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Transcript of Conference Call with Senior Administration Officials on
the Extradition of Major Mexican Criminal Defendants

DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL PAUL J. MCNULTY:  Hi everyone.  Good afternoon.  This is Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty. 

We're taking this rather unusual step of having a conference call with the drug czar, Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy John Walters and our DEA Administrator Karen Tandy, and myself because we really want to underscore the extraordinary significance of what has occurred here in the past several days with the Mexican government extraditing these individuals to the United States. 

I know that you all have followed this, and most if not all of you have reported on it in some fashion.  We wanted to pause for a moment though and look a little deeper at the significance of this, talk about who these folks are, and give you an opportunity to ask some questions. 

I just want to make a few quick points, and then John Walters and Karen Tandy will speak.  First of all, we can't say enough about the overall effort that is going on with the Calderon administration in confronting some of the most powerful and vicious criminal organizations in the world.  Because of their -- these organizations' vast financial resources and the use of violence in promoting their criminal activity, they've achieved a major influence within Mexico.  And the Calderon administration has staked out a position in favor of law abiding citizens everywhere in both the United States and Mexico by choosing to stand up to these vicious criminals.

They have done a number of things in the last several weeks to confront the organized criminal activity and all the violence associated with it.  And this is just the latest of a number of steps, but we cannot overemphasize the significance of these actions together, specifically this most recent one, and frankly the courage that they're demonstrating in their willingness to take on these organizations as they have.

The extraditions that occurred on Friday night and early Saturday morning were the latest in the important initiatives that the administration in Mexico has launched in recent weeks to reduce the power of the cartels.  And what makes this one so significant is that it really represents or includes several leaders of the drug trafficking organizations and that gives it somewhat of an unprecedented nature. 

We've had a lot of extraditions out of Mexico.  In fact, in 2006 there were about 200-some defendants on a range of serious criminal changes.  But in this weekend's extradition we saw for the first time that Mexico is extraditing to the U.S. defendants who have led or held serious positions, high-level positions, in the country's most significant drug cartels.  And other serious violent criminals were included.

Each of the 15 people that were extraditing to the United States is wanted for charges here.  When you look at the individuals who have been brought to the United States and the range of crimes for which they are wanted, the various districts they are headed to, that is, where these charges are pending, they range from the Eastern District of New York, Brooklyn and other districts of New York, Manhattan to Colorado and southern California; Houston, Texas; San Antonio, Texas.  There's a real range of jurisdictions involved here and also a number of organizations, a large number of organizations and locations within Mexico from which they came.

So these are just some of the highlights, but Administrator Tandy is going to discuss the individuals in a little more detail. 

Before I turn it over to Director Walters, I want to draw attention to the folks who have made this possible, the great work that was done over the course of the weekend.  This all happened rather quickly, and we did not get much advanced notice about what was going to take place, and it required law enforcement in the United States to be ready to go with very little notice.  And they performed admirably under those circumstances.

So I want to thank the U.S. Marshal Service, and DEA, FBI, Immigration Customs Enforcement, and Customs and Border Patrol for the work that they did to receive these individuals.  They arrived in Ellington Air Force Base, and so we have to thank the Department of Defense and the Air Force in particular for their assistance.  They arrived there throughout Friday night and into Saturday morning.  And these agencies received them and made sure that they were processed and faithfully transported to holding facilities where they will await further proceedings.  So I want to thank all those agents who gave up their Friday nights and their Saturday mornings and did all that hard work. 

I also think we need to express appreciation to the investigators and the prosecutors who've been working for years to make these cases.  Some of the charges have been pending for ten years or more, so there's a lot of effort, a lot of determination and commitment to stay with these cases, and work hard, and answer questions and provide all the paper necessary to complete an extradition. 

This is another step forward in our OCTDEF work.  We have another consolidated priority organization target brought in with Osiel Cardenas.  And again, this is a part of the overall effort of dealing with Mexican law enforcement to not allow there to be a safe haven between these two countries for these traffickers. 

Now let me let John give his thoughts on this, and then we'll turn to Karen.  John

ONDCP DIRECTOR JOHN WALTERS:  Thanks a lot, Paul.  Yes, I just want to also thank President Calderon.  His leadership -- this is a watershed event. 

