Former Tijuana Cartel Head Pleas Guilty in U.S. Court

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A former leader of the Tijuana Cartel, and one of the most powerful drug barons ever prosecuted in the United States, has pleaded guilty to racketeering and money laundering charges in a San Diego court.

Benjamin Arellano Felix accepted the charges against him as part of a plea bargain with federal prosecutors. According to the Associated Press, U.S. officials agreed to dismiss other charges against him that, if convicted, could have resulted in a sentence of up to 140 years in prison. As it stands, Arellano Felix will likely be given 25 years when he is sentenced on April 2nd.

Arellano’s sentence is relatively light for the charges against him, especially when compared to the sentences received by his former deputies. His younger brother Francisco, who was captured by the U.S. Coast Guard in 2006, was sentenced to life in prison in a San Diego court in 2007. Another lieutenant of his, Jesus Labra Aviles, received a 40-year sentence in 2010.

InSight Crime Analysis

Benjamin Arellano Felix’s guilty plea is a testament to how far he has fallen since the late 1990s, when Mexican officials considered him one of the top drug lords in the country.

Back then, the Tijuana Cartel was a major player in Mexico’s criminal underworld. He and his brother Ramon Felix Arellano inherited the Tijuana Cartel from their uncle, the legendary Miguel Angel Felix Gallardo, alias “el Padrino.” Shortly thereafter, Ramon ordered the death of a close associate of the Sinaloa Cartel’s Joaquin Guzman, alias “El Chapo,” sparking a conflict that lasted for more than 15 years.

However, an aggressive campaign by law enforcement beginning in the early 2000s significantly weakened the Tijuana Cartel, and since 2009 it appears to have agreed to a truce with their rivals. The Sinaloans, in comparison, have taken off. Along with the notoriously violent Zetas, they are considered one of the most powerful drug trafficking organizations in Mexico.

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