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Narco Blog: Mexican Ex-Drug Kingpin Pleads Guilty in U.S.

Narco Blog: Mexican Ex-Drug Kingpin Pleads Guilty in U.S.

Photo: Benjamin Arellano Felix

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Benjamin Arellano Felix, who headed the Tijuana cartel until 2002, has pleaded guilty to racketeering and money-laundering conspiracy charges in U.S. federal court in San Diego, California, prosecutors said.

Arellano Felix, who was extradited from Mexico in April 2011, faces up to 25 years in prison, a maximum fine of $500,000 for both charges and the forfeiture of $100 million in assets obtained from his illicit activities, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of California said Wednesday.

The former drug lord, who is due to be sentenced in April, had initially pleaded not guilty to the charges in an arraignment in May 2011.

Arellano Felix acknowledged in the plea agreement that he headed the Tijuana cartel - a drug-trafficking organization also led by brothers Ramon, Eduardo and Francisco - from 1986 until his arrest in 2002 in Mexico.

Under his command, cartel members kidnapped and killed numerous people, including potential witnesses to its activities, and bribed Mexican authorities.

Benjamin Arellano Felix was arrested in 2002 and Mexico in 2007 accepted a request for his extradition from the United States, which said in its petition that the Tijuana cartel dominated drug-smuggling networks to the United States.

Prior to his extradition, Mexico’s Attorney General’s Office said in a statement that Benjamin Arellano Felix “controlled the flow of cocaine, marijuana and other substances” into the United States from the border cities of Tijuana and Mexicali in the heyday of the cartel his family founded.

The Tijuana cartel “systematically bribed corrupt law enforcement officials and military officers, who used their positions and their subordinates to provide protection to the high-ranking members of the organization, as well as for the drug shipments,” according to the statement.

Between 2002 and 2011, Arellano Felix was kept in solitary confinement at a Mexican prison.

The Tijuana cartel began to weaken in 2002 when Ramon Arellano Felix, who had maintained internal discipline and ordered the executions of rivals, was killed in a shootout with police in Sinaloa state.

In 2006, the U.S. Coast Guard captured Francisco Javier Arellano Felix - who had assumed the leadership of the cartel after Ramon’s death and Benjamin’s arrest - on a fishing boat off Mexico’s coast.

Eduardo Arellano Felix, the last of the brothers to remain on the lam, was captured in October 2008 after a shootout with police in Tijuana. The United States has requested his extradition.

Although its influence is much diminished, the Tijuana cartel continues to operate.

Mexican authorities say Fernando Sanchez Arellano, nephew of Enedina Arellano Felix - sister of Benjamin, Eduardo and Francisco Javier - currently runs the criminal organization.