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Former Leader of Arellano-Felix Drug Trafficking Organization
Sentenced to Life in Prison

WASHINGTON – Francisco Javier Arellano-Felix, the former leader of the deadly drug trafficking Arellano-Felix Organization (AFO), was sentenced to serve life in prison, the Department of Justice announced today. 

At the sentencing hearing at federal court in San Diego today, U.S. District Judge Larry A. Burns also ordered Arellano-Felix, 37, to forfeit $50 million and his interest in a yacht, the Dock Holiday.

Arellano-Felix’s sentence follows his September 2007 guilty plea to operating a continuing criminal enterprise and conspiring to launder monetary instruments.  According to court documents, since the 1980s, the AFO has controlled narcotics trafficking through the Tijuana and Mexicali corridors adjacent to the southern United States border with Mexico.  As part of his guilty plea, Arellano-Felix admitted that, until his arrest, he was a principal administrator of the AFO.  During that time, the AFO distributed indeterminable amounts of cocaine and marijuana, exceeding hundreds of tons. 

Arellano-Felix admitted murdering and participating in and directing the murders of numerous persons in furtherance of the AFO’s activities.  He also admitted that he and other AFO members repeatedly and willfully obstructed and impeded the investigation and prosecution of AFO activities by paying millions of dollars in bribes to law enforcement and military personnel, murdering informants and potential witnesses, and murdering law enforcement personnel.  AFO members also 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 kidnapped individuals for ransom.

Arellano-Felix was apprehended by the U.S. Coast Guard in August 2006 in international waters off the coast of Mexico, aboard the Dock Holiday.

“Francisco Javier Arellano-Felix will spend the rest of his life in prison for leading a violent Mexican drug cartel that was responsible for trafficking hundreds of tons of cocaine and marijuana, and committing countless acts of violence and corruption,” said Acting Deputy Attorney General Craig S. Morford.  “His arrest and prison sentence are a testament to the strong and increasingly effective cooperation between our government and Mexico’s and our commitment to prosecuting the most powerful drug kingpins from around the world for trafficking narcotics into the United States.”

According to U.S. Attorney Karen P. Hewitt of the Southern District of California, “The life sentence imposed upon Javier Arellano-Felix today ensures that his reign of violent crime and international drug trafficking, which harmed countless individuals in both the United States and Mexico, is forever over.”

“Francisco Javier Arellano-Felix was once a symbol of the power and dominance of his family's violent drug cartel.  Today, as he is sentenced in a U.S. court, he is a symbol of the strength of collaboration between the DEA and Mexican law enforcement, and of the supremacy of excellent investigative work,” said DEA Administrator Karen P. Tandy.  “The world’s major drug kingpins, like Arellano-Felix, try to isolate themselves and let their foot soldiers take the risks and do the prison time.   Today’s sentencing shows that though top brass traffickers may feel untouchable, they are not beyond the reach of aggressive, cooperative law enforcement.”

“Today’s sentencing closes the door on two decades of drug trafficking and crime that involved one of the most sophisticated money laundering schemes in the world,” said Eileen Mayer, Chief, IRS Criminal Investigation.  “IRS Criminal Investigation is proud to be a part of the law enforcement team that brought this organization and its leaders to justice.”

Arellano-Felix’s co-defendant, Manuel Arturo Villarreal-Heredia, a senior lieutenant apprehended with Arellano-Felix aboard the Dock Holiday, is scheduled to be sentenced on Jan. 8, 2008.  Villarreal-Heredia pleaded guilty in September 2007 to operating an enterprise through a pattern of racketeering activity and conspiring to invest illicit drug profits.

This case was 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.