MEXICO CITY – The Mexican government Friday extradited to the United States drug kingpin Benjamin Arellano Felix, the former leader of one of Mexico’s most feared and powerful organized crime groups, whose ruthless reign transformed northern Baja California into a major drug trafficking corridor into the U.S.
Arellano Felix, who has been incarcerated in a Mexican prison since his arrest in 2002, was flown to San Diego and transferred to the downtown Metropolitan Correctional Center.
The extradition marks the end of a long effort by U.S. authorities to get Arellano Felix into a U.S. courtroom. He faces racketeering and drug conspiracy charges as part of a San Diego federal grand jury indictment that has already led to the arrests and convictions of several of his brothers and associates from the cartel’s heyday during the 1980s and 1990s.
Arellano Felix, who headed the organization known as the Arellano Felix, or Tijuana cartel, was among the first of Mexico’s modern organized crime bosses. With connections to Colombia, he established with the help of his brothers a drug pipeline that pumped tons of cocaine and other drugs into California, according to the indictment.
Authorities allege the cartel generated hundreds of millions of dollars in revenues, money that it used to systematically bribe Mexican military and law enforcement officials and purchase stockpiles of weapons that enforcers used to murder and torture enemies in Mexico and the San Diego area.
The impact of Arellano Felix’s iron-fisted rule is felt to this day. Many families in Baja California are still searching for the whereabouts of people who disappeared during his years in power. The cartel popularized the use of chemicals to dispose of enemies, disintegrating bodies by dumping them in vats of lye and acid.
Many observers doubt the case will ever get to trial, noting that every other defendant has pleaded guilty. If he cooperates with prosecutors, Arellano Felix could shed light on the deaths of numerous potential witnesses and a crusading Mexican prosecutor whose head was crushed in an industrial press.