As you mentioned, some of these people have been a threat to Mexico and to innocent people throughout the hemisphere for a number of years.  President Calderon has embarked on an unprecedented, aggressive effort built on some of institutional reforms of his predecessor, but in swiftness of his military police operations against these threats in Michoacan, in Tijuana, and other operations in Santa Loa and other parts of the country he has been extremely aggressive.  And as you said, this was a turn of events that he set the pace of. 

In the past, we've been learning the ability of our two sovereign nations to respect sovereignty and work together.  This shows, I think, a new level of that respect, a new ability to -- without compromising the rightful sovereign authority of the two countries, to have law enforcement cooperate as partners and to prevent criminals from using the operation in different places to shield them from the justice they deserve.

The boldness of the Mexican response here obviously calls upon us to continue and to match that with our own boldness at home.  These people's power, in large measure, comes from the dollars of United States drug users.  And we continue to want to accelerate the declines we've seen in teenage drug use, the expansion on treatment where the addicted individuals who are the large volume consumers are removed from that demand market, as well as our own work to break the tentacles of these organizations inside the United States.

This gives us a unique opportunity to work against not only the large campos and mafia chieftains, and violent individuals but also to permanently weaken them by stepping up those actions. 

Finally, I think obviously, Mexico's suffering under these individuals has been talked about and likened to the suffering in Colombia during the Medellin and Cali cartels and that country's effort to kind of go after those individuals with hemispheric cooperation reaching out now, working Colombia and Mexico together as well as with other hemispheric partners including ourselves. 

What President Calderon has done is taken an enormously powerful and unprecedented step to take these structures down and, in multiple actions, at his pace, faster than anybody predicted and with an example of leadership that I think is truly stunning.  So obviously we could not be more impressed with the people he has working for him, their courage and their leadership and the fine partner they are in this effort.  We are obviously dedicated to matching those efforts with our own continued action here, and it gives us enormously great hopes for what progress we can make in the future.

I think at that point, I'll turn it over to Karen.


MS. TANDY:  This is the first time in the history of Mexico that they have extradited to the United States what amounts to a clean sweep geographically of the cartel leadership. 

The cartels that these 15 defendants were drawn from, 10 of them were the Tijuana cartel, the Juarez cartel, the Gulf Cartel, and the Federation.  Geographically, it's a clean sweep. 

The level of these leaders also is extraordinary.  To give you an idea of the significance of many of those who were extradited, one is a gatekeeper who was responsible for controlling drug smuggling across the border for the Juarez cartel.  Two were top echelon lieutenants of the Tijuana cartel.  The kingpin of the Gulf cartel, Osiel Cardenas Guillen is the highest ranking. 

And in addition to those, there were two high level lieutenants and then another two mid-level lieutenants who were responsible at high and mid-level for the transportation for the Federation.  Five of these defendants were specially designated by President Bush as foreign narcotic kingpins. 

Now did we get all of Mexico's major drug traffickers?  No, not yet.  But this past weekend, the U.S. and Mexico have taken a tremendous leap forward, and I want to take him in particular.

This weekend --  Juan Garcia Abrego was extradited by Mexico back in the early '90s and prosecuted in the southern district of Texas successfully.  Juan Garcia Abrego was succeeded by Osiel Cardenas Guillen, and it was Osiel Cardenas Guillen who founded the Zetas, who are the enforcement arm and responsible for much of the border violence in the border between Texas and Mexico.  He founded the Zetas in 1998.  And then from 1999 through March of 2003, he was responsible for moving four to six tons of cocaine per month into the United States into our neighborhoods across this nation, all across the major transit corridors along the southwest border along south Texas.

It is ironic that Osiel Cardenas Guillen was a former Mexican police officer who obviously betrayed the public trust of Mexico and exploited his knowledge to protect the Gulf cartel.  So for the past eight years, Osiel Cardenas Guillen manned one of the most brutal and powerful drug cartels in the world.  For the last four of those years, he did it from within a Mexican prison outside of Mexico City.  He has been charged in the southern district of Texas for, among other things related to the Gulf cartel, the assault and attempt to murder a DEA agent, an FBI agent and a Task Force officer who he obstructed justice against who was working for then United States Customs.

