SAN DIEGO, California — A Mexican drug kingpin was jailed for 25 years and ordered to pay back $100 million in a US court Monday, after pleading guilty to racketeering and money-laundering.
Benjamin Arellano Felix, former leader of the notorious Arellano Felix Organization (AFO), caused “chaos and violence on both sides of the (US-Mexican) border,” said judge Larry Burns in San Diego.
Arellano Felix was extradited from Mexico to the United States last April, to face charges of drug trafficking, criminal association, money laundering and organized crime.
He admitted racketeering and conspiracy to money-laundering in January, in a plea deal for the 25-year sentence, and an order to forfeit $100 million in criminal proceeds.
Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Administrator Michele M. Leonhart hailed Monday’s sentencing as “a major victory” for the DEA and the government of Mexican President Felipe Calderon
“The Tijuana Cartel was one of the world’s most brutal drug trafficking networks, but has now met its demise with leader Benjamin Arellano-Felix’s sentencing today,” he said.
“Together, we will continue our pressure on the Mexican Cartels whose leaders, members and facilitators will be prosecuted and face the justice they fear,” he said.
US Attorney for the Southern District of California, Laura Duffy, added: “Today’s prison sentence virtually ensures that Arellano-Felix will spend the remainder of his life in custody.
“Following this sentence, he will be deported to Mexico to finish a 22-year sentence. This is a fitting end for a person who has caused so much suffering and destruction,” she added.
The drug gang leader, who was detained in 2002, led the Tijuana Cartel, or Arellano Felix Organization, with his brothers and was considered the “financial and operative brain” of the gang, according to Mexican officials.
Arellano Felix had been in a maximum security jail in Mexico since his detention nine years ago, while the United States presented the extradition demand in 2007.
The Department of Justice called him “one of the most notorious multi-national drug trafficking organizations to ever exist,” controlling the flow of drugs through the Mexican border cities of Tijuana and Mexicali.
Its operations also extended into southern Mexico and Colombia, it said.
Duffy heralded the sentence as a landmark achievement in the United States and Mexico’s joint effort to dismantle drug cartels operating on both sides of the border.
“Attorney General Eric Holder and Mexican Attorney General Marisela Morales are pleased with today’s result and that this defendant has finally been held accountable for his crimes,” she said.
The Mexican kingpin’s conviction was the latest of an AFO leader, following those of Arturo Paez-Martinez in 2002, Ismael and Gilberto Higuera-Guerrero in 2007, Javier Arellano-Felix in 2007 and Jesus Labra-Aviles in 2010.