Tijuana drug cartel leader arrested in Mexico

Associated Press

MEXICO CITY (AP) — The head of the once-mighty Tijuana-based Arellano Felix cartel has been arrested in Mexico, two federal officials said Tuesday.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information. One said Sanchez Arrellano was expected to be moved to Mexico City Tuesday.

Fernando Sanchez Arellano inherited the Arellano Felix cartel from his uncle, Javier Arellano Felix, who was arrested by the U.S. Coast Guard in international waters off Mexico's Baja California coast in 2006 and later sentenced in San Diego to 40 years in federal prison. Within two years, a renegade lieutenant, Teodoro Garcia Simental, made a power play and launched a bloodbath that turned Tijuana into one of Mexico's most violent cities, plagued by daytime shootouts, beheadings and mutilated corpses hanging from freeway bridges.

Sanchez Arellano, known as "The Engineer," was badly weakened when his rival was arrested in Mexico in January 2010, creating an opening for the Sinaloa cartel to quietly gain control of the city's underworld and its coveted smuggling corridor to San Diego. The Sinaloa cartel has made its mark in the area with massive cross-border drug tunnels, large-scale smuggling of methamphetamine at San Diego border crossings and marijuana-laden boats that motor up the Pacific coast to California shores.

In May 2013, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration included Sanchez Arellano on a poster of the six most influential drug traffickers in the region but U.S. authorities were more concerned about rising Sinaloa cartel lieutenants. Gary Hill, an assistant DEA special agent in charge in San Diego, said in an interview at the time that Sanchez Arellano was "almost like a ghost."

"He has no control, no power," Hill said.

Hill dismissed reports that Sanchez Arellano reached a truce with the Sinaloa cartel, whose leader, Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman had been a bitter rival of his uncles since at least the early 1990s. Guzman was arrested by Mexican authorities in February.

"We've heard talk of almost a gentleman's agreement but some of our wire intercepts tell us otherwise, that there's still a deep, deep rivalry and hatred for one another," Hill said. "As we see it, the Sinaloa cartel has the upper hand."

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