The last of the Arellano Felix brothers to be arrested has now been extradited to the US, a testament to how far the family has fallen since the 1990s, when they controlled the powerful Tijuana Cartel.
Eduardo Arellano Felix, the fourth oldest of the seven Arellano Felix brothers, made his first appearance in a US court on September 4, after being extradited to the US five days earlier. He pled not guilty to charges of drug trafficking, money laundering, and racketeering.
Eduardo was arrested in a joint operation between the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the Mexican security forces on October 26, 2008. He is believed to have assumed control of the Tijuana Cartel in 2002 alongside his sister Enedina, after his brother Ramon was killed in a gunfight in 2002.
Two of Eduardo’s brothers, Benjamin and Francisco, are currently serving prison sentences in the US. In January, Benjamin Arellano Felix pled guilty as part of a plea bargain, and was then sentenced to 25 years in prison and ordered to turn over $100 million in criminal assets. Francisco was captured by the US Coast Guard in 2006 and was sentenced in life in prison in 2007.
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Due to the severity of the charges against him, Eduardo is unlikely to face a different outcome from that of Benjamin and Francisco: he will most likely spend the rest of his life in prison. If convicted, he could face a sentence of up to 140 years. His trial is one indication of the appeal of the extradition process: in the US, it is virtually impossible for top-level drug traffickers like the Arellano Felixes to continue running their criminal enterprises from prison.
When he was actively running the Tijuana Cartel, Eduardo was known for emphasizing a low-profile approach, generally favoring corruption over brutal acts of violence. Under the control of Eduardo and his sister Enedina, the Tijuana Cartel concentrated on strengthening the relationship between the cartel and corrupt elements in the security forces, including municipal and federal police, and the judiciary. The family avoided ostentation and appearances in public. As a report by Zeta magazine highlighted, the house where Eduardo was arrested in 2008 was indicative of the non-extravagant lifestyle which he promoted. it had none of the lavish decorations associated with traditional drug trafficking families, and instead was furnished in order to serve as a long-term hide-out, with a stockpile of video games and reading material for entertainment.
Eduardo’s extradition to the US was an important step towards the dismantling of the Tijuana Cartel. Another member of the family, Fernando Sanchez Arellano, alias “El Ingeniero,” is now believed to run the organization. But as InSight Crime has previously reported, the Tijuana Cartel has proved to be resilient, bolstered by an alleged truce with the Sinaloa Cartel that has brought relative calm to the city since 2010. For El Ingeniero, the risk is that this pact with the Sinaloa Cartel could encourage more operatives to defect to the more powerful group, eventually causing the remains of the Arellano Felix organization to be steadily absorbed into the Sinaloan organization. In such a scenario -- and with a slew of Arellano Felix family members, including Eduardo, behind bars -- the current concept of the Tijuana Cartel as a group primarily controlled by the Arellano Felix family could soon become obsolete.