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Mexican cartel leader gets off easy in US court

The Americas Post - The Tijuana cartel leader got off with a lighter sentence than his underlings

Former drug capo Benjamin Arellano Felix pleaded guilty this week to federal racketeering and money-laundering conspiracy charges, putting an end to a long case against Mexico’s formerly most powerful organized crime group.

Arellano Felix, 58, the former leader of the Arellano Felix drug cartel, converted Tijuana into a major trafficking route to the U.S. during a 16-year run before his arrest in Mexico in 2002.

His group, also known as the Tijuana cartel, funneled tons of drugs into California, terrorized rivals, bribed Mexican law enforcement officials and financed luxurious lifestyles that became symbolic of Mexican organized crime.

According to the plea deal with federal prosecutors in San Diego, Arellano Felix admitted making hundreds of millions in profits, exchanging weapons for drugs from a rebel group in Colombia and training teams to assassinate competitors and witnesses.

Extradited from Mexico in April, he now faces a maximum penalty of 25 years in prison, according to the agreement.   Under terms of the extradition agreement with Mexico Arellano Felix was not subject to the death penalty, but many expected him to receive a life sentence.

His organization introduced paramilitary tactics, including .50-caliber machine guns and armored cars with oil and smoke dispensers to evade arrest.
The cartel regularly used chemicals to dispose of enemies, dissolving bodies in vats of acid.

As part of the plea agreement, four of the five original charges were dismissed. Arellano Felix pleaded guilty to only two counts: racketeering and conspiracy to launder monetary instruments. He also agreed to forfeit $100 million, according to the agreement.

The U.S. attorney for San Diego, Laura Duffy, called the case historic.

“Arellano-Felix led the most violent criminal organization in this part of the world for two decades. Today’s guilty plea marks the end of his reign of murder, mayhem and corruption, and his historic admission of guilt sends a clear message to the Mexican cartel leaders operating today: The United States will spare no effort to investigate, extradite, and prosecute you for your criminal activities.”