News Release [printer friendly page]
DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL McNULTY: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. I’m very pleased to be joined on stage by Admiral Thad Allen, the Commandant of the Coast Guard and Michael Braun, the Assistant Administrator for Operations of the Drug Enforcement Administration.
We are here today to announce the apprehension of one of the world’s major drug traffickers. The Arellano Felix organization is the largest and most violent drug trafficking organization operating in the Tijuana/Baja California/Mexico area.
Eleven individuals, representing the top hierarchy of the Arellano Felix organization, including Francesco Javier Arellano Felix were named in an indictment unsealed on July 8, 2003, in the Southern District of California. The indictment charges these individuals with racketeering offenses, conspiracy to import and distribute cocaine and marijuana, and a conspiracy to commit money laundering. The indictment carries penalties of up to life in prison. And in addition, it includes forfeiture of almost $300 million. The indictment also alleges that the leadership of the Arellano Felix organization, I’ll refer to it as AFO, negotiated directly with Colombian cocaine trafficking organizations, including the FARC, for the purchase of multi-ton shipments of cocaine and received those shipments by sea and air in Mexico, and then arranged for smuggling of the cocaine into the United States.
The indictment specifies the role of Francisco Javier Arellano Felix in the enterprise as one who participated in the most major decisions of the AFO and specifies that he was in charge of the organizations Tijuana and Mexicali operations after the arrest in Mexico of a codefendant back in May of 2000.
The indictment also alleges that the Arellano Felix organization recruited, trained and armed groups of bodyguards and assassins responsible for protecting the leaders of the organization, and for conducting assassinations of rival drug traffickers, suspected cooperators and Mexican law enforcement and military personnel; along with members of the news media. The charges specifically allege 20 murders in the United States and Mexico that were carried out by the Arellano Felix organization.
Now, in addition to that indictment, which as I said was unsealed July 8, 2003, information developed during a 14-month fugitive investigation revealing that AFO leader Francisco Javier Arellano Felix and others were expected to use the fishing vessel Doc Holliday, a U.S. documented vessel. And so, on August 14th, just two days ago, DEA received information that this vessel, Doc Holliday, was approximately 15 nautical miles off the shore of La Paz, Mexico. And acting on this lead the DEA requested that the United States Coast Guard interdict the vessel. Following the interdiction of the vessel in international waters a boarding took place by the US Coast Guard personnel and eight adults and three juveniles were discovered on board and detained.
One of the individuals aboard the vessel, who was traveling under an alias, later identified himself as the same Francisco Javier Arellano Felix that I have described in this indictment. He is a CPOT meaning he is a person who has been designated on a Consolidated Priority Organizational Target List.
All of the individuals are being transported by the Coast Guard to San Diego. Francisco Javier Arellano Felix will be arraigned in the very near future on the indictment. This case is the result of extraordinary coordination and cooperation between the governments of Mexico and the United States. I especially want to thank Mexican Attorney General Daniel Cabeza de Vaca for his leadership and partnership in these efforts. It takes teamwork like this in order to accomplish such a significant arrest.
I also want to give special recognition to the United States Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of California for the charges that were pending that led to the arrest of the fugitive and to the men and women of the Drug Enforcement Administration and the US Coast Guard for its courageous and devoted work.
I now would like to introduce Mike Braun from the Drug Enforcement Administration. Michael.
MR. BRAUN: Good afternoon. The DEA arrests a lot of high-level drug traffickers, that’s nothing new, but to say that Javier -- excuse me -- Francisco Javier Arellano Felix is just another drug trafficker is an understatement. This guy happens to be, as the Deputy Attorney General mentioned, one of the 45 most notorious, most wanted, drug traffickers in the world. So, this is not your average arrest and Javier is not your average drug trafficker.
For over a decade the AFO family has dominated the Mexican drug trade and flooded our nation with literally tons and hundreds of tons of a variety of drugs; cocaine, marijuana, methamphetamine and heroin to name just a few. That dynasty, built on drugs and ruthless violence, began to topple in 2002 with the death of one of the Arellano Felix brothers and the arrest of another; and was further weakened with the 2003 indictment of the major remaining organization leaders by the US Attorney’s Office in San Diego.
The DEA and our Mexican counterparts have pursued those leaders relentlessly ever since. And it’s important that you know that Javier was one of the most ruthless thugs that was involved in drug trafficking around the world. The organization that he led was under investigation in Mexico. There are pending charges in Mexico, and as we’ve said, there are pending charges in San Diego that he and other members will be charged with or will be brought forward on those charges.
