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News Release [print-friendly page]
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
September 18, 2007

Leader and Senior Lieutenant of Arellano-Felix
Organization Plead Guilty to Criminal Charges

 SEP 18-- WASHINGTON -- Francisco Javier Arellano-Felix, the former leader of the deadly and violent narcotics trafficking Arellano-Felix Organization (AFO), and one of his senior lieutenants, Manuel Arturo Villarreal-Heredia, have pleaded guilty to criminal charges, the Department of Justice announced today.

Arellano-Felix, 37, and Villarreal-Heredia, 32, entered their pleas today before U.S. District Judge Larry A. Burns in federal court in San Diego.

Arellano-Felix pleaded guilty to operating a continuing criminal enterprise and conspiring to launder monetary instruments. At sentencing, under the terms of the plea agreement, the United States and Arellano will jointly recommend a sentence of life in prison.

Arellano also agreed to forfeit $50 million and his interest in the Dock Holiday, the 43-foot yacht upon which he was apprehended by the U.S. Coast Guard in international waters off the coast of Mexico in August 2006.

Villarreal-Heredia pleaded guilty to operating an enterprise through a pattern of racketeering activity and conspiring to invest illicit drug profits. According to the terms of the plea agreement, the United States and Villarreal-Heredia will jointly recommend that he be sentenced to 30 years in prison. Villarreal has also agreed to forfeit $5 million.

“The convictions of Javier Arellano-Felix and one of his top lieutenants are a direct consequence of our drug enforcement strategy to identify and attack the most powerful and violent drug trafficking organizations throughout the world,” said Acting Deputy Attorney General Craig S. Morford. “As Arellano-Felix joins the ranks of convicted felons like Colombian kingpins Gilberto and Miguel Rodriguez-Orjuella and Afghani kingpin Mohammad Noorzai, it is becoming increasingly clear that the trafficking of drugs into the United States from anywhere in the world will inevitably lead to a lengthy stay in U.S. prison. This case is particularly gratifying, in that it demonstrates increasingly effective cooperation with Mexico.”

“These guilty pleas demonstrate that the Drug Enforcement Administration, with the assistance of law enforcement officials both in the United States and Mexico, has effectively dismantled the leadership of the Arellano-Felix Organization,” said U.S. Attorney Karen P. Hewitt of the Southern District of California.

“Today marks a major victory for the U.S. and Mexico as one of Mexico's most powerful drug lords faces U.S. prison for the rest of his life,” said DEA Administrator Karen P. Tandy. “With the guilty pleas of Javier Arellano-Felix and his key lieutenant, DEA has driven a stake through the heart of one of the world's most powerful drug cartels.”

“The guilty pleas entered today represent a major blow to this powerful and vicious drug trafficking organization whose criminal enterprise spanned over two decades and involved violence, murder, and one of the most complex and sophisticated money laundering schemes in the world,” said Debra D. King, Special Agent in Charge, Internal Revenue Service - Criminal Investigation, Los Angeles Field Office.

As reflected by court documents and by the admissions of the two defendants in their guilty pleas, the AFO has been a drug cartel based in Tijuana, Mexico, that conducted criminal activities of unprecedented scope. For nearly two decades, the AFO imported hundreds of tons of cocaine and marijuana into the United States and laundered hundreds of millions of dollars in illegal drug proceeds.

The AFO enforced these criminal activities through the use of corruption and widespread violence, including the kidnaping, torture and murder of numerous individuals. The AFO targeted law enforcement officers and paid millions of dollars in bribes to government officials in Mexico.

Arellano-Felix assumed control over the AFO in 2002. At the time Arellano-Felix and Villarreal-Heredia were apprehended, Villarreal-Heredia was one of six senior lieutenants serving under Arellano. As part of their guilty pleas, Arellano and Villarreal admitted, among other things, that the AFO routinely wiretapped rival drug traffickers and Mexican law enforcement officials; impersonated Mexican military and law enforcement officials; trained assassination squads; “taxed” individuals seeking to conduct criminal activities in Tijuana and Mexicali; and kidnaped individuals for ransom.

Sentencing for Arellano-Felix is scheduled for Nov. 5, 2007, before Judge Burns. Sentencing for Villarreal-Heredia is scheduled for Jan. 7, 2008.

This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Laura E. Duffy, Peter Ko and Stephen M. Tokarz of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of California. The investigation and arrest of the defendants was the result of the work of the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Internal Revenue Service - Criminal Investigative Division, the United States Coast Guard, and the California Department of Justice.

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