SAN DIEGO -- An alleged drug kingpin who for years was one of the United States' most wanted Mexican drug-trafficking suspects was arraigned Friday in federal court in San Diego on conspiracy and money-laundering charges.
Victor Emilio Cazares Gastellum, 52, was extradited to the custody of U.S. officials on Friday. He had been indicted by a federal grand jury in San Diego in 2007, along with 18 of his suspected lieutenants and foot soldiers.
According to prosecutors, Cazares' organization shipped multi-ton quantities of drugs from Colombia and Venezuela through Central America to Mexico.
The narcotics were then smuggled across the Southwestern border, at which point Cazares, also known as "El Licenciado," and accomplices then allegedly distributed the narcotics throughout the United States.
The United States issued a provisional arrest warrant for Cazares following his indictment, and the U.S. Department of State offered a reward of up to $5 million for information leading to his arrest or conviction. He was captured by Mexican authorities in April 2012 at a highway checkpoint near Guadalajara.
Cazares is believed to have been aligned with Joaquin "Chapo" Guzman, former leader of the Sinaloa drug cartel, one of the most notorious and violent drug-trafficking organizations operating in Mexico. The Sinaloa Cartel imports and distributes hundreds of tons of cocaine, methamphetamine and marijuana into the United States each year, according to U.S. authorities.
The indictments were announced at a news conference in San Diego by then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. A 22-month sting operation resulted in the nationwide arrests of 402 people suspected of working for the cartel, and the seizure of more than $45 million in cash along with tons of cocaine, heroin and marijuana.
During this morning's hearing, U.S. Magistrate Judge David Bartick ordered the defendant held without bail. Cazares' next court appearance is scheduled for April 4.