SAN DIEGO - Mexico extradited Eduardo Arellano-Felix to the United States Friday, marking what one U.S. official said was the end of a 20-year investigation into the once-mighty drug cartel headed by his older brother.
Arellano Felix, 55, arrived in the United States and will make an initial court appearance Tuesday in San Diego on charges of narcotics trafficking, racketeering and money laundering, said Laura Duffy, the U.S. attorney in San Diego, who built her career on the case.
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A 2003 federal indictment calls Eduardo Arellano Felix "the senior advisor" to his older brother, Benjamin, who headed the Tijuana, Mexico-based organization from its beginnings in the 1980s until his arrest in 2002 in Mexico. In April, Benjamin Arellano Felix was sentenced to 25 years in prison in San Diego after being extradited last year.
Eduardo Arellano Felix was arrested in October 2008 in a Saturday night shootout with Mexican authorities at his Tijuana home that was witnessed by his 11-year-old daughter. Duffy said Mexico granted extradition in 2010, which was followed by two years of unsuccessful appeals by Arellano Felix.
The Mexican attorney general's office said he was turned over to U.S. authorities at the Toluca International Airport, west of Mexico City.
The indictment says Eduardo was involved in all major cartel decisions, including moving drugs into the United States, distributing them on American soil and kidnapping and murdering rivals.
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration poured massive resources into pursuing the Arellano Felix clan as it moved tons of Mexican marijuana and Colombian cocaine across California's borders in the 1990s and well into the 2000s and killed untold scores of rivals.
"The extradition of Eduardo Arellano Felix today marks the end of a 20-year DEA investigation into this vicious drug cartel," said William Sherman, acting special agent in charge of the DEA in San Diego.
The cartel was severely weakened after Benjamin was arrested in 2002 and another brother, Ramon, was killed that year in a shootout with Mexican authorities. U.S. officials have described Benjamin as the mastermind and Ramon as the main enforcer.
Javier, another brother who inherited the helm after Benjamin's arrest, was captured by the U.S. Coast Guard on a fishing boat in international waters off the Mexican coast in 2006 and sentenced to life in prison in 2007 in San Diego.
The Sinaloa cartel, headed by Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, has since emerged as a major force in Tijuana.
John Kirby, a former federal prosecutor who co-wrote the 2003 indictment, said Eduardo was one of only four people who made key decisions for the Arellano Felix cartel, like where to buy Colombian cocaine, how and when to move large shipments of drugs across the U.S.-Mexico border and which officials to bribe. Only one, Manuel Aguirre Galindo, remains at-large.
Eduardo pulled back after a hit squad seeking to assassinate Guzman killed Roman Catholic Cardinal Juan Jesus Posadas Ocampo in the Guadalajara airport in 1993 — a case of mistaken identity.
"There are two parts about Eduardo — pre-cardinal and post-cardinal," Kirby said. "Everything changed after that. A lot of people they paid off or were friendly turned back because it was too hot. Eduardo basically bowed out and said, 'Good luck, guys.'"