Originally published July 23, 2010 at 12:45 p.m., updated July 23, 2010 at 4:09 p.m.
Forty-three people allegedly tied to a Mexican drug cartel were charged with federal conspiracy and racketeering offenses, including murder, kidnapping, drug smuggling and money laundering, authorities said today.
Some of the people indicted are current or former policemen in Tijuana.
According to a criminal complaint, the defendants are members and associates of the Fernando Sanchez Organization (FSO), an offshoot of the Arellano-Felix (AFO) drug-trafficking cartel.
Laura Duffy, the U.S. Attorney in San Diego, said the AFO no longer exists "as we know it," but has divided into fractions that have become rivals with each other.
A Mexican police official who worked closely with U.S. law enforcement was one of those arrested for allegedly filtering classified information to drug traffickers and helping police arrest his drug group's rivals.
The complaint alleges that Jesus Quinones Marques, the International Liaison for the Baja California Attorney General's Office, was aware of the FSO's illegal activities and used his position to obtain confidential law enforcement information for the FSO. He was one of the go-to people when criminal cases involved the U.S. and Mexico.
Federal authorities say he was arrested on Thursday on his way back to Tijuana after meeting with counterparts in San Diego.
Duffy says Quinones and the others worked for Fernando Sanchez Arellano, the nephew of the Arellano-Felix Cartel founders.
Arellano, the alleged drug boss, is not named in the indictment. Duffy wouldn't say if Arellano is facing charges.
Duffy says 27 of the arrests were made across San Diego County.
"The cities of San Diego, Chula Vista, National City and Imperial Beach, are not going to be the safe haven that they run to to continue to operate their businesses," said Duffy.
Kieth Slotter heads the FBI in San Diego. He says law enforcement prevented 25 violent crimes during the course of the investigation. "There were no less than 8 murders and or kidnappings that were prevented by this investigation that undoubtedly would have occurred, including two police officers, Mexican police officers, who's lives were saved by the work of the individuals on this task force. I cannot overstate the significance of that," says Slotter.
Federal authorities say the investigation included 40 wire taps and 50-thousand recorded conversations.
According to the indictment, Quinones was caught on a wire-tap talking to an allegedly violent underboss, Jose Alfredo Najera Gil, who was also indicted. Court papers say Najera was arranging to get Quinones a new telephone number for Quinones' phone, but told Quinones he shouldn't worry, because he wouldn't lose his contact list.
"I am not aware of any legitimate reason for a high-ranking public official such as Quinones to have a telephone controlled and funded by a high-ranking member of a criminal organization," reads the indictment.
Duffy said the arrest of Quinones, who recently celebrated Independence Day at the US Consul's home in Tijuana with dozens of US and Mexican law enforcement authorities and public figures, won't stop U.S. authorities from working with their counterparts in Mexico.
"We have evolved in the way that we've dealt with our Mexican counterparts in the past. Of course there are systems and measures that we will put in place and that we will learn from, from this experience. But, we will go on and take it to the next phase. And continue with our cooperation," Duffy said emphatically.
Jessie Navarro, with the San Diego County District Attorneys office, often met with Quinones and says he was surprised about the charges. "He seemed to be very supportive and cooperate with U.S. law enforcement, seemed to be very professional. All of us know that there is corruption on the Mexican side of law enforcement. It does not mean that everybody is corrupt," said Navarro.
The charges stem from a long-term investigation titled "Operation Luz Verde" (Operation Green Light), conducted by the multi-agency San Diego Cross Border Violence Task Force, which was created to target individuals involved in organized crime-related violent activities affecting both the United States and Mexico.
DEA Special Agent in Charge Ralph W. Partridge said the conclusion of the investigation illustrates the commitment of law enforcement to dismantle drug-trafficking organizations at every level.
"The citizens of San Diego can feel safer today knowing that these violent offenders are off our streets," Partridge said.
According to Duffy, authorities continue to search for five U.S.-based fugitives charged in the complaint.