Mexican drug kingpin Benjamin Arellano-Felix pleaded guilty Wednesday to narcotics trafficking, money laundering, and racketeering in an agreement that avoids a trial and brings a sentence of 25 years in prison.

Arellano-Felix led the Arellano-Felix Organization (AFO), otherwise known as the Tijuana cartel, with several brothers. The cartel, which was portrayed in the Steven Soderbergh film "Traffic," was known for its violent killings, including dissolving bodies of its rivals in vats of lye.

As part of the plea deal, Arellano-Felix agreed to forfeit $100 million in drug proceeds. 

"The plea today marks the end of the Arellano-Felix drug trafficking organization as we know it," said William R. Sherman, acting special agent in charge of the DEA's San Diego field office. "DEA and our law enforcement partners, both domestic and international, have effectively dismantled this once powerful cartel from the top down."

Arellano-Felix entered a guilty plea in federal court in San Diego on Wednesday, according to Laura E. Duffy, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of California. Arellano-Felix, who turns 60 in March, was extradited by to the U.S. on April 29.

At its height, the the cartel controlled the flow of cocaine, marijuana and other drugs through the Mexican border cities of Tijuana and Mexicali into the U.S. Its operations also extended into southern Mexico and Colombia.

Arellano-Felix was the leader of the cartel from 1986 until his arrest in Mexico on March 9, 2002. During that time, Arellano-Felix served as the ultimate decision‑maker for the cartel and issued directives to other members of the AFO, including brothers Ramon, Eduardo, and Francisco Javier Arellano‑Felix.

"Arellano-Felix led the most violent criminal organization in this part of the world for two decades," U.S. Attorney Duffy said. "The AFO has been effectively dismantled and no longer poses the same threat to the people of the United States or Mexico."

The plea marks the latest conviction in the organization, including Arturo Paez-Martinez (2002), Ismael and Gilberto Higuera-Guerrero (2007), Javier Arellano-Felix (2007), and Jesus Labra-Aviles (2010).

Arellano-Felix and other AFO members trafficked hundreds of tons of cocaine and marijuana into the U.S. Arellano bribed law enforcement and military personnel, and murdered informants and potential witnesses in order to obstruct or impede the official investigation of their activities.


A Field Guide to Mexican Drug Cartels