At the time, in late 1999, November 1999, when Osiel Cardenas Guillen attacked, attempted to murder the DEA and FBI agents, Cardenas was armed with his trademark gold-plated .45 and was surrounded by 10 to 15 of his henchman who brandished automatic weapons.  They surrounded the car that the DEA agent and the FBI agent were in.  There was a tense stand off, and our brave DEA and FBI agents avoided death only by talking their way out of this situation.

Others were not so lucky, and throughout Cardenas Guillen's notorious rise to power he authorized the murder of countless rivals.  He killed his way up the ladder to lead the Gulf cartel, and now he's looking forward to the first day of the rest of his life. 

He is facing charges in the southern district of Texas, and along with those charges there is a $300 million forfeiture count pending against him and the rest of the defendants in that indictment. 

The other defendants who were on the plane who were drug defendants at significant levels included Jesus Hector Palma Salazar who is a high level lieutenant for Chapa Guzman as part of the Federation.  He is facing charges in the southern district of California.

Ismael Higuera Guerrero and his brother Gilberto are also facing charges and were on the plane.  They are facing those charges in the southern district of California.  They were, between them, significant leaders in the Tijuana cartel.  Ismael was the Arellano-Felix Organization or the Tijuana cartel chief of operations, and his brother Gilberto supervised operations in neighboring Mexicali also for the Tijuana cartel.

The forfeiture count pending against these defendants is $289 million.  Other defendants included as part of that same Tijuana cartel, Jose Alberto Marquez Esqueda, who is, as I said, facing charges in the southern district of California.

Efrain Gonzalez Cisneros and his sister Alicia are facing charges in the southern district of Texas based indictment out of the McAllen division.  Osiel Cardenas is charged in the Houston division of that district.  Efrain and his sister Alicia were major transportation coordinators for the Federation.  Alicia Gonzales Cisneros was a transportation coordinator who was U.S. based. 

The defendant Saul Saucedo is a mid-level lieutenant with the Federation and Juarez cartels who faces a number of charges principally involved in money laundering and drug trafficking on behalf of those cartels out of the district of Colorado. 

Gilberto Salinas Doria is a high-level transportation coordinator for the Federation who faces charges out of the southern district of New York.  Gracielo Gardea Carrasco is a gatekeeper for the Juarez cartel who faces charges in the western district of Texas.  Miguel Angel Arriola Marquez was a lieutenant for the Juarez cartel and Federation who likewise faces charges in the district of Colorado.

MR. MCNULTY:  Oh, okay.  Well, we'd be happy to take your questions.  I guess the procedure is to just identify yourself, please, when you have a question.

MODERATOR:  And your media affiliation, that would be great.

QUESTION:  What guarantee is it these people will serve their sentences in the U.S.?

MR. MCNULTY:  Well, first of all, I think we need to be careful with where we are procedurally.  These individuals have all been charged in the United States, and therefore we have -- they have the presumption of innocence, and we are going forward with their initial appearances, removal to appropriate districts and then prosecution of cases against them. 

So following conviction if they are convicted, they remain in the United States in our custody unless -- some reason we would do otherwise.  And I have no information to suggest that that's the case.  But again, all of these individuals have to be prosecuted to standards.

QUESTION:  Hi.  My publication chiefly is interested in money laundering charges.  I guess my basic question is how many of these extraditions do involve money laundering charges.  And specifically, I suppose, do we have any idea what the total amount of forfeitures we're talking about that the government is seeking would be, and are these largely related to the money laundering charges?

And one last part of this question, how big a role do the laundering charges play in bringing these kingpins into the United States both from Colombia and Mexico?

MS. TANDY:  This is Karen Tandy.  A number of these defendants are charged with money laundering violations.  Those that are part of an indictment with a forfeiture allegation, that allegation is in part based on money laundering and part based on the drugs that were trafficked, and it would be hard to parse that out. 

The Office of Public Affairs can give you later that specific list of defendants charged with money laundering, but suffice it to say the principal defendants that were specially designated foreign narcotics kingpins are facing money laundering charges, which include the Higuera Guererro brothers and Osiel Cardenas Guillen, but it's not limited to those.

QUESTION:  Thank you.

