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Drug Arrests Include Alleged Cartel Figure

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A high-ranking member of the violent Tijuana drug cartel has been arrested in the Los Angeles area after a yearlong wiretap investigation that resulted in the indictment of nine people and the seizure of about four tons of cocaine and $15 million in cash, authorities announced Monday.

Jorge Castro, who allegedly ran Los Angeles-area operations for the notorious Arellano Felix drug syndicate, was taken into custody late last month by officers from the Southwest Border Project, an anti-drug task force of federal and local law enforcement officers.

The Arellano Felix cartel, headed by four brothers from Tijuana, is responsible for smuggling huge quantities of cocaine into the United States, according to law enforcement authorities.

One brother, Ramon Arellano, the cartel’s security chief, has been blamed for the murders of scores of Mexican law officers.

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All four Arellanos have been in hiding since the 1993 assassination of Roman Catholic Cardinal Juan Jesus Posadas Ocampo at the Guadalajara Airport. Mexican authorities say the cardinal was mistakenly shot by a hit man hired by the Arellanos, who were trying to kill a narcotics rival.

Castro, 32, and eight others indicted by a Los Angeles federal grand jury are from Sinaloa state in western Mexico, but made frequent trips to Southern California, where they allegedly handled the distribution of cocaine and the flow of drug money back to the cartel.

Five of the nine suspects are still being sought. The other four, including Castro, are scheduled to be arraigned Monday.

“This indictment of Castro and his co-defendants will significantly disrupt the domestic operations of one of Mexico’s most notorious drug trafficking operations,” U.S. Atty. Nora Manella said.

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In their investigation into the cartel’s Los Angeles operations, agents from the Southwest Border Project seized 3,494 kilograms of cocaine and more than $15 million over a period of several months, prosecutors said.

Seizures were made in Valencia, Industry, Montclair, Diamond Bar, Fontana, Escondido and at the Mexican border.

More than 400 kilos of cocaine were seized in a single raid, and $3.8 million in cash was taken in another, prosecutors said. A videotape of that raid shows agents unloading five big duffel bags and a grocery bag packed with U.S. currency.

The 24-count indictment against each of the suspects alleges involvement in 11 shipments of cocaine that ranged in size from 30 to more than 400 kilograms. Castro is also accused of operating “a continuing criminal enterprise,” a federal crime that carries a mandatory life prison term if he is convicted.

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