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Drug Trafficker Pleads Guilty

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A reputed top aide to the Arellano Felix drug mafia in Tijuana pleaded guilty Thursday to federal trafficking charges in U.S. District Court in San Diego, authorities announced.

Everardo Arturo Paez Martinez, 34, admitted his role in a trafficking enterprise and in conspiring to launder money in connection with smuggling nearly four tons of cocaine from Mexico between 1988 and 1996.

Paez admitted organizing and overseeing a group that sneaked dozens of shipments across the border to San Diego and Los Angeles. Laundered proceeds helped fund the Arellano Felix drug gang, U.S. authorities said.

Paez’s plea, before U.S. District Judge Judith N. Keep, came five months after he was handed over by Mexican authorities in a move characterized by U.S. law enforcement officials as historic. It was the first time Mexico, long reluctant to extradite Mexican citizens, had surrendered a major Mexican drug suspect.

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U.S. authorities said Thursday that the guilty pleas were the result of cooperation between the two nations, for whom the war on drugs has often provoked friction and finger-pointing.

“The Paez plea is the culmination of an unprecedented level of cooperation between the United States and Mexico’s law enforcement and prosecutorial agencies. It demonstrates what can be achieved in international cooperative efforts where two countries venture to work together,” said Patrick K. O’Toole, U.S. attorney for San Diego and Imperial counties.

By pleading guilty, Paez avoids a mandatory life sentence under the continuing criminal enterprise count, often called a drug kingpin allegation. He faces 20 years to life on that charge and up to 20 years on the money laundering count when sentenced Jan. 14.

“He wanted to put all the cases behind him and start moving on and try to avoid a life sentence,” said defense lawyer Knut Johnson, a San Diego lawyer appointed to represent Paez.

Johnson said Paez did not admit to ties with the Arellano Felix gang, one of the most violent in Mexico, and was not cooperating with U.S. authorities. “That’s not part of the deal and he’s not cooperating in any way,” Johnson said.

The Paez plea is the latest setback for the Arellano Felix organization, which has seen the capture of two other top lieutenants in Mexico in the last 19 months.

One of the men, Ismael Higuera Guerrero, is subject of an extradition request by U.S. authorities.

Laura E. Duffy, an assistant U.S. attorney who prosecuted Paez, said the plea, coupled with the extradition that made it possible, was a significant blow to the Tijuana-based drug cartel. “What has been an unlikely possibility became a very real experience for them today,” Duffy said.


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