QUESTION:  Yes, thank you.  Mr. Walters, you said in the past that one of the reasons of increased violence in Mexico was the fact that the Mexican government was going after the leaders of the cartels.  Now since one of the reasons for this position seems to be the fact that these people were conducting business from within prisons in Mexico, now that they are in the U.S., do you expect perhaps an increase in violence in Mexico or perhaps and turf war between these factions?

And secondly, if that's the case, do you think the Mexican government is prepared to live with it?

MR. WALTERS:  Well, let me take the last part first.  From where I've seen the leadership of President Calderon, he has been unprecedented in pushing institutions to make Mexican citizens safer.  This is an ongoing process obviously, nobody claims that these extraditions are the end.  They are an enormously powerful step to hopefully bring this violence to an end more rapidly for Mexico first of all, but also obviously for people living along the border on both sides where these individuals have preyed on people.

I think the violence that is caused by both the organizations themselves in an effort to protect themselves, by killing law enforcement and intimidating government officials and other -- frankly, fighting among themselves when one group is weakened, is obviously troubling to all of us.  Some of that violence when these powerful organizations start to prey on each other and people in between is something that -- it's hard to predict where that's going to go.

Obviously the way in the task to reduce that as dramatically as possible is the task that President Calderon has been trying to pursue, as rapidly as possible taking the power and the leadership, bringing it under the proper authority and holding it accountable. 

This is what we've tried to do in the United States with obviously organized crime and continue to try to do with drug traffickers.  This is what President Uribe has tried to do in Colombia, and they are reducing the murder rate, the kidnap rate, the massacre of individuals dramatically as a result. 

So yes, there is some violence that unfortunately is part of the process of trying to take these violent mafias and bring them to justice and the instability between each other that can be caused in that process.  But I don't think there's much mistake that the ability to follow through on that and to arrest and incarcerate and bring to justice these individuals is the path to better security and safety.  And what's striking is how rapidly in how many dimensions President Calderon has tried to make Mexico safer at a pace that I think surprised everybody, including us.

MS. TANDY:  Certainly Mexico anticipates violence and is prepared to meet that violence.  The attorney general of Mexico, Medina Mora set forth in his own press statement that the fact that they have undertaken these extraditions is proof of the decision of the Mexican government to face the wave of violence. 

And I can reinforce enough what Director Walters has said, these are courageous people, that the Supreme Court of Mexico has extradited cartel leaders and leadership across the board in Mexico at high levels into the United States.  The resolve of Attorney General Medina Mora and President Calderon is extraordinary. 

And these extraditions no doubt will produce violence, but it is very clear from the government of Mexico that they expect it, they're prepared for it, and it is important to them to face that in order to safeguard the people of Mexico.

QUESTION:  Hello, good afternoon.  I just wanted -- we had a front page story today talking about how the Pentagon has dramatically reduced spending for air surveillance and other interdiction because of demands in Iraq and Afghanistan.  I'm wondering now if the U.S. funds may -- Mexico is prepared to move forward aggressively but the U.S. is short of resources to maintain a level of surveillance that's needed.

MR. WALTERS:  Yes, this is John Walters.  I'd like to take a shot at that.  I'd be happy to talk to you in some detail.

I think the basic premises there are widely off the mark.  There obviously have been strains on a variety of the military and law enforcement platforms given the demands of the war on terror and the burdens that the agencies and agency personnel bear.  But the fact of the matter is we have had record seizures of the cocaine flow coming up from South America into this Central American Isthmus in Mexico. 

We have been able to do that through better intelligence, through our agencies and cooperation with other governments.  We've been able to do that by having tracker and surveillance aircraft better cued.  And people work very hard to maintain that rate, and you don't get continued record seizures here by gunning the program. 

I think some of that article, which I had a chance to skim this morning, leaves a very incorrect notion that we're not out there enforcing, in fact, more capable that we have been in a number of years back and we maintain that capability. 

So I would say to the extent to which that article claims that we have not, through the combined efforts of DOD, Coast Guard, DHS agencies, Justice agencies, combined assets, people, intelligence, takedown capability, cooperation with foreign nations, we are as strong as we've ever been.  And I think if you want judge that, I mean look at the interdiction rates and the rates of projected flow that we should continue to seize.

