Wed, Nov 07, 2007 - Page 7 News List

Head of Tijuana cartel sentenced to life without parole


A notorious Mexican drug lord issued an apology for his crimes on Monday as his life prison sentence for running the murderous Tijuana cartel was confirmed, justice officials said.

Francisco Javier Arellano-Felix, 37, was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole after pleading guilty to running a criminal enterprise and conspiracy to launder money at a hearing in San Diego.

Arellano-Felix's sentence had been announced in September after officials confirmed he would admit his guilt in a plea deal with prosecutors.

In a letter read to the court by his lawyer, Arellano-Felix begged for forgiveness from loved ones and victims alike.

"I would like to ask forgiveness from all of those people, on both sides of the border, who I have affected by my wrongful decisions and criminal conduct," the letter read.

"I am very remorseful, and personally accept responsibility for my actions," the letter continued. "If I had the power to change and undo the things that I have done, I would."

Arellano-Felix, nicknamed "El Tigrillo" ("Little Tiger"), was arrested by the US Coast Guard in August last year while fishing in international waters off Mexico's coast.

US authorities alleged he was the head of the Tijuana drug cartel, which has been blamed for the murder and torture of police officers, informants and rivals and is one of the main smugglers of cocaine into the US.

According to Mexican authorities, Arellano-Felix was also involved in the 1993 assassination of Roman Catholic cardinal Juan Jesus Posadas Ocampo at Guadalajara airport.

The Tijuana cartel distributes illegal drugs, much of it cocaine from Colombia, to California. Authorities say the group has diversified to include amphetamines and marijuana.

A US indictment for 11 top members of the group unveiled in July 2003 charged them with racketeering, conspiracy to import and distribute cocaine and marijuana, and with money laundering.

The 2003 indictment said the Tijuana operation received multi-tonne shipments of cocaine by sea and air from other traffickers, including Colombia's rebel Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, and then arranged to smuggle the drugs into the US.

Arellano-Felix pleaded guilty in September after justice officials indicated they would not seek the death penalty.

The drug kingpin also agreed to forfeit US$50 million he made from his drugs empire as well as a 13m yacht called the Dock Holiday, as part of the plea agreement.

A co-defendant, Manuel Arturo Villareal-Heredia, 31 -- a senior lieutenant within the cartel -- also pleaded guilty to racketeering and conspiracy to invest and reinvest illicit drug profits.

Villareal-Heredia agreed to forfeit US$5 million. He faces up to 30 years in prison when he is sentenced on Jan. 7.

Arellano-Felix was jailed weeks after his elder brother, Francisco Rafael, received a six-year prison term for selling drugs in San Diego.

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