Former drug lord gets life in prison

U.S. officials praise the cooperation of Mexican authorities in bringing down Arellano Felix.
By Greg Krikorian
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

November 6, 2007

SAN DIEGO — A onetime leader of Mexico’s notorious Arellano Felix narcotics organization asked for forgiveness in a courtroom here Monday as he was sentenced to life in prison for running what was once one of the world’s most successful and violent drug cartels.

“I am very remorseful and personally accept responsibility for my actions,” Francisco Javier Arellano Felix said in a letter read aloud by his lawyer. “If I had the power to change and undo the things that I have done, I would.”

Federal officials pointed to the Arellano Felix case as the result of unprecedented cooperation by Mexico in apprehending and extraditing drug traffickers and other criminals wanted in the United States.

In Washington, acting Deputy Atty. Gen. Craig S. Morford called Arellano Felix’s sentencing “a testament to the strong and increasingly effective cooperation” between the U.S. and Mexico.

Drug Enforcement Administration chief Karen P. Tandy, describing Arellano Felix as “once a symbol of the power and dominance of his family’s violent drug cartel,” also praised “the strength of collaboration between the DEA and Mexican law enforcement.”

Over the last several years, according to DEA spokesman Garrison Courtney, the Arellano Felix organization has been linked to the slayings in Mexico of drug rivals, innocent civilians, journalists, police officers and police chiefs as the gang cemented its hold on lucrative drug routes from Mexico into the U.S. Members of the cartel also were blamed for the accidental killing of Roman Catholic Cardinal Juan Jesus Posadas Ocampo at the Guadalajara airport in 1993.

“They were the match head for a lot of the violence in Mexico, and no one was immune from that,” Courtney said.

The sentencing came just over a year after the 37-year-old drug trafficker, nicknamed “the Wildcat,” was captured by the U.S. Coast Guard while deep-sea fishing off Baja California Sur.

A 2003 federal indictment in San Diego had charged Arellano Felix with conspiracy, smuggling and murder. In September, after more than a year in federal custody, he pleaded guilty to operating a continuing criminal enterprise and conspiracy to launder money, charges that carry a mandatory life sentence. In exchange, federal prosecutors agreed not to seek the death penalty.

Although weakened by the killing of one brother and the imprisonment of another, the Arellano Felix gang remains one of Mexico’s largest and most brutal drug-smuggling organizations since joining forces with the Gulf cartel. At its height in the late 1990s, the cartel was believed to be supplying nearly half the cocaine sold in the U.S.

In imposing the sentence, U.S. District Judge Larry A. Burns told Arellano Felix that his family’s exploits and name “will live in infamy.”

“The effect on this country of what you and your family have done is disastrous,” Burns said.

Acting on a tip, the DEA asked the Coast Guard to board the U.S.-registered boat Dock Holiday in August 2006. Arellano Felix, traveling under an alias, was arrested aboard the vessel in international waters about 15 miles off the Baja peninsula.

At Monday’s sentencing, Arellano Felix was ordered to forfeit $50 million and his interest in the yacht

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