Sure, it's a struggle, and we've had a change from one platform to another.  Sometimes we've had some operational issues as you always have in these matters, but we're not weaker, we're stronger.  And I think that's going to reinforce, frankly, what the Mexicans are doing today in going after the organizations that are managing this flow. 

QUESTION:  Just a quick follow up on that, Calderon said over the weekend I think in Europe, while he was in Europe, that he was going to be looking to the United States for additional resources in the war.  What's his reception going to be like in Washington do you think when he comes asking for millions of dollars to help fight the drug war?

MR. WALTERS:  Well, we'd like to continue to expand our partnership and support Mexican anti-drug and security needs together.  Again, we have a relatively modest set of programs that share resources.  There's been, as you probably know, an issue about how do we do this in a way that respects Mexican sovereignty and doesn't compromise the legitimate concerns the Mexican leadership and the Mexican people have about that sovereignty. 

I think what you see today is a new era in working through those issues and forming a partnership that doesn't compromise sovereignty but instead compromises the capability of those who want to do harm to do that in Mexico and the United States.  So we'll be happy to, and we're working now to look at additional resources that we could help to provide to our Mexican partners in this, and we will continue to work with the government there as rapidly as possibly to identify and to work together and strengthen this effort.

QUESTION:  And one last question, who's next on the list?  Is it Deyardo Stenno Carahootz*?  Who do you want next?  Who's number one now that Cardenas has been extradited?

MR. WALTERS:  I'll leave that to my colleagues at Justice.

QUESTION:  Are there other individuals, in general?

MS. TANDY:  There are extradition requests for other traffickers that are in the legal process in Mexico, and we will be looking forward to the successful conclusion of those extradition proceedings.

QUESTION:  Well, the thought down here is that Deyardo and Caro Quintero are next on the list.  Is that something you can talk about?

MR. MCNULTY:  I don't think we want to talk about a list, per se, as if it's that kind of process.  We submit our request for extradition and go through that legal process for a number of individuals.  And certainly we hope that we will continue to see the leaders of the organization that are out there sent to us in addition to a large number of other individuals like we've seen in the past.  So this just gives us a lot of encouragement that we're off to such a great start this year.

We have time for a couple more questions.

MR. WALTERS:  This is John Walters.  I'm going to have to leave you at this point to go to another -- so I'll leave everyone in your good hands.  But thank you all.

MODERATOR:  Do any other reporters on the line have additional questions?

QUESTION:  Hi there.  Paul, you talked about not getting much notice.  It sounds like you really had to wamp up a big airlift.  Can you give us a little bit more of a sense of what it was like, how many airlifts were there and how many agents did you have to deploy to get them wheels down at Ellington and then sending them to the various districts?

MR. MCNULTY:  Okay, Stephanie.  I'll try to give you a little bit of that.  I don't have numbers of agents.  I'll see if anybody around the table here with me has any more detail about that. 

But we did receive word on Friday that the Mexican government had taken this step and was prepared to act quickly to send these individuals to us and so it required us to mobilize immediately with virtually no notice.  And the Marshal Service was prepared to receive the prisoners.  Although it's unprecedented in terms of who these individuals were and the number for Mexico, the Marshal Service routinely, as you know, Stephanie, receives fugitives from all kinds of locations and can do that pretty quickly. 

We had to pick a location that would be as central and as conducive to the security and the resources that we needed to have available, and so that's why Ellington Air Force Base became the right location.  We used that Air Force base for other prisoner transportation needs in the Houston area, and the Marshal Service had good relations there and was able to move quickly.

DEA was informed of this at the same time as Department of Justice leadership and they too quickly mobilized to have their agents on the ground. 

I mentioned there were a number of agencies involved.  I can't say precisely, we're talking dozens of individuals from the different agencies that were represented.  There were three flights that arrived.  Arrival time was roughly 7 p.m. on Friday evening.  The first flight had two individuals.  The second flight a couple hours later was three individuals, and the third flight arrived about midnight or shortly thereafter with ten individuals. 

And they were all processed through DHS as they need to be, and then the Marshal Service, with the assistance of the other agencies, transported them to the appropriate facilities in the southern district of Texas for detention as they would with their other prisoners.  So that's basically the way in which it all came down and again folks jumped into action and worked through the night to make it all happen. 

