Prepared Remarks of Attorney General Ashcroft
Indictments of the Arellano-Felix Organization
San Diego, CA
July 8, 2003
(Note: The Attorney General often deviates from prepared remarks.)
Today is a good day for our fight against illegal drugs. It is a good day for justice. It is a good day for all those in Mexico and the United States who believe hope, law, and life, should triumph over greed, crime, and death.
This morning marks the unsealing of two indictments, both returned here in the Southern District of California, against alleged members of the Arellano-Felix drug cartel. These indictments accomplish two important objectives: first, they convey the full scope and magnitude of the drug trafficking enterprise run by the Arellano-Felix organization; second, they represent our successful effort to coordinate and cooperate with the Mexican government to prosecute these violent and destructive predators who have victimized both our communities.
The indictments charge that from 1986 to November 26, 2002, members of the Arellano-Felix family allegedly ran a criminal enterprise that engaged in the importation and distribution of literally tons of illegal drugs in the United States; sought to control the illegal drug markets of Tijuana and Mexicali; and used a campaign of fear, torture, and murder to silence potential informants, rivals, Mexican law enforcement, Mexican media, and the public at large.
The first indictment charges members of the Arellano-Felix family and their top lieutenants with racketeering offenses under the RICO statute, conspiracy to import and distribute controlled substances, and conspiracy to commit money laundering.
In addition, a second, separate indictment, also unsealed today, charges Gustavo Rivera-Martinez for his alleged involvement with the Arellano-Felix cartel. Specifically, Rivera-Martinez is charged with conspiracy to import and conspiracy to distribute controlled substances.
As the first indictment sets forth, the Arellano-Felix organization allegedly negotiated with Colombian cocaine suppliers and Mexican marijuana producers to purchase and transport multi-ton shipments of illegal drugs.
In particular, the indictments charge that the defendants, along with other members of the Arellano-Felix cartel, received large cocaine shipments from Colombia using commercial fishing boats, private planes, commercial airliners, and overland cargo. The defendants then allegedly transported large shipments of cocaine and marijuana overland by convoys or hidden in commercial trucks to associates along the Mexico-California border.
As detailed in the indictments, the defendants and other members of the Arellano-Felix organization used various methods to smuggle cocaine and marijuana into the United States--including the use of secret compartments inside the equipment of backpackers, small boats, personal and commercial vehicles, and even in helicopters.
The indictments also describe how the defendants allegedly bribed Mexican law enforcement and military officials to protect their shipments, to arrest rivals, and to seize loads from other traffickers.
Let me take a moment to commend Attorney General Rafael Macedo de la Concha of Mexico. He has demonstrated great leadership in his efforts and built an impressive record in fighting such bribery and corruption.
The indictments unsealed today describe a well-planned and sophisticated criminal operation. The defendants allegedly used coded communications to hide their identities and the meaning of their conversations.
The enterprise allegedly obtained and used armored vehicles equipped with guns; bulletproof glass; oil, nail, and smoke dispensers; and other equipment designed to evade Mexican law enforcement and rival drug traffickers.
The indictments also describe how the defendants operated houses known as "nests" or "caves" to conduct wiretaps and to monitor the communications of those within their organization, within rival organizations, and within Mexican law enforcement.
Furthermore, the defendants, along with others in the organization, allegedly used trained enforcers and assassins to kidnap, torture, and murder "enemies" in Mexico and the United States--whether they were rival traffickers; disobedient cartel members; or law-abiding police, journalists, or citizens who sought to fight back.
The indictments of these high-ranking members of the Arellano-Felix drug cartel also represent the convergence of the top priorities of the United States Department of Justice: the protection of our citizens, the reduction of illegal drugs, and the prevention of terrorism.
As the indictments set forth, the Arellano-Felix organization allegedly negotiated a cocaine-for-weapons partnership with the FARC (the Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces)--a revolutionary terrorist organization operating out of the Colombian jungles that is responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Colombians every year.
These indictments mark the culmination of years of hard work and represent the finest in international cooperation and interagency teamwork.
It is my honor to thank the Attorney General of the Republic of Mexico, Rafael Macedo de la Concha, for his leadership and his cooperation in the battle against illegal drugs. I also thank his Organized Crime Unit Chief, Jose Luis Santiago Vasconcelos, who has worked closely with American prosecutors on this case. The prosecution of such crimes is a victory for both Mexico and the United States of America.
This case sends a message to drug dealers everywhere: You have nowhere to hide. We will investigate, prosecute, and punish all those who deal in death. There is no escape across the border. Public servants and legal authorities from both Mexico and America are united and will seek extradition and justice at every opportunity.
It is also my honor to thank Director John Walters of the Office of National Drug Control Policy for his leadership in forging new alliances and implementing new ideas to fight drugs at the source, in transit, and on our nation's streets.
I also thank Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson and Associate Deputy Attorney General Karen Tandy for their effective and innovative leadership of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force that has played a significant role in this case.
Further, I commend the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of California, Carol Lam, and her prosecutors for their hard work and perseverance on this case.
I also commend the leadership and teamwork of the federal agents who have dedicated themselves to the fight against the predatory and the lawless. This teamwork by our federal agencies is essential to our success in fighting illegal drugs, and these agencies are represented here today by:
- FBI Deputy Director Bruce Gebhardt and the FBI special agent in charge Daniel L. Dzwilewski
- DEA special agent in charge Michael S. Vigil
- Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement special agent in charge Michael Turner
Let me also thank Director of IRS Field Operations, Richard Speier. One of the challenges of fighting organized crime or drug smuggling is finding and stopping the illegal flow of money. The IRS is a crucial partner in such efforts.
And as is the case with all major law enforcement operations, we are grateful for the cooperation and assistance provided by state and local law enforcement as well.
From the earliest days of his Administration, President Bush committed our nation to "an all out effort to reduce drug abuse." The President pledged our nation to an "unwavering commitment" to end the tragic toll of lives and hope lost to drugs.
The President's leadership and words communicate to every person here, and to every person who worked silently and heroically to make this day a reality, that every life has value and that every free man and woman has the privilege and honor to fight for a future that is marked by peace, liberty, and the rule of law.