SAN DIEGO — Federal prosecutors Tuesday unsealed indictments against 10 street gang members alleged to be narcotics traffickers and hit men for the notorious Arellano-Felix cartel of Tijuana.
At a news conference to announce the indictments, Mexican and U.S. authorities disclosed for the first time that one or more of the four Arellano brothers may have hidden out in the United States in recent years. The brothers have been wanted in Mexico since the 1993 slaying of a Mexican cardinal and the indictment of one brother, Ramon, in the United States in 1997.
Of those whose indictments were announced Tuesday, five are fugitives and two are in custody in Mexican prisons. U.S. authorities said they will request their extradition from Mexico. The other three named in the indictment are in custody in U.S. or California prisons.
Also unsealed was an indictment against the late David Barron Corona, who allegedly recruited the gunmen, all members of the 30th Street Gang. Corona, whom U.S. officials identified as an assassin for the cartel, was killed last year when gunmen allegedly hired by the Arellanos attempted to assassinate Tijuana newspaper editