Suspected top Mexican cocaine trafficker extradited to U.S.

WASHINGTON -- A top leader in the Mexican drug trade, who at his peak oversaw the distribution of eight tons of cocaine a month, has been captured by authorities in Panama and secretly extradited to the U.S., law enforcement officials said Wednesday.

The cocaine trafficking of 64-year-old Juan Juarez Orosco, known as “El Abuelo,” or “the Grandfather,” allegedly began two decades ago -- long before the cartel wars exploded in recent years. Considered one of the most-sought-after drug lords in the Western Hemisphere, he is accused of using smuggling routes from Central America along the Atlantic coastline of Mexico and then north into the United States, officials said.

In March 2010, the officials said, he was arrested in hiding by government officials in Panama, but because of his notoriety, the capture was kept under wraps.

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

Mythili Raman, acting assistant attorney general with the Justice Department’s criminal division in Washington, said Juarez’s capture was a significant victory in the government’s anti-drug campaign.

“[Orosco] was responsible for the importation of massive quantities of cocaine, across oceans and continents, to the United States,” Raman said.

Throughout the 2000s, Orosco worked with major narcotics traffickers based in Colombia and Mexico and was affiliated with at least three violent Mexican cartels that are now at war with one another, officials said.

Raman called the arrest and extradition a breakthrough in relations between U.S. and Central American law enforcement agencies collaborating against rising drug violence that in recent years has been pushing against the U.S.-Mexico border. It shows, he said, “what we can accomplish when we work together.”

U.S. Atty. Loretta E. Lynch said in New York that although Juarez for decades wielded tremendous power and influence as an international drug kingpin, “today he faces justice in a courtroom in Brooklyn.”

If convicted, he could be sentenced to life in prison.


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