SAN DIEGO --He ordered murders. He ordered kidnappings and bribes. He helped distribute hundreds of tons of drugs into the United States, all from the top of one ofMexico'sbiggest cartels.
Now, 60-year-old Benjamin Arellano-Felix will spend the next 25 years in a U.S. prison.
"(This) will virtually assure that he will spend the rest of his remaining days in custody," said U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy.
Arellano Felix was sentenced in U.S. Federal Court Monday after pleading guilty to money laundering and drug trafficking, as well as leading the notorious AFO, or Arellano Felix Organization.
Arellano Felix made a last-minute switch to another defense attorney, trying to delay or change the plea deal. U.S. District Judge Larry Burns denied his attempts, adding that he wished he could sentence him to a longer term.
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U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy called the defendant's incarceration a virtual "life sentence,'' considering he will serve about 20 years in a maximum- security prison in the United States before being returned to Mexico to serve the remainder of a 22-year sentence in that country.
"He (Arellano Felix) will be in his 90s if he survives,'' Duffy said. "Benjamin Arellano Felix has been incapacitated.''
But Arellano Felix's former attorney, Anthony Colombo, had a different opinion.
"What was in (the plea deal) form my client is the hope of being released from custody," Colombo explained, "It gives Mr. Arellano Felix the hope of returning to his family."
Colombo added that lawyers in Mexico are attempting to have the rest of Arellano Felix's conviction there thrown out, contrary to what the U.S. Attorneys office said.
William Sherman, acting special agent-in-charge for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, said Arellano Felix's sentence means "the absolute end to the AFO.''
Arellano Felix, in pleading guilty in January to racketeering and conspiracy to launder money, admitted he was the "shot-caller'' in a conspiracy to import and distribute hundreds of tons of cocaine and marijuana into the United States, generating hundreds of millions of dollars in proceeds, between 1986 and 2002.
He admitted re-investing the money from drug sales to pay people to commit crimes, bribing law enforcement officials and ordering the murders of informants and others.
Arellano Felix, 58, was extradited to the United States last year after spending nine years in a Mexican prison.
Defense attorney Nicholas DePento, who came on the case last week when Arellano Felix fired attorney Anthony Columbo Jr., told Burns that Arellano Felix said he didn't fully understand the terms of the plea agreement.
Arellano Felix was supposedly told the issue of credit for time served in Mexico would be "taken care of'' at today's sentencing hearing, DePento told the judge.
DePento said the defendant feels like he was used as a "political pawn'' and "has no idea where he goes from here.''
But Burns said Arellano Felix understood what he pleaded guilty to, noting the difference in crimes committed in the United States and Mexico and the violent nature of the crimes committed in America.
Arellano Felix said he was extradited to the United States under an international treaty and should be protected by international law.
"I was tried in Mexico for the same charges I was tried for here,'' the defendant told the judge. "The crimes I'm being accused of are things that other people did.''
Prosecutor Joseph S. Green told the judge that from 1986 to 2002, the defendant led the AFO and "poisoned the country of Mexico with corruption and violence.''
Long reputed to be one of the most notorious multi-national drug trafficking organizations, the Arellano Felix Organization controlled the flow of cocaine, marijuana and other drugs through the Mexican border cities of Tijuana and Mexicali into the United States. Its operations also extended into southern Mexico and Colombia.
According to authorities, the cartel -- run by brothers Benjamin, Eduardo, Javier and Ramon -- monopolized routes for illegal drugs through Tijuana to the United States for more than 20 years.
"The Tijuana Cartel was one of the world's most brutal drug trafficking networks, but has now met its demise with leader Benjamin Arellano Felix's sentencing today,'' said DEA Administrator Michele M. Leonhart. "It's a major victory for DEA and Mexico's Calderon administration. Together, we will continue our pressure on the Mexican cartels whose leaders, members and facilitators will be prosecuted and face the justice they fear.''
Ramon Arellano-Felix, the organization's top enforcer, was killed in a shootout in Mexico in 2002. Javier Arellano-Felix was captured in 2006; he is serving a life sentence in the United States. Eduardo Arellano-Felix was captured in 2008 after a shootout in Tijuana, and U.S. authorities are still seeking his extradition.