04/02/12- Benjamin Arellano Felix, former leader of the Arellano Felix Organization (AFO) based in Tijuana, Baja California, was sentenced to 25 years in prison by a federal judge in San Diego on Monday. Arellano Felix was being tried for racketeering and money laundering charges, which he had pled guilty to in January. He had also admitted that his organization was responsible for bribing Mexican officials, and arming assassination squads. Along with the 25-year sentence, U.S. District Judge Larry Burns ordered Arellano Felix to forfeit $100 million. The defendant was captured by Mexican officials in 2002, and was incarcerated in Mexico until he was extradited to the United States last year.
Octavio Rodríguez, coordinator of the Trans-Border Institute’s Security and Rule of Law Program at the University of San Diego, was present at the hearing. According to Rodríguez, the defense tried to make two points in the case. First, he said, Arellano Felix attempted to argue that Mexican authorities had not followed the proper extradition procedures as stipulated by a treaty between the United States and Mexico. Consequently, he claimed to be protected under international law. “Citing several precedents,” said Rodríguez, “Judge Burns explained that regardless of some irregularities in relation to how Arellano Felix was brought in front of the court, there was justification to try him, because he was already present.”
Second, Rodríguez continued, “Arellano Felix’s defense argued that he should be credited with the nine years he had already spent in prison in Mexico. The defendant himself explained that he was being charged with the same crimes in the United States as in Mexico, and therefore these nine years could count as a part of his sentencing.” Judge Burns, however, denied this request. “He said that Arellano Felix’s time spent in Mexico was in relation to different crimes and an altogether different legal system, and therefore his time in prison there cannot be taken into consideration for his actual sentence.” Burns commented on the matter, saying, “A 25-year sentence is completely justified. If I had it within my powers, I would impose a longer sentence.”
“In his final statement,” Rodríguez said, “Arellano Felix stated that he had been accused of crimes that he did not commit.” Judge Burns admitted that he was confused by this since the defendant had pled guilty to the charges in January.
For its part, the prosecution argued that although Arellano Felix did not personally commit the crimes for which he was being charged, he was responsible for playing the lead role in orchestrating them as the head of the organization, and in some cases he personally ordered crimes to be carried out. According to Rodríguez, Judge Burns seemed to agree with the prosecution.
Although Arellano Felix was sentenced to 25 years, many are surprised that the U.S. Attorney General’s Office would negotiate such a deal, while another member of the AFO, Benjamin’s brother Francisco Javier, is serving a life sentence in a U.S. prison.
U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy argued that a 25-year sentence for 58-year old Arellano Felix is essentially a life sentence. Once he completes it, she explained, he will be nearly 80-years old and forced to return to Mexico to complete a 22-year sentence there.
The AFO has been responsible for nearly 1,000 homicides, according to investigators, and became well-known for dissolving its victims’ bodies in barrels of liquid chemicals. According to the Union Tribune, the influence of the AFO has faded over the past decade as the Sinaloa Cartel has moved in as the dominant drug-trafficking organization in Baja California.