Why do drug dealers like the Arellanos deserve a special task force?
They have grown in scope. Fifteen, twenty years ago they were down in
Sinaloa, you know, a family raising or harvesting marijuana, driving
truckloads. Now they're heads of this organization, these brothers. And they
are bringing in tons of cocaine. They have set up partnerships with Colombia.
The cocaine and the marijuana and the heroin and methamphetamine comes through
the United States, and it doesn't just stay in San Diego. In fact, very little
stays here. It goes throughout the country. It's distributed nationally. And
this could wind up in the Milwaukees of the world, the New Yorks of the world,
the Philadelphias, the Miamis. So it's a total importation distribution system
that they're in charge of. And they use violence as their threat to make sure
that they are the only ones distributing through Baja California and through
San Diego and imperial counties. This is their territory, and this is our
responsibility on the US side of the border.
Does the violence extend to this side of the border?
Of course it does. The majority is south of the border. But there is violence
on this side. We've had people shot. We've had carjackings for cocaine.
You've had gang members that become part of their organization that live on
this side and on the other side. It's a very violent organization. . . .
How do the Arellanos continue to survive?
It's frustrating, because Ramon Arellano Felix is a Top Ten fugitive who's
being investigated every day by offices throughout this country. We believe
that he's in Mexico. But also, he's a Top Ten. He's a head of an organization
for a reason. He's smart. He's powerful. He's intelligent. And because of
that, he surrounds himself with people and insulates himself and protects
himself. The information that Heidi and I and others have received is that he
travels with no less than five or six vans, or Suburbans, full of bodyguards.
So it's a very, very difficult operation to pin him down and then to make an
arrest on him...
Can you explain people's deep fear of the Arellanos, and why they are
perceived as being so smart?
I don't know how smart they are. They use their violence to create such fear
in people where an informant may start to talk to us, and they decide to kill
his father or his mother. So there's compelling reasons why people are
fearful. I think the way they operate is the lowest level of humanity. . . .
I just think they operate with violence more than they do with smarts. The
intimidation is to the point where people are so fearful of their lives or
their children's lives or families that they would rather hide themselves than
come forward and talk about them. . . .
What distinguishes the way the Arellanos operate?
Just the torture--sometimes they'll make them stand and watch as they slice
someone open. It's inhumane. It's ridiculous. And so if that person were to
come forward or to talk to someone else, they, too, know that that would happen
to them. And Ramon Arellano and others have surrounded themselves with like
personalities that are inhumane, as far as I'm concerned...
Here they go out and shoot five or ten or fifteen or twenty [people]. Tijuana,
in the month of January, had 40 or 45 murders, a lot of them are attributed to
narcotics trafficking. And it continues that way. Encinada had that whole
family of 18 people murdered there a year and a half ago. So they're ruthless.
And fear and violence is their way of gaining control over the population. So
how would you have a witness there to come forward to either the Mexican law
officials or to United States officials and be willing to put their lives on
the line to cooperate against this ruthless organization? They and their
immediate family may be safe, but their neighbors, their friends, their
grandmothers or grandfathers, aunts and uncles are all in jeopardy after that.
It's not worth it...
What have you done to specifically combat the Arellanos?
On this side, we've taken off cell heads that have had direct communication
with Arellano members. . . . So to say that there's been nothing done, that
we haven't hurt them at all, is incorrect. We've taken off large drug
shipments. We've arrested a lot of people on this side. Granted, the
lieutenants and the brothers remain out there.
What are "cell heads?"
A cell head would be a person that lives in Los Angeles or San Diego and is a
command and control type of person who may direct the narcotics distribution.
They may be in control of taking it to Los Angeles and then on to Boston, to
Miami, to New York. Their network is throughout the United States. They're
going to have people who are in charge of drug distribution and they're going
to have people in charge of getting the money back to Mexico.
How much money is involved?
I can't give you any estimates on a take, but it's millions. You're talking
tons of cocaine, and you're talking $12,000-15,000 a kilo, and you're moving
tons of it through the United States, and hundreds and thousands of pounds of
marijuana at $500 a pound. It's millions of dollars. And it's going back and
forth in probably bulk shipments, to the best of our knowledge. I think
they're a little bit smart that way, because they know enough about asset
forfeiture and the United States laws. I believe that most of their money has
been going back south of the border or to Colombia to other islands or safe
havens, rather than investing in the United States, where we have laws and the
powers to do something about it, and to seize it.
How do the traffickers get their money south?
How do you stop it? You see the border. You look at San Ysidro. There are
hundreds, thousands of cars going through that port every day. You put boxes
in the trunk of the car or secret it in a hidden compartment. Those Customs
and INS inspectors have no chance of catching that money, unless we get a good
tip. It's easy and it's down there and it's a duffel bag full of money, full
of hundreds. There is corruption on both sides. We've taken steps with a
border corruption task force to address some of that. In the last five years,
officials from the US federal agencies have been convicted and incarcerated for
taking money. . . . Traffickers look for an official to pass through these
loads. And if you want to pay someone $25,000 or $50,000 or $100,000 to wave a
car or a truck or a van through, it's there. These people may be making
$30,000-$40,000 a year out there. You offer them that to wave a car through
with a newspaper in a window or some code and they're going to do it. And we
have taken steps and we have convicted people doing that.
