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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© Copyright 2012 Kimberly Dvorak All Rights Reserved.
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The latest victim of the California budget crisis will leave Californians besieged with criminals and fewer law enforcement agents.
California’s Democrat Governor Jerry Brown approved a budget earlier this year that calls for reduced DOJ funding. The cuts leave many drug-related investigations in the lurch and force local law enforcement agencies to reorganize manpower and funds.
Senior level federal agents say overreaching budget cuts in the state’s Department of Justice (DOJ) clips 34 of the 52 successful anti-crime task forces.
The Department of Justice’s Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement and the Bureau of Investigation and Intelligence (BII) are expected to absorb the lion share of the $71 million in proposed cuts. Also, approximately 170 task-force agents will either receive pink slips or demotions.
“Unless we receive some definite answer or information prior to December 31st of this year, we’re going to have to walk out on approximately 200 people who assist law enforcement on a daily basis,” explained Larry Wallace the DOJ’s director of Law Enforcement. He also warned Californians that these cuts have the potential to increase crime throughout the state.
These draconian-like cuts would all but eliminate the nation’s premier marijuana task force responsible for seizing 72 percent of the nation’s pot plants. The Campaign Against Marijuana Planting (CAMP) is responsible for confiscating more than $70 billion worth of weed in the last seven years.
More political football
California is a bastion for politics, and like Washington D.C., leaders continue to play politics with the state’s future.
“Like most other recipients in the California budget in the past 20 years, DOJ has become a political football. It has become administratively top heavy with appointments to posts by Sacramento as political favors,” according to Police- A Law Enforcement magazine report. “This proposed $71 million in reductions would cut out the working staff but leave many of the political appointments in place. Depending on the political shifting winds in Sacramento, the BNE has been pulled out of its role fighting drug traffickers and organized crime to serving the ‘for show’ politically correct issues such as Department of Recycling (DOR). DOJ agents who are expert in investigating criminal gangs and organized crime have been reassigned to fight recycling fraud and environmental issues.”
This worries Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (BATFE) and Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) personnel who complain they don’t have the necessary resources to combat trans-national cartel organizations.
One program responsible for curtailing cartel activities is the San Diego task force dealing with the Arellano-Felix drug and human trafficking organization. DOJ agents have already been removed from this task force; a decision will cost the DOJ millions in seized proceeds.
In the past, California Attorney General Kamala D. Harris has taken credit for Justice-led operations that targeted the Sinaloa cartel. A recent seizure netted 18.5 kilos of cocaine worth an estimated $1.85 million.
“This operation is an example of the complex and multi-jurisdictional work that Department of Justice agents do every day to keep California safe,” AG Harris said. “I commend these agents for their bravery and professional excellence.”
However, law enforcement officers contend that the proposed cuts from the DOJ task forces would dramatically reduce the multi-agency efforts required to target the transnational gangs that fuel Mexico’s war on drugs.
Officials conclude by saying, the only folks happy with the cuts are criminal gangs and cartel members.
This week Mexico gained a few dubious titles, most violent city in the world (Ciudad Juarez), highest single-day murder rate (69) and drug cartel capitol of world; that being said, Mexico’s neighbor to the north, California has started its march toward legalizing marijuana and collecting taxes in order to close the states’ chronic budget shortfalls.
In a narrow vote along party lines California Democrat Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D- San Francisco), who sponsored the bill, successfully did what no other city or state has been able to do and that is legalize, regulate and tax marijuana. If the legislation is able to make it through both California legislative bodies, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has indicated he will sign such a bill.
“This is a significant vote because it legitimizes the quest for debate, legitimizes the quest for discussion,” Ammiano explained. “This is far from over. Not only did we get it out of (the) public safety (committee), but members are now willing to say, yes, this is worthy of discussion.”
The overly liberal delegation from San Francisco was instrumental in pushing the legalization of marijuana as a way to earn extra money for the budget shortfalls that plague California.
“This is an absurd proposal on the part of those in the Legislature that just don’t get it. They’ve spent years raising taxes, and yes fees are taxes, too, and then spending the daylights out of it. They have yet to find a tax they don’t like,” says Andy Ramirez a border security expert. “In this case, they truly believe they can balance the budget off dope, which is stupid. There are many consequences to messing with narcotics and those who support it contribute to the consumption by the masses. What else can one expect from elected officials serving the People’s Republic of San Francisco?”
According to the Drug Policy Alliance Network, this is just the formal beginning of the end of getting pot off the streets and into the local liquor stores.
However the legislation drew heavy concerns from opponents. “We are going to legalize marijuana and then tax it and then educate our kids on the harms of drugs? You got to be kidding me,” Danny Gilmore, assemblyman (R-Hanford) said.
It appears that some state lawmakers wish to tap into the regulation process before a similar ballot initiative reaches the November ballot in California.
The Democratic bill that passed out of committee would rescind laws on the books regarding the penalties enforced regarding green plants (pot). If passed, California residents would be able to cultivate, transport, purchase and sell marijuana to anyone over the age of 21.
Lawmakers behind the push for legalization see this as a potential $14 billion windfall enabling Sacramento’s spending spree.
Marijuana activist, Aaron Smith of the Marijuana Policy Project said, “Prohibition has failed to stop or curb marijuana use or availability. This legislation would end this insane policy of allowing this huge market to go completely unregulated and free of taxes.”
Disputing Smith’s claim is the acting President of the California Police Chiefs Association. “It’s not only naïve but patently dangerous.”
Since America consumes 80 percent of the world’s drugs several critics don’t see the logic in teaching children about the perils of drug use and then turn around and say it okay when you are 21.
The old arguments also remain in place from parents, “the use of marijuana can lead to the use of hard core drugs. I also believe that if adults can purchase pot legally what is going to stop them from purchasing a larger quantity and sell it to kids for a profit,” Nancy Dillinger said. “It’s ridiculous to think legalizing a drug would prevent kids from using it.”
Back in Mexico the drug cartels are profiting from a thriving drug business, one that has led to more murders in a year than the entire eight-year war in Iraq and Afghanistan combined. It’s hard to believe the cartels will step back a say, ‘hey California has made it legal so I guess we will look for a new line of work, who needs billions of dollars.’
Speaking of the cartels, in an effort to curtail marijuana apprehensions in Mexico the government legalized the right to own small amounts to pot in the country. The result –crime and murder rates have continued to escalate.
Since the legalization of drugs in Mexico the country has seen more than 15,000 murders and there hasn’t be a slow down in the war against the drug cartels. In fact, last year Forbes magazine put cartel kingpin Joaquin Guzman on the list of the world’s wealthiest billionaires.
As long as the demand remains, the brutality of the cartels will remain, and if then cartels remain so does the violence associated with the drug trade. Does California really want to be responsible for the perpetual cycle the drug trade fosters?