Feared drug cartel leader gets 25 years

Arrested in Mexico in 2002

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Once one of the most feared and dangerous drug traffickers in the world, Benjamin Arellano-Felix, who bribed government officials in Mexico and kidnapped and killed his enemies, was sentenced Monday in federal court in San Diego to 25 years in prison and ordered to forfeit $100 million gained through his lethal empire.

Arellano-Felix, 60, leader of the notorious Tijuana-based Arellano-Felix Organization, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Larry A. Burns as part of a plea agreement with federal prosecutors that law enforcement authorities said effectively has dismantled the much-feared and dangerous cartel.

The hulking 6-foot-2, 220-pound drug boss admitted in court that he was the cartel leader from 1986 until his arrest in Mexico in March 2002 on Mexican charges, and that he served as its ultimate decision maker. He said he issued directives to other members, including his brothers Ramon, Eduardo and Francisco Javier, as well as his top lieutenants and drug-trafficking partners.

“The Tijuana cartel was one of the worlds most brutal drug trafficking networks, but has now met its demise with leader Benjamin Arellano-Felixs sentencing today,” said Michele M. Leonhart, head of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, which spearheaded the investigation.

Arellano-Felix pleaded guilty in January to racketeering, money laundering and drug trafficking, acknowledging that he orchestrated kidnappings, murders and other crimes for more than a decade when his familys cartel controlled the lucrative Tijuana drug-smuggling corridor. Five other cartel leaders have been convicted since 2002.

Arellano-Felix asked Judge Burns to give him credit for the nine years he served in Mexico before being extradited to the United States, but the judge rejected that request.

He was arrested in Mexico in 2002 and extradited by to the United States last April. A final order of extradition was granted in 2007, but he successfully appealed the case for another four years. He entered a guilty plea before Judge Burns on Jan 4.

Arellano-Felix and other cartel members conspired to import and distribute hundreds of tons of cocaine and marijuana, for which they made hundreds of millions of dollars in profits, according to the plea agreement.

They laundered the proceeds by directing others to transport, transmit and transfer hundreds of millions in U.S. dollars from the United States to Mexico. At Arellano-Felixs direction, members of the organization kidnapped, physically restrained and murdered numerous people, according to the agreement.

Also at Arellano-Felixs direction, the plea said cartel members bribed law enforcement and military personnel and murdered informants and potential witnesses.

Ms. Leonhart called the sentencing a “major victory” for the DEA and Mexican President Felipe Calderon, who has deployed military forces throughout Mexico to combat the drug cartels and the increased violence they have brought to that country.

“Together, we will continue our pressure on the Mexican cartels whose leaders, members and facilitators will be prosecuted and face the justice they fear,” she said.

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