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News Release [printer friendly page]
August 24, 2006

AFO Leader Francisco Javier Arellano-Felix Captured
DEA, U.S. Coast Guard Apprehend Cartel Leader off Coast of Southern California

(Washington D.C.) - DEA Administrator Karen P. Tandy announced today that on August 14, 2006, Francisco Javier Arellano-Felix, the current leader of the narcotics trafficking Arellano-Felix Organization (“AFO”), was arrested by the United States Coast Guard in international waters south of Cabo San Lucas, Baja California Sur, Mexico. The Coast Guard, working closely with the DEA, apprehended Arellano-Felix and seven other adults in a recreational vessel on Monday, August 14, and arrived at the Coast Guard facility in San Diego this morning, where they were taken into custody by the DEA and U.S. Marshals.

“For over a decade, the Arellano-Felix family dominated the Mexican drug trade and flooded our nation with hundreds of tons of cocaine and marijuana, and massive quantities of methamphetamine and heroin,” said Administrator Tandy.

“Javier Arellano-Felix, the last stronghold at the top of that cartel, is a violent drug kingpin wanted in the United States for numerous drug trafficking, conspiracy, and money laundering charges. He is considered threatening enough to our nation to warrant a $5 million US State Department reward for his capture. His arrest topples a dynasty built on violence and drugs and puts a chokehold on the destruction this brutal organization has caused in both the United States and Mexico,” said Tandy.

Francisco Javier Arellano-Felix is the youngest of four Arellano-Felix brothers who have controlled the drug cartel since the late 1980's. Francisco Javier Arellano-Felix assumed over control of the cartel in March of 2002 following the incapacitation of his older brothers Benjamin (arrested in Mexico in March 2002) and Ramon (killed in Mexico in February 2002). For more than a decade, the AFO has been one of the largest, and most violent, drug trafficking organizations operating in the Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico area. Its principal business is the smuggling of cocaine and marijuana into the United States from Mexico in multi-ton quantities, and the further distribution of those controlled substances, using violence, corruption, and money laundering to achieve the organization’s goals.

According to Assistant U.S. Attorney Laura E. Duffy, who is prosecuting the case, a Superseding Indictment filed in the Southern District of California in December 2003 targets the leadership of the AFO, including Francisco Javier Arellano-Felix and his surviving brothers Benjamin and Eduardo (fugitive). The charges in the superseding indictment include: (a) RICO conspiracy; (b) Conspiracy to Distribute a Controlled Substance, Intending Unlawful Importation; (c) Conspiracy to Import a Controlled Substance; (d) Conspiracy to Distribute a Controlled Substance; and (e) Conspiracy to Launder Monetary Instruments; as well as criminal forfeiture allegations.

The indictment alleges that beginning in approximately 1991, Francisco Javier Arellano-Felix became active in the AFO and that his role in the cartel steadily increased during the 1990s, during which time he participated in major decisions, and acted as his brother Benjamin Arellano-Felix’ representative. According to the indictment, some of the cartel decisions that Francisco Javier Arellano-Felix participated in include the cartel’s receipt of large drug shipments, the transportation of drug shipments into the United States, and “enforcement” activities undertaken by members of the AFO, including the kidnaping/murder of cartel “enemies.” The indictment also alleges that in 2000, after the arrest of AFO Lieutenant Ismael Higuera-Guerrero, Benjamin Arellano-Felix put Francisco Javier Arellano-Felix in charge of AFO daily Tijuana/Mexicali operations, and in 2002 Francisco Javier Arellano-Felix became the cartel’s ultimate leader following Benjamin’s arrest.

According to U.S. Attorney Lam, “Law enforcement deserves a great deal of credit for this operation, which was carefully planned and perfectly executed. We now have in custody the head of one of the deadliest drug organizations in history.”

“I am extremely proud of the U.S. Coast Guard's contribution to this significant operation” said Rear Admiral Jody Breckenridge, Commander of the 11th Coast Guard District. “This operation is the direct result of our partnerships with the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Information sharing and a collaborative planning process positioned the Coast Guard to move swiftly with the appropriate assets when DEA identified the window of opportunity. The Coast Guard continues to work with Department of Justice, the Drug Enforcement Administration, and other federal law enforcement partners on the disposition of the people and the Dock Holiday. This case demonstrates the importance and strength of ongoing interagency cooperation in the war on drugs.”

According to U.S. Attorney Lam, the San Diego investigation of Francisco Javier Arellano-Felix was coordinated by an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF). The OCDETF program was created to consolidate and coordinate all law enforcement resources in this country's battle against major drug trafficking rings, drug kingpins, and money launderers.

U.S. Attorney Lam praised the cooperative efforts in this case of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), the United States Coast Guard (USCG), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the United States Marshals Service (USMS), and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), as well as local law enforcement agencies. United States Attorney Lam also praised the efforts of the Mexican government and the cooperative working relationship between Mexican and United States law enforcement agencies.

The seven adults also apprehended on the boat with Arellano-Felix have been taken into custody and will be arraigned as material witnesses. Three children who were on the boat have been turned over to U.S. Customs and Border Protection and will be reunited with their families. The defendant and seven material witnesses will be arraigned at 3:30 p.m. before the Honorable Leo S. Papas.

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