

Separate indictments said Villanueva Madrid was paid $400,000 to $500,000 for each cocaine shipment transported through his state over a five-year period ending in 1998. The indictments said state police provided armed protection for cartel boat crews as they off-loaded the cocaine and then escorted the shipments hidden inside tanker trucks.

• The arrest in July by Mexican authorities of Rogelio Segovia Hernandez, a senior Juarez cartel member who served as an enforcer for the gang, according to Mexican officials. Segovia Hernandez has been identified by officials as being in charge of the gang’s drug-trafficking distribution, kidnappings and killings.

Mexican police said he participated in five killings at a ranch in Chihuahua state in 2008. He is also accused of involvement a bloody turf war with the rival Sonora cartel for securing control of the lucrative Juarez drug-smuggling route.

Dominguez-Vargas is accused of six counts of conspiracy to distribute and to possess with intent to distribute heroin, cocaine and marijuana between October 2007 and March 2009. If convicted, the suspected drug smuggler faces 10 years to life imprisonment and a fine of $4 million on the cocaine charges and five years to 40 years imprisonment and a $2 million fine for the marijuana.

Juarez has been the scene of several bloody murders tied directly to a drug war between rival cartels seeking to gain control of lucrative smuggling routes into the United States. More than 50 people were killed in Juarez between Friday and Sunday in a brutal weekend of violence, according to Mexican authorities.

The ongoing drug war has claimed more than 1,850 lives so far this year in Juarez, compared with 1,484 during the same period last year, according to government and federal law enforcement officials.

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