Human Rights and Civil Society · Transparency & accountability

Benjamin Arellano Félix Pleads Guilty in U.S. Court

Benjamin Arellano Félix pleaded guilty in U.S. court, Wednesday January 4, 2012. (Photo credit: CNN Mexico)

01/04/12 — Benjamin Arellano Félix , the former leader of the Tijuana cartel in Mexico, pleaded guilty in a U.S. federal court in San Diego on January 4 to racketeering and conspiracy to launder money. The plea calls for a maximum of 25 years in prison after federal prosecutors agreed to drop other charges that would have landed Arellano Félix in prison for 140 years. He was considered to be the brain and financial boss of the Tijuana cartel and admitted in court to having led the organization that distributed drugs into the United States while sending the profits back to Mexico, sometimes stuffed inside of cars.

The Tijuana cartel, or Arellano Félix cartel, came to power in the late 1980s, but it was not until 2002 that Benjamin was arrested. In 2007, he was sentenced to 22 years in prison for charges of drug trafficking and organized crime in Mexico. He has been under an indictment from the United States since 2003, which states that he was the principal leader and organizer for the Tijuana cartel since 1986, and noting that the cartel was responsible for the torture and murder of victims from both the United States and Mexico through its work of smuggling marijuana and Colombian cocaine across the U.S.-Mexico border. In April 2011, Arellano Félix was extradited from Mexico to the U.S. to face charges related to drug trafficking, money laundering and racketeering. He is one of the “highest profile kingpins to face prosecution in the U.S.”

The Tijuana cartel was headed by the seven Arellano Félix brothers and, between the 1990s until early 2000s, it controlled the flow of marijuana, cocaine, and other drugs into the States from Tijuana and Mexicali. The cartel began to lose its influence and stronghold of the border shortly after Arellano Félix was taken into custody in 2002. It also suffered with the death of his brother, Ramon, who was the cartel’s top enforcer, when he was killed in a shootout with Mexican authorities a month before his brother’s arrest. Although the cartel has been weakened in past years, it is still considered by Mexican authorities to be a prominent drug trafficking organization in Mexico.


Castillo, Mariana. “Benjamín Arellano Félix admite culpa por asociación delictuosa y lavado.” CNN México. January 4, 2012.

Spagat, Elliot. “Benjamin Arellano Felix, Mexican Drug Cartel Kingpin, Pleads Guilty In U.S. Federal Court.” Huffington Post. January 4, 2012.

Spagat, Elliot. “Mexican cartel kingpin to plead guilty in US court.” Associated Press. January 4, 2012.

“Arellano Félix se declara culpable en corte en EU.” El Universal. January 4, 2012.

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