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Mexican Drug Cartel Leader Benjamin Arellano-Felix Pleads Guilty

Aired 1/4/12 on KPBS News.

Arellano-Felix Guilty Plea

— Mexican drug cartel kingpin Benjamin Arellano-Felix has pleaded guilty in U.S. federal court in San Diego to racketeering and conspiracy to launder money.

The plea Wednesday avoids the spectacle of a trial for one of the world's most powerful drug lords of the 1990s.

The plea agreement calls for a maximum of 25 years in prison and a $100 million

forfeiture. Arellano-Felix's attorney, Anthony Colombo, said the deal is a good one for his 58-year-old client.

"I do believe that this is a very favorable agreement for Mr. Arellano-Felix and his family," Colombo said. "(It) gives him hope of one day being released from custody and being returned to Mexico."

Arellano-Felix faced up to 140 years in prison if convicted at trial. The defense attorney said the plea also benefited prosecutors by allowing them to avoid a long and costly trial. Sentencing will take place in April.


Arellano-Felix Indictment

Arellano-Felix Indictment

Read the original indictment against the Arellano-Felix drug cartel, handed down nearly a decade ago.

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Prosecutors declined to comment after the 30-minute hearing.

Benjamin Arellano-Felix was considered the mastermind of the Tijuana-based Arellano-Felix cartel in the 1990s and was extradited to the United States from Mexico in April 2011. At Wednesday's hearing, he admitted through an interpreter to running the cartel for 16 years and ordering the kidnappings and murders of informants and witnesses, among other crimes.

The cartel trafficked in billions of dollars worth of drugs from Mexico and Colombia into the United States.

At one point, the cartel was said to control about one-third of the cocaine traffic into the U.S. The cartel also smuggled tons of marijuana, methamphetamine and heroin to American cities.

U.S. investigators previously said the cartel murdered competitors in the drug trade, as well as police and other government officials who got in the way.

Benjamin Arellano-Felix and his brothers were implicated by authorities in the 1993 assassination of Mexican Cardinal Juan Jesus Posadas Ocampo. The organization spent millions buying protection from Mexican police officers, judges and military personnel, officials say.

At one time, Benjamin Arellano-Felix and his now-deceased brother Ramon, were on most-wanted posters in the U.S. along with Osama Bin Laden.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Avatar for user 'tonygomez0605'

tonygomez0605 | January 4, 2012 at 11:57 a.m. ― 5 years, 2 months ago

Yes, Mr. Arellano-Felix is a bad man. We can all agree on that. It is what is not being said in this story that concerns me the most. This story goes all the way back to Pablo Escobar, and the United States "Drug War" If one were to do their due diligence, they would find that it is American tax dollars that created this man and his cartel to begin with. Should he be prosecuted? Yes. But make no mistake: prosecuting him is only treating the symptom, not the real problem. We have become a symptom treating populace. Why? Because there is more ongoing cash flow in keeping the problem going and only treating the symptom of the problem.

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Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | January 4, 2012 at 1:55 p.m. ― 5 years, 2 months ago

"I'm not your problem." -- Chris Walken as druglord Frank White in Abel Ferrara's KING OF NEW YORK (1990)

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Avatar for user 'HarryStreet'

HarryStreet | January 7, 2012 at 3:32 p.m. ― 5 years, 2 months ago

$100 million is chump change for him. To even hint at releasing him is a disgrace to justice.

Still, I'd rather see this than a lengthy trial at our expense.

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