- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 13, 2003

Suspected members of a multinational drug-trafficking network based in Mexico are the targets of a global manhunt following indictments last week against the infamous Arellano-Felix cartel, which officials say has controlled the flow of cocaine, marijuana and other illicit narcotics into the United States for more than 20 years.

The indictments, handed up in U.S. District Court in San Diego, tied 12 suspected gang members — five of whom are in custody — to an “overarching racketeering conspiracy” responsible for the importation and distribution in the United States of hundreds of tons of cocaine and marijuana beginning in the early 1980s and continuing to the present.

Prosecutors said the cartel members, whose profits were estimated at “hundreds of millions of dollars,” conspired to import and distribute cocaine and marijuana, as well as launder the illicit profits.

The indictments also said gang members recruited, trained and armed groups of bodyguards and assassins to protect Arellano-Felix leaders, and conducted assassinations of rival drug traffickers, suspected collaborators, uncooperative Mexican law-enforcement and military personnel, and members of Mexican news organizations who printed unfavorable stories about the Arellano-Felix organization.

Law-enforcement authorities in the United States and Mexico have estimated that gang members have been responsible for more than 100 drug-related murders in both countries.

One of the men named in the indictments is Gustavo Rivera-Martinez, 41, charged with conspiracy to import and distribute controlled substances, as well as aiding and abetting. The indictment said Rivera-Martinez, who is a fugitive and believed to be in Mexico, served as a lieutenant in the Arellano-Felix organization — a close confidant and adviser to Javier Arellano-Felix, the cartel’s leader of trafficking operations in northern Baja California.

Five of the defendants named in this indictment are in Mexican custody, while the other seven are at large and believed to be residing in Mexico. The United States will seek extradition of all 12 to stand trial in this country.

Others charged and still at large are Eduardo Ramon Arellano-Felix, 46; Francisco Javier Arellano-Felix, 33; Manuel Aguirre-Galindo, 59; Gilberto Higuera-Guerrero, 35; Efrain Perez, 48; and Jorge Aureliano-Felix, 50. Charged and in Mexican custody are Alberto Benjamin Arellano-Felix, 49; Jesus Labra-Aviles, 57; Ismael Higuera-Guerrero, 41; Rigoberto Yanez, 41; and Armando Martinez-Duarte, 49.

“These indictments mark the culmination of years of hard work and represent the finest in international cooperation and interagency teamwork,” said Attorney General John Ashcroft. “This case sends a message to drug dealers everywhere: We will investigate, prosecute and punish all those who deal in drugs. There is no escape across the border.”

In an unprecedented show of international cooperation, Mexican Attorney General Rafael Macedo-De La Concha, whose office provided substantial assistance to the United States during the course of the investigation, joined Mr. Ashcroft at a news conference Tuesday announcing the unsealing of the indictments in San Diego. John P. Walters, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, also participated.

“Mexico and the United States have a shared interest in reducing the availability of these poisons, and punishing those who would push them on our young people,” Mr. Walters said. “We applaud the continued courageous leadership that the Fox administration has demonstrated in this important area.

“Both of our nations are demonstrably better off when drug traffickers are brought to justice and fewer drugs pollute our streets.”

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