Explain how this is a bi-national corruption problem.
Various gang members here in San Diego . . . have been recruited by the
Arellanos. They even train them in weaponry. And they can commit murders on
that side and try to hide on this side. We've worked with Mexico and we've
extradited a few gang members that way. They've assisted us in searching for
some in Mexico as well. . . . We just happen to sit on one of the busiest ports
of entry in the world. Fifty thousand cars a day come through. They've chosen
a very interesting, lucrative way to bring drugs in, just by the sheer numbers
of people that cross the border. The whole southwest border is 2,000 miles in
length. So this is the place where they're going to choose to come
There have been rumors that the Arellanos were operating on both sides of
the border for quite a while. If these rumors are true, why can't anybody find
In the last four or five years that we've been together out on the task force,
we don't see them on the US side of the border. Any possible lead in the
United States is investigated fully and swiftly. We've been to fights. We've
been at residences. We've been conducting surveillance. We've done everything
we can to find them. I don't believe that these people are coming to the
United States on a frequent or infrequent basis at this time.
Now you're overseas, over into another country. So you have the same problems
you have in any other country. I mean, they may be down there. If we get
information we may not be able to corroborate it as much as we would on the
United States side, but we pass the information through our legal attaches and
liaison offices. Then it's up to the other law enforcement agencies in the
other countries to act upon it...
Explain "narco juniors."
. . . Ramon Arellano would associate himself with wealthy young men in
Tijuana--I guess they frequented the same places--and ended up recruiting men
that really did not need to go into narcotics trafficking. They're sons of
wealthy businessmen and affluent people in Tijuana. Suddenly they went from
possibly taking over their parents' business to a life of crime. We've heard
stories of how they maybe would protect Ramon one time and the next time
they'd be forced to kill someone. They'd call it "being baptized." And then
all of a sudden, they were into that world and they were paid quite well for
it. At the same time, aside from going around and committing assassinations
for the organization, they would also traffic on the side. Some of
those juniors went to school here in the United States, as the cross-border
influence. Some spoke English well. They dressed very nicely. They are not
tattooed individuals like someone in a gang. So they could be sitting next to
you in a restaurant and you wouldn't know that. And many of them are now in
jail in Mexico. Some are still on the loose.
One person, [Rodriguo Radenhouser,] a member pretty closely associated with
the Arellano-Felix organization, was just found assassinated--murdered--in
Tijuana on January 24. He was our one contact in the case, and now he's dead.
They were trafficking. It's a very, very ruthless organization. "Narco
juniors" are just younger males in their twenties. That's where the term
probably came from.
In some cases, were they American citizens?
Yes. . . .
What is the current status of your search for the Arellanos?
As of this date, they haven't been arrested. We are hoping, we are trying, on
a daily basis to indict and arrest them.
It's the money that keeps them going. The reason that they're in business,
obviously, is the money. There have been examples of Cali cartel members who
had invested in the community and who have bought businesses and could have
survived as multimillionaires for the rest of their lives. But the Arellanos
kept at it. That's a lot of ego. It's their make-up. They're criminals.
They could have left that criminal life a long time ago, and they chose to stay
in it until they were dead--until the Colombia national police, together with
other law enforcement agencies, tracked many of them down. They could have
gone legitimate a long time ago.
Where do the Arellanos put all their money?
There may be some businesses that they invest in. We know that there are
properties. They're all done in straw, of course, in other persons' names,
which makes it difficult for law enforcement there. The name Maria
Gonzalez--what does that mean to someone? Just like a Jane Doe here. Very
difficult to track. In that way, they're going to cover their tracks, just
like they have in other countries.
Is the level of violence in Tijuana bound to increase or decrease in the
Well, I think any turf battle's going to turn up bodies. I mean, absolutely,
positively. It's been violent for years. Is it continuing? So far, this
year, it is. You've got 40 to 60 deaths already this year in Tijuana. They
will continue. Where it'll end, I don't know. I would hope that they'd be
arrested at some point. You must go with the hope, otherwise your job is
fruitless. We'll continue to investigate distribution cells, importation
cells, corruption on this side. We'll do what we can to take people off. We
continue with information that may give us the information where they can be
located on a timely basis. We pass it along. Maybe they're arrested. That's
what we must hope for. I think we're making progress every year. But is it
It's like heart disease. It's not solved, but there are methods, there are
things that you can do to stop it, and to continue on. We're not going to hold
up our hands and go away just because these guys aren't in jail. Mexico's
arrested many other of the large traffickers in the past. Many of them are
still in jail. So we're going to continue on against them. I'm sure sooner or
later they will be either dead by their own means, because they've created so
many enemies themselves--rival traffickers will shoot them--or Mexican law
enforcement will capture them. Those are some of the options that we've at
least seen from history that will happen to people in this line of work. They
don't tend to survive forever.
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