Extradited drug suspects appear in court

January 5, 2009 4:33:12 PM PST
A group of men alleged to be members of notorious Mexican drug cartels made their first court appearances in the U.S. on Monday. [SIGN UP: Get headlines and breaking news sent to you]

Mexico extradited 10 alleged smugglers last week. Nine suspects, including members of two of Mexico's most powerful drug gangs, the Tijuana-based Arellano-Felix cartel and the Tamaulipas-based Gulf cartel, appeared in Houston federal court and all agreed to be sent to the U.S. jurisdictions where they were originally indicted.

The 10 men brought the number of suspects extradited in 2008 from Mexico to the United States to 95, 12 more than the previous high in 2007.

Among those who agreed to be transferred was Jesus "Chuy" Labra Aviles, the former top financial leader for the Arellano-Felix gang who was arrested in 2000 in Tijuana, and Armando Martinez Duarte, a former federal police official who authorities say worked as the chief of security for the Arellano-Felix gang, protecting its members from police raids.

Labra was believed to have handled much of the Arellano-Felix organization's finances. He and Martinez were indicted in 2003 in San Diego on drug trafficking, money laundering and racketeering charges.

Labra's attorney, Guadalupe Valencia, said he hasn't reviewed the government's case against his client.

"After that, we'll figure out what kind of situation he's in," Valencia said.

Prosecutor Bryan Best declined to comment about Monday's court appearances.

The other seven men who were represented by court appointed attorneys for their initial appearances and agreed to be sent to the U.S. jurisdictions where they were indicted were:

-- Jorge Aureliano Felix, a Mexican citizen, indicted in 2003 in San Diego on drug trafficking, racketeering and money laundering charges. He is a former Mexican state judicial police officer accused of being a top lieutenant for the Arellano-Felix cartel.

-- Efrain Perez Arciniega, a Mexican citizen, indicted in 2003 in San Diego on drug trafficking and money laundering charges. He is accused of being a lieutenant in the Arellano-Felix Organization.

-- Fidel Chan Amador, a Mexican citizen, indicted in 2000 in San Diego on marijuana distribution and importation charges. He is accused of importing about 11,500 pounds of marijuana into the U.S. between 1996 and 1999.

-- Luis Octavio Arellano Enciso, a Mexican citizen, indicted in 2001 in Los Angeles on charges of importing and distributing cocaine and marijuana.

-- Jose Manuel Barrientos, a Mexican citizen, indicted in 2001 in Atlanta on charges of distributing cocaine and assaulting a federal agent. Barrientos is accused of working for the Gulf Cartel in the Atlanta area.

-- Ruben Saucedo Rivera and Juan Carlos De La Cruz Reyna, both Mexican citizens who were indicted in 2002 in Brownsville. Saucedo faces various drug charges while De La Cruz is accused of threatening to assault and murder federal agents. Authorities say both men were members of the Gulf cartel.

The only non-Mexican citizen who was extradited is Juan Diego Espinosa Ramirez, a Colombian wanted in Florida on drug charges related to large cocaine shipments from Colombia to the United States. Espinosa, an alleged member of the Sinaloa cartel, did not appear in Houston federal court on Monday and prosecutors did not immediately know if he had already been transferred to Miami.

Their court appearances come nearly two years after accused Gulf Cartel leader Osiel Cardenas-Guillen was extradited from Mexico to Texas. His trial in Houston is set for September.

Cardenas-Guillen's extradition was one of the first actions by Mexican President Felipe Calderon as he kicked off his national campaign against organized crime.

p Calderon has sent more than 40,000 troops across Mexico to confront traffickers, who have responded fiercely. Drug slayings soared to more than 5,300 last year, twice the number in 2007.

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