One of the alleged leaders of the violent Arellano-Felix drug organization, who was extradited to San Diego from Mexico after nine years in a Mexican prison, pleaded not guilty Monday to racketeering, money laundering and narcotics trafficking charges and was denied bail.
Benjamin Arellano-Felix, once considered the financial operator of the AFO, said little during his brief appearance before U.S. District Judge Larry Burns.
The defendant's daughter was in the audience, according to defense attorney Jan Ronis.
Ronis told the judge that he met with Arellano Felix's family a year ago in Mexico City and that the defendant has let it be known that he wants Ronis to represent him.
A status conference was set for May 23. Attorney Douglas Brown will represent Arellano Felix in the meantime.
"It's not uncommon on drug cases that people have a lot of allegations floating around including money laundering, extortion, kidnapping, homicide [and] things of that nature. So what he's charged with really isn't uncommon in this courthouse. In a generic sense, it's a large complex drug case," said Ronis.
Ronis said Arellano Felix's extradition to the United States on Friday caught everyone by surprise.
The attorney said the defendant has been imprisoned in Mexico since 2002 -- where he also faces charges -- and has been fighting to keep from being extradited to the United States.
"When people are locked up for a long time, it does take its toll mentally and physically," Ronis told reporters outside U.S. District Court.
Laura Duffy, the U.S. Attorney for Southern California, told 10News, "With the amount of violence and disruption that these cartels are causing
to take years to put together cases, we have to be much more focused and precise about it."
Long reputed to be one of the most notorious multi-national drug trafficking organizations, the AFO controlled the flow of cocaine, marijuana and other drugs through the Mexican border cities of Tijuana and Mexicali into the United States. Its operations also extended into southern Mexico and Colombia.
According to authorities, the Arellano-Felix cartel -- run by four brothers, Benjamin, Eduardo, Javier and Ramon -- monopolized routes for illegal drugs through Tijuana to the United States for more than 20 years.
Ramon Arellano-Felix, the organization's top enforcer, was killed in a shootout in Mexico in 2002. Javier Arellano-Felix, captured in 2006, is serving a life sentence in the United States. Eduardo Arellano-Felix was captured in 2008 after a shootout in Tijuana and U.S. authorities are still seeking his extradition.
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