It’s also important to understand, though, that we considered him such a threat to our country that the United States State Department issued a $5 million bounty for his capture a few years ago. He was the last strong hold in the declining AFO family cartel when we arrested his brother Benjamin back in 2002. We called it the beginning of the end of the AFO. Today we’ve got this brutal organization in a choke-hold and we are not letting up. Our Mexican authorities -- our Mexican counterparts that we work with very closely with and the DEA is absolutely full-court press at this point. We’re piling on, if you will, and moving this initiative and this ongoing investigation even more forward.
We at the DEA are in the job to protect our country, to take drugs off the street, to protect our kids, and to make our streets safe. Today this announcement, this huge success for law enforcement, basically is what our job is all about. It’s what we live for.
Finally, I have to mention this, and hopefully I don’t embarrass the Commandant by saying this, but we would not be here today if it were not for the outstanding support rendered by our US Coast Guard. And it is in testament to this dynamic, very flexible, maritime force -- the flexibility that is needed as our nation continues to wage war in our war against drugs and in our war against terrorism. Thank you very much.
DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL McNULTY: Thank you, Mike. And you said it very well in terms of the kind of appreciation we have for the Coast Guard. And we think of the Coast Guard constantly out there rescuing individuals on the seas and yet those of us in law enforcement know them as a major partner in our effort to go after organized drug trafficking organizations. And I want to thank, also the Admiral, and introduce him now.
ADMIRAL ALLEN: It’s a pleasure to be here today and be part of this historic event. We have long been partners with the Department of Justice and the Drug Enforcement Administration on other long war, the war on drugs.
On Monday morning, August 14th, the Coast Guard was requested by DEA to take part in an interagency operation off the coast of Baja, California. At approximately 9:00 in the morning on Monday the Coast Guard cutter Monsoon was positioned off shore. Based on prior law enforcement work and intelligence intercepted a 43-foot recreational boat and conducted a boarding with the crew of the Monsoon, which is crewed by 28 Coast Guard personnel; it was augmented by two personnel from our Maritime Safety and Security team based in Los Angeles.
As a result of the boarding we encountered 11 individuals, three minors and eight adults. Based on the identity verification associated with those individuals, and the fact that there were warrants out they were placed under arrest by the Coast Guard. They are currently on board the Coast Guard cutter Monsoon en route San Diego under the escort of another Coast Guard cutter.
I would just like to reaffirm what was said previously. This is an extraordinary example of interagency cooperation and coordination. Drug interdiction remains a vital core mission of the United States Coast Guard and the Department of Homeland Security. But I think, moreover, it demonstrates the flexibility and agility of the Department of Homeland Security to simultaneously deal with an event of this magnitude while dealing with the heightened threat period that we’re going through right now.
We’re proud to be partners with the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Department of Justice, as we have been for the entire 35 years I’ve been in the Coast Guard. It is an honor to be here today.
DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL McNULTY: Thank you, Commandant.
Q Can you tell us anything about the tip that came in about the Doc Holliday or how you found out that the Doc Holliday was where it was and whether anybody will be getting that $5 million reward?
DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL McNULTY: There aren’t a lot of details we are prepared to share about this because of the sensitivity of the law enforcement effort. Although I will give Mike a chance to take a crack at your question. But generally speaking, we’re going to limit the information we’re providing to the fact that the arrest has occurred and that we received a tip on it.
I’m not sure about the award, I’ll see if Mike has a response on that -- or anything else, Mike.
MR. BRAUN: I can’t answer your question with respect to the award -- reward. I don’t have that answer at this point. We’ll certainly find out in the future. I can tell you that this successful intervention on the part of the Coast Guard was part of a very long, very complex, undercover operation that was backstopped by highly technical means and support.
Q So, is it possible no one will get any part of that reward?
MR. BRAUN: That’s possible.
Q Was there any other member of the drug cartel of the Arellano Felix apprehended among those 11 adults?
DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL McNULTY: Well, we’re currently not specifying other individuals in the group but all individuals have been detained at this point. And more information will be forthcoming as to other potential charges.
Q What is going to happen to the minors that were apprehended? And also, how this operation is going to impact or diminish the Arellano Felix Organization within the United States?
DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL McNULTY: First, with regard to the minors, that too will be determined here in the very near future. No decision as of right now has been made on that. With regard to the organization, I think Mike said it well when he talked about the fact that this is huge blow to the organization -- the head of the snake, if you will, and that that represents obviously a significant impact on such a powerful drug trafficking organization. It is, however, a large organization and much more remains to be done. But we think that this, combined with an number of the other efforts that have preceded it, will have a noticeable impact; not just on Mexico, but also in the Untied States in terms of the ability to bring drugs into the country and the violence that has occurred on this side of the border in the San Diego area in particular.
