Suspected Mexican drug lord held in U.S.

WASHINGTON — At his peak, Mexican drug lord Juan Juarez Orosco allegedly oversaw the distribution of 8 tons of cocaine every month from Colombia to the United States, making him one of the most wanted narcotics traffickers in the world, authorities said.

On Wednesday, federal prosecutors revealed that the 64-year-old Juarez, known as "El Abuelo," or "the Grandfather," was in U.S. custody after his arrest in Panama and extradition to New York.

Charged in U.S. federal court with running an international cocaine network, Juarez faces life in prison if convicted.

Mythili Raman, acting assistant attorney general of the Justice Department's Criminal Division in Washington, called Juarez's capture a significant victory in the government's anti-drug campaign. "Juarez's trafficking organization was responsible for the importation of massive quantities of cocaine, across oceans and continents, to the United States," she said.

He was arrested in hiding by Panamanian officials in March 2012, but because of his notoriety, his capture was kept under wraps. He was identified only in a sealed indictment in Brooklyn.

On Friday, he was secretly extradited to the U.S. and appeared at a closed-door District Court hearing for his arraignment in Brooklyn. The case was made public Wednesday by Justice Department officials in Washington.

Throughout the 2000s, Juarez allegedly worked with major narcotics traffickers based in Colombia and Mexico. He was affiliated with at least three violent Mexican cartels that in recent years have been at war with one another over lucrative smuggling routes, officials said. He allegedly transported at least 35,000 kilograms of cocaine for the Beltran Leyva organization.

Law enforcement officials accuse Juarez of using routes from Central America along the Atlantic coastline. According to a government summary of the case, Juarez led a "large-scale maritime and land transportation operation" that ferried "multi-ton quantities of cocaine from Central America via ship to the coast of Mexico." From there, Juarez oversaw the shipment of the cocaine to Mexico City, "where it was then destined for the United States," it says.

Raman called the case a breakthrough in relations between U.S. and Central American law enforcement agencies, and their efforts to collaborate against rising drug trafficking and related violence.

"Juarez's arrest and extradition are a testament to the tenacity of law enforcement officers across the world and show what we can accomplish when we work together," she said.

Loretta E. Lynch, the U.S. attorney in Brooklyn, said that although Juarez for decades wielded tremendous power and influence as an international trafficker, "today, he faces justice in a courtroom in Brooklyn."

Nestor Rodriguez, a sociology professor at the University of Texas at Austin who has studied international relations along the border, said he was surprised by how long Juarez was able to operate without being caught. When Rodriguez was working in Houston years ago, he said, he saw "young narcos" brought into federal court from Mexico for selling much smaller amounts of marijuana.

"But 8 tons of cocaine, that is a lot," he said. "That is a big business."

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