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Ex-Leader Of Arellano Felix Drug Cartel Sentenced In San Diego

Aired 4/2/12 on KPBS News.

Benjamin Arellano Felix was sentenced to 25 years in prison, which prosecutors called a virtual life sentence. It came at the end of a hearing where he tried to bring up new legal issues after accepting the plea agreement.

— A U.S. judge sentenced former Mexican drug kingpin Benjamin Arellano Felix on Monday to 25 years in prison.

He was also ordered to forfeit $100 million.

The punishment was handed down at the end of a Monday morning hearing in which Arellano Felix and his new attorney brought up new legal issues. They claimed his former attorney, whom he recently fired, did not explain to the drug kingpin that he was not getting credit in the U.S. for the time he served in a Mexican jail. They also argued that his extradition from Mexico was illegal.

Benjamin Arrellano Felix is shown in this undated photo supplied by Mexican authorities March 9, 2002 in Mexico City.
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Above: Benjamin Arrellano Felix is shown in this undated photo supplied by Mexican authorities March 9, 2002 in Mexico City.

U.S. District Judge Larry Burns dismissed the last-minute arguments.

Arellano Felix once led a Tijuana-based, extremely violent cartel that was one of the world's most powerful drug-trafficking organizations.

He pleaded guilty last year to racketeering and conspiracy to launder money after being extradited from Mexico.

Arellano Felix's cartel slowly lost its grip after Mexican authorities arrested him in 2002.

In an 11th-hour twist, Arellano Felix, 58, fired his attorney just before his sentencing, fueling speculation that he might be having second thoughts about his plea.

Prosecutors were seeking the 25-year sentence for racketeering and conspiracy to launder money, saying Arellano Felix led one of Mexico's largest drug trafficking organizations for more than 15 years and oversaw the shipment of hundreds of tons of cocaine and marijuana to the United States.

He ordered kidnappings and killings of informants and potential witnesses, oversaw widespread corruption of Mexican law enforcement and laundered hundreds of millions of dollars to Mexico.

Arellano Felix has "destroyed lives and caused untold suffering on both sides of the border," prosecutors said in a court filing last week.

Francisco Javier Arellano Felix, a younger brother who led the cartel after Benjamin was arrested in Mexico in 2002, was sentenced in San Diego to life in prison in 2007, a year after he was captured by U.S. authorities in international waters off Mexico's Baja California coast.

Jesus Labra Aviles, a lieutenant under Benjamin Arellano Felix, was sentenced in San Diego to 40 years in prison in 2010.

It is unclear why prosecutors agreed to a lighter sentence for Benjamin Arellano Felix, who was extradited from Mexico in April 2011. He is one of the highest-profile kingpins to face prosecution in the United States.

His cartel, portrayed in the Steven Soderbergh film "Traffic," slowly lost its grip after Benjamin Arellano Felix was arrested in 2002. A month earlier, his brother, Ramon, the cartel's top enforcer, died in a shootout with Mexican authorities.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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