Life in prison for Mexican drug cartel leader

| 11/8/2007

The leader of a major Mexican drug cartel was sentenced to life in prison in early November for overseeing a criminal enterprise of “unprecedented scope” and conspiring to launder money – and admitted to routinely wiretapping rival drug-traffickers and taxing criminals operating in Tijuana and Mexicali.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, Francisco Javier Arellano-Felix, 37, and another member of the cartel, Manuel Arturo Villarreal-Heredia, 32, entered their pleas in September before U.S. District Judge Larry Burns in federal court in San Diego.

Arellano-Felix agreed to accept a life prison sentence and to forfeit $50 million and his interest in the Dock Holiday, a 43-foot yacht he was on when arrested by the U.S. Coast Guard in August 2006.

Villarreal-Heredia agreed to be sentenced to 30 years in prison and will forfeit $5 million after pleading guilty to racketeering and conspiring to invest illicit drug profits.”

The Arellano-Felix Organization was based in Tijuana, Mexico, and imported at least hundreds of tons of cocaine and marijuana into the United States while laundering hundreds of millions of dollars in drug proceeds, a DOJ news release stated.

In addition, AFO wiretapped rival drug traffickers and Mexican law enforcement officials, impersonated Mexican military and police, trained assassination squads, “taxed” individuals conducting criminal activities, and kidnapped individuals for ransom.

Federal prosecutors praised cooperation between the Mexican and American governments.

“As Arellano-Felix joins the ranks of convicted felons like Columbian kingpins Gilberto and Miguel Rodriguez-Orjuella and Afghani kingpin Mohammad Noorzai, it is becoming increasingly clear that the trafficking of drugs into the United states from anywhere in the world will inevitably lead to a lengthy stay in U.S. prison,” said Acting Deputy Attorney General Craig Morford.

“DEA has driven a stake through the heart of one of the world’s most powerful drug cartels,” said DEA Administrator Karen Tandy.