When a San Diego judge slammed his gavel down, notorious drug cartel leader of the Tijuana Arellano-Felix Organization (AFO), Benjamin Arellano-Felix received 25 years in a federal prison.
U.S. District Court Judge Larry A. Burns ordered the 60-year-old to serve what will most likely be the rest of his life behind bars for his role in racketeering and money laundering crimes. Judge Burns also required the kingpin to forfeit $100 million dollars.
“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,” said DEA Administrator Michele M. Leonhart. “It is a major victory for DEA and Mexico’s Calderon Administration. Together, we will continue our pressure on the Mexican cartels whose leaders, members, and facilitators will be prosecuted and face the justice they fear.”
Once Arellano-Felix was led out of the courtroom, U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy said this was the perfect ending for the drug cartel leader who’s responsible for murder and mayhem often associated with drug cartels.
“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,” Duffy said. She went on to say the landmark achievement of bringing down a powerful cartel in the United States, proves that Mexico’s joint effort to dismantle international cartels operating on both sides of the border can work.
Mexican Attorney General Marisela Morales also lauded the conviction of Arellano-Felix and said, “this defendant has finally been held accountable for his crimes. Today’s sentence, together with what remains of his sentence in Mexico, will go a long way in ensuring that Arellano Felix spends his remaining years in prison.”
The international drug trafficking AFO organization controlled the flow of cocaine, marijuana as well as other illicit drugs across the Mexican/U.S. border cities of Tijuana and Mexicali. AFO’s reach also extended into southern Mexico and Colombia.
The kingpin's reign of terror ended when Mexican authorities captured him on March of 2002 upon which the U.S. government began the extradition process that was granted in 2007. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) finally saw justice served after Arellano-Felix’s years of unsuccessful appeals finally lead to the drug lord’s transfer to a U.S. prison on April 2011.
San Diego’s new Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Acting Special Agent in Charge Eric Birnbaum said, “Today's sentencing marks the end of Mr. Arellano-Felix's reign as the leader of one of the most dangerous drug and organized crime organizations our agencies have ever investigated. While there is still much work to do, it is particularly noteworthy that this culmination would not have been possible without the cumulative efforts of law enforcement on both sides of the border. We are pleased to stand united against the violence brought forth by the AFO and see this individual brought to justice.”
Authorities said the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) special agents were ultimately responsible for dismantling the AFO’s money laundering scheme.
"Today’s sentencing is further evidence of the successful partnership that IRS Criminal Investigation has with other law enforcement agencies by using our financial expertise to unravel the money laundering component of this multinational drug-trafficking organization,” said Leslie P. DeMarco, Special Agent in Charge of IRS Criminal Investigation Los Angeles Field Office.
Court records and the defendant’s confession confirmed, Arellano-Felix lead the AFO drug cartel from 1986 to March 2002. Prosecutors provided evidence that the cartel’s decision maker Arellano-Felix, ordered numerous crimes against Mexican and Americans who were involved in the drug trade.
Attorneys for the government said under Arellano-Felix’s leadership the CEO ordered directives to top AFO organization lieutenants, including his brothers, Ramon, Eduardo, and Francisco Javier Arellano-Felix.
According to court testimony, “Arellano-Felix and other AFO members conspired to import and distribute within the United States hundreds of tons of cocaine and marijuana, for which the AFO profits reached hundreds of millions in U.S. dollars. At Arellano-Felix’s direction, members of the AFO kidnapped, physically restrained and murdered numerous persons in furtherance of the AFO's illegal activities.”
Other crimes committed by Arellano-Felix include bribing law enforcement officials, military personnel, as well as murdering informants and potential witnesses that could obstruct or impede any official investigation.
An integral component of a successful cartel centers on money laundry and the Arellano-Felix AFO organization conspired with other members of the narco trade to laundered millions of dollars of drug trafficking profits. The illicit drug-trafficking activities extended to transport, transmit, and transfer hundreds of millions in U.S. dollars from the United States to Mexico, according to a statement by the DEA.
The multi-agency investigation included DEA, FBI, and the IRS Criminal Investigation division. Assistant United States Attorneys Joseph Green, James Melendres, Daniel Zipp and U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy prosecuted the AFO case in the Southern District of California. The U.S. Attorney explained the Criminal Division Office of International Affairs delivered meaningful assistance in the extradition of the drug lord.
The U.S. government mandates that all international investigations must receive a green light from the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF). The OCDETF program was formed to consolidate and coordinate all law enforcement resources to ensure federal, state and foreign agencies share case details as part of the “connecting to dots” strategy after the 9/11 hearings highlighted the lack of information sharing between agencies.
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