Q And Mr. Arellano is going to remain here in the US under custody, maybe to respond for the charges against him?
DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL McNULTY: He is being brought into the United States to be arraigned on the indictment that I described as unsealed in 2003; those are the charges that are pending against him at this time.
Q Were any of the others ones who were arrested named in the indictment?
DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL McNULTY: No.
Q Is there -- this is related to the last question -- there is at least one other brother, Eduardo, I think, that’s wanted on equal $5 million reward. And it makes me wonder if you can talk about the extent to which this organization can continue to operate as it has without Javier Arellano Felix? Is it a crippling blow? How do you describe it?
MR. BRAUN: Well, let me just lay out the family structure. Ramon is dead. Benjamin is in La Palma Prison in Mexico and has been there for quite some time after he was successfully arrested -- investigated and arrested by Mexican authorities. Eduardo is out and about in Mexico, but our most recent intelligence does not identify him as one who is capable of leading the organization at this point in time.
So, as Deputy Attorney General McNulty said, we feel like we’ve taken the head off the snake here. That’s not to say that there may not be one or more members within the organization that are capable of stepping up and taking over and running operations; that’s yet to be seen. But we can tell you that we are -- we and our Mexican authorities and other federal law enforcement agencies in our country that we work very closely with -- again, at this point we are full-court press at this point to do as much damage as we possibly can against this organization. They are extremely vulnerable right now. So, again, we’re piling on.
Q Mr. Braun, still on the same issue, is the United States pursuing the extradition of Benjamin into the US? I understand that his legal problems are reaching some kind of an end in Mexico.
MR. BRAUN: I believe that we are. We’ll have to get back with you, though.
Q Can I pull open the thing that was right here in terms of the organization of the Araino Felix -- there is also the rumor in Mexico that the Mayo Zambada organization is taking the leadership of the Arellano Felix cartel -- probably the DEA knows more than me on this issue -- but so you say Eduardo is -- doesn’t have the leadership but people in Mexico say it’s Mayo Zambada who is now in front of the Arellano Felix -- can you tell me a little bit more about this relationship between these two drug cartels? And another question, you mentioned it was a very close cooperation with Mexico on this incident. What is the reason the Mexican authorities didn’t arrest this guy? You don’t trust the authorities? I understand this guy was 15 miles from the coast of La Paz.
MR. BRAUN: Let me answer your last question first. We trust the Mexican authorities. We work very closely with Mexican authorities every single day of the week, not only on this investigation but on an number of joint investigations. So, we do trust them. And I can tell you that they contributed significantly to this investigation at every step of the way. I’m not at liberty to talk about the details at this point. They’ll come out certainly at some time in the future.
And you’re going to have to refresh my memory on the first part of your question.
Q What is the relation between Mayo Zambada and the --
MR. BRAUN: Okay, yes. Look the Tijuana corridor, as you know, there has been a turf battle going on for quite some time between the AFO and the Federation. There are a number of syndicates that comprise the Federation. Do I believe personally, based on past experience, do my Mexican counterparts believe based on their past experience that someone is going to fill in the gap in this corridor at some point in the future? Absolutely, without question, someone will, some organization will.
Q Given the fact that the indictment lays out the fact that this defendant is part of a conspiracy that’s responsible for 20 murders is the Department in a position where they could seek the death penalty if this goes to trial?
DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL McNULTY: I don’t have any further information on that point right now.
Q Regarding the Doc Holliday, is the boat registered under any of the aliases of Javier Araiano?
ADMIRAL ALLEN: Issues associated with the ownership and the registration of the boat are being developed as the investigation goes forward. We have no information we can release at this time.
Q General, please, can you help us -- give us some information about the plane that was sent to Logan with a woman who was detained -- will she face any federal charges?
DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL McNULTY: All I can tell you about that situation right now is that we are closely monitoring it, but facts are still coming in. I’m not in a position to give you any definitive answers to questions about what will happen on that.
Q Mr. Braun, can you tell us just about the operation of the AFO in Peru? According to some reports in Mexico they were working directly with cocaine producers in Peru, do you have any reports about that?
MR. BRAUN: We’ve talked about this before. I can tell you -- well, you know, all of the cocaine that’s on the global market originates, for the most part, in three countries in South America, Colombia, Peru, Bolivia -- are there connections with Peru? Absolutely. Because the AFO is moving a great deal of cocaine for Colombian organizations across the southwest border -- are there links? Yes. But I’m not prepared to go into detail at this point.