QUESTION: Mr. McNulty, I would like to ask you something.  Do believe these huge military operations, these police operations are the right answer for this threat in Mexico?  And how do you think these are going to help to block the routes of the drug smugglers throughout Mexico still in the South border. 

MR. MCNULTY:  Hi. First of all, this wasn't a military operation.  This was an extradition judicial proceeding of the country of Mexico, and the entire process that was followed on both sides of the border is the same judicial process. 

The impact to affect the flow of drugs, quite clearly this will have some disruption force.  When you look at the geographic spread, the level of these leaders, the fact that many of them were still operating their cartels from prison within Mexico, this will have certainly a disruption to those various cartels as they attempt to regain their position and fill those now vacant positions.

QUESTION:  Yes, I'm sorry.  Maybe I did not ask the right way.  How do you think the military operations in different parts of Mexico are going to help to stop the illegal trade of drugs and the production, and how this is going to help to eradicate that threat in Mexico as well as in the U.S.?

MR. MCNULTY:  I think that's a question that is more appropriately directed to the officials in Mexico.  There are a number of efforts that they've undertaken to restore order throughout the country and have dispatched law enforcement and others in large numbers to do that, which is yet another signal that this administration in Mexico is serious about protecting the people of Mexico, and restoring order and doing so consistent with the principles of a democratic society following the rules of justice.

QUESTION:  Hi.  This is Donna Leinwand from USA Today.  In the past, Mexico has been reluctant to extradite people because of our use of the death penalty here.  Has something changed?  Has the U.S. agreed not to seek the death penalty in some of these cases?  And if so, why was that decision made?

MR. MCNULTY:  Donna, in our extradition work with each of these cases, we have to make the assurances necessary for successful extradition.  This is not unique to Mexico.  We run into this with many other countries where we are seeking extradition.  And in all of these case, the actions taken in this weekend were preceded by the filing of proper extradition papers with the Mexican government, and they went into the Mexican system of justice. 

And in those filings, we are ordinarily required, and to the best of my knowledge, though I haven't reviewed the specifics in these cases, but I'm fairly confident in saying that to the best of my knowledge we have made the assurances that we would make in all such cases with regard to the death penalty.  And we keep those assurances that we make in the extradition process.

QUESTION:  Those assurances being that you will not seek the death penalty?

MR. MCNULTY:  Correct.

QUESTION:  Okay.  And can you tell me why you think this has happened so quickly.  Was there some sort of change of heart with the Mexicans?  Why were these folks on a plane within hours of decisions being made?

MR. MCNULTY:  Well, I think we've tried to say one thing already.  I make two points.  The first is that this is part of the overall effort that we are seeing out of the administration to confront these major drug trafficking organizations. 

So the first part, in answering your question, is it's a big piece of this overall campaign to confront the organization.  It's taking the leaders -- it's historically been a key strategy in trying to take on the organization because they are dependent upon the leadership to run effectively. 

Secondly, the reason for the timing is security related.  The government needed to move quickly so that there would be the maximum opportunity to get these individuals removed from various prison facilities in the country and to not have that action compromised in any fashion.  So we understood it as being something that they had to do quickly in order to execute it in the most effective and safest way.

QUESTION:  Do you think their extradition would have provoked some sort of violence?  Is that the idea?

MS. TANDY:  Well, I don't want to speculate specifically, but certainly there is wide range of violence that's associated with the law enforcement efforts, threats made against people routinely -- and so it's -- it would be understandable that there would be concerns for security in making such a bold move as this is. 

QUESTION:  Now in terms of these folks operating from jails in Mexico City, from -- actually, they were in maximum security prisons in Mexico City, yet they were still able to run their organizations.  What will be the difference here?  Why would they not be able to run their organizations from U.S. jails?

MR. MCNULTY:  Well, these individuals, if they're convicted, they will be confined in federal prisons in the United States, and the Bureau of Prisons does a fantastic job in assessing the threat posed by everybody who is in their custody and puts them into circumstances of confinement appropriate with that threat.  So we have a long record of not having those kinds of problems occur within the Federal Bureau of Prisons, and it can include everything from monitoring all telephone calls and letter and visits and whatever is necessary in order to ensure that there is no criminal activity going on while they're confined.  So it's an operation -- a lot of operational specifics and expertise that BOP has.