Eduardo Arellano Felix, Tijuana cartel leader, pleads guilty

SAN DIEGO — Eduardo Arellano Felix, the last of four brothers targeted by U.S. authorities for running the notorious Arellano Felix drug cartel, pleaded guilty Friday to money laundering and conspiracy charges.

Arellano Felix, 56, a medical doctor who avoided the swaggering, hard-partying ways of his brothers, was a shadowy figure in the hyper-violent organized crime group that pumped tons of drugs into the U.S. during its peak in the 1980s and 1990s.

After his brothers Benjamin and Javier were arrested in the previous decade, Eduardo became a key advisor to a nephew of the brothers who was trying to restore the group’s control of key drug trafficking routes into Southern California.

Remnants of the group, also known as the Tijuana cartel, still operate, but the severely weakened organization has been eclipsed by rivals from the Sinaloa drug cartel.  U.S. authorities, who waged two-decade campaign to dismantle the organization, called Arellano Felix’s  plea a historic event.

“This plea agreement pounds the final nail in the coffin of what used to be the Arellano-Felix organization,” said William R. Sherman, special agent in charge of the San Diego office of the Drug Enforcement Administration.

“The AFO, once a brutally violent cartel, now becomes a footnote in history books, while DEA and our partners focus on dismantling the drug trafficking organizations that have moved in since the [cartel’s] demise. 

Federal prosecutors will recommend that Arellano Felix be given a 15-year prison term at his sentencing hearing in August.

The cartel used Baja California as a staging ground to smuggle hundreds of tons of cocaine and marijuana into California. Colombian traffickers supplied the drugs while San Diego-area gang members served as paramilitary-style enforcers who eliminated scores of rivals, law enforcement officers and informants.

In his plea agreement, Arellano Felix, nicknamed El Doctor, admitted that he laundered hundreds of millions of dollars in drug trafficking proceeds used to pay for bribes, weapons and drugs. Arellano Felix was hiding out in a modest home on a Tijuana cul-de-sac in 2008 when Mexican army soldiers arrested him after a fierce shootout.  He was extradited to the U.S. last year.

Last year, his brother Benjamin, the leader of the organization, was sentenced to a 25-year prison term. Javier Arellano Felix, who was arrested on a fishing boat in 2006, received a life term. Another brother, Ramon, was killed in a shootout in 2002. 

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richard.marosi@latimes.com

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