Tijuana Cartel Boss to Serve 25 Years in US Prison

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The sentencing of a former Tijuana Cartel kingpin to 25 years in a US prison has prompted the director of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to proclaim that the organization has met its end, but this may be premature.

On Monday a US federal court sentenced Benjamin Arellano Felix (pictured) to 25 years in prison, and ordered him to turn over $100 million in criminal proceeds. Once he has served his time in the US, Arellano will be deported to Mexico to complete a 22-year sentence that he began there in 2007, effectively ensuring that he will spend the rest of his life in prison.

DEA Director Michele M. Leonhart stated that the sentencing represented a victory for her agency and President Felipe Calderon, and meant the “demise” of the Tijuana Cartel, also known as the Arellano Felix Organization (AFO). Arellano was extradited to the US last April to face charges of extortion, money laundering and drug trafficking, and pleaded guilty in January as part of a deal that guaranteed him a maximum sentence of 25 years.

InSight Crime Analysis

The imprisonment of Arellano Felix, one of the founding members of the Tijuana Cartel, is an important milestone in the weakening of the cartel. However, it does not necessarily mean the end for the organization, which has survived the arrest of two other major leaders, an internal split, and a 20-year conflict with the Sinaloa Cartel.

Since Arellano Felix’s arrest in 2002, his strategic control over the Tijuana Cartel’s operations has decreased. His nephew, Fernando Sanchez Arellano, also known as “El Ingeniero,” has taken over the running of the organization. According to a statement by a Tijuana Cartel lieutenant captured in November, the cartel has recovered strength since the internal power struggle between forces loyal to Sanchez Arellano and those following rival Teodoro Garcia Simental, “El Teo,” in 2009. Sanchez Arellano now commands twice the number of drug trafficking cells that he did at the time of the split, and the group may have established a non-aggression agreement with the Sinaloa Cartel, its former rival.

Arellano Felix joins a small number of Mexican kingpins who have been sentenced to time in a US prison. His conviction represents an achievement for authorities, serving as a warning to other cartel heads that they may also be extradited to the US, where it will be much more difficult to continue their criminal careers.

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