- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 2, 2003

The State Department is offering a $20 million reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of seven members of the infamous Arellano-Felix drug-smuggling cartel in Mexico, all of whom are fugitives who escaped July indictments.

The fugitives are Francisco Javier Arellano-Felix, 33, for whom a $5 million reward is offered; Eduardo Ramon Arellano-Felix, 46, $5 million; Manuel Aguirre-Galindo, 59, $2 million; Efrain Perez, 48, $2 million; Jorge Aureliano-Felix, 50, $2 million; Gustavo Rivera-Martinez, 41, $2 million; and Gilberto Higuera-Guerrero, 35, $2 million.

They are being sought on charges of racketeering, conspiracy and money laundering.

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.

The indictments targeted what Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) officials called a multinational narcotics-trafficking network based in Mexico that controlled the flow of cocaine, marijuana and other illicit narcotics into the United States for more than 20 years.

The indictments, handed up in a U.S. District Court in San Diego, tied the 12 suspected gang members 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 the 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.

Officials in the United States and Mexico have estimated that gang members have been responsible for more than 100 drug-related slayings in both countries.

“International cooperation and the exchange of information are valuable weapons that law enforcement at all levels should be using to immobilize drug-trafficking organizations worldwide,” said DEA Agent Michael Vigil, who heads the agency’s San Diego field office and coordinated the Arellano-Felix investigation.

Mr. Vigil said the Arellano-Felix organization is believed to have negotiated directly with Colombian cocaine-trafficking organizations, including a Colombian guerilla organization, for the purchase of multiton shipments of cocaine.

He said the shipments were received by sea and air in Mexico, and then smuggled into the United States where they were distributed.

The State Department has described the Arellano-Felix cartel as a “major transborder trafficking group” and, in a recent statement, said the organization was a “priority target” of the U.S.-Mexican binational drug strategy.

The Secretary of State’s Narcotics Rewards Program was established by Congress in 1986 as a tool to assist the government in identifying and bringing to justice those responsible for smuggling hundreds of tons of illicit drugs into the United States each year.

Since 1989, the department has paid nearly $4 million in rewards to individuals who came forward with information leading to the arrest or conviction of major narcotics traffickers.

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