Don Bauder 8:30 a.m., Feb. 16
DEA official claims Arellano Félix Organization dead, despite current activity in Tijuana
U.S. authorities give contradicting statements, claiming AFO has been dismantled after conviction of Eduardo Arellano Félix
Eduardo Arellano Félix, the fourth Arellano Félix brother to be targeted by the DEA, has entered a guilty plea to one count of conspiring to launder hundreds of millions of dollars in drug proceeds. The plea, which was approved at the U.S. District Court in San Diego on Friday, May 24, will likely give Eduardo a 15 year prison sentence. Eduardo has admitted to handling finances for the family organization, but denies playing any part of the violence or drug trafficking that the group is known for.
Even though the Arellano Félix Organization (AFO) is still very active in Tijuana, the DEA’s acting agent in charge at San Diego, William Sherman, states the plea is the final nail in the coffin for the cartel. According to the Associated Press, U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy also called the conviction “the end of an era”.
U.S. authorities began pursuing the AFO actively in 1997. Since then, four of the seven Arellano Félix brothers have received prison time in the U.S. Another, Ramón Eduardo Arellano Félix, was killed in Mexico in 2002 by police. After the recent conviction of Eduardo, three brothers are now currently serving time in the U.S. Another was released from prison in 2008.
Francisco Rafael Arellano Félix is the oldest of the seven Arellano Félix brothers. He was arrested in 1980 in San Diego after delivering cocaine to a DEA agent. After posting bond he disappeared to Mexico. Francisco Rafael finally served real time after being captured in Tijuana in 1993. He served 15 years in U.S. prisons. He was released in 2008 and crossed back into Mexico. Very little has been heard from him since, but analysts believe he took a low key but active role in the cartels organization since his return to Mexico.
Besides the eldest brother, who was released, two more brothers and four sisters remain in Mexico. Sisters, Enedina and Alicia, are believed to play active roles in the organizations activities. Enedina has at times been called the first female cartel leader of Mexico, after her elder brothers were apprehended.
Enedina’s son, Luis Fernando “El Ingeniero” Sánchez Arellano, has been also been recognized as the current leader of the AFO by many analysts. Most believe Luis Fernando, the nephew of the former leaders, plays the most active role in day to day activities in Tijuana. In early May, the DEA noted Luis Fernando as one of the top six most wanted drug traffickers in the San Diego-Baja California area.
The remaining two Arellano Félix brothers, who are not currently wanted on any criminal charges, still remain free in Mexico. Carlos Alberto Arellano Félix is a licensed surgeon; however the 57 year old is believed to have been involved in money laundering for the organization by running several companies in central Mexico. Carlos had previously been indicted in the U.S. along with several other brothers, but was later dropped from the 1989 indictment. Little is known about the seventh brother, Luis Fernando Arellano Félix, except that he is involved in family owned businesses and possibly money laundering.
The AFO is not the massive organization it once was, suffering constant attacks, arrests, and territorial invasion by the Cartel de Sinaloa (CDS). Despite losing a good portion of its plaza and being weakened, drug war analysts Insight Crime claim the AFO still controlled Tijuana as late as June of 2012. The report claimed that the AFO is being paid by the Cartel de Sinaloa to smuggle narcotics through Tijuana. The DEA's most recent cartel territory map, released in August of 2012, still shows Tijuana as AFO territory. The rest of Baja California is marked as CDS territory.
While overall crime and annual homicides have lowered in recent years, the first four months of 2013 have seen an increase in homicides. Baja California state authorities have attested the vast majority to drug related crime. Most murders have been between local drug dealers and territorial disputes between the AFO and the CDS. A former attorney of Benjamín Arellano Félix was killed in April.
Regardless of the actual size or power of the organization, the AFO clearly remains alive and active in Tijuana, despite recent conflicting statements by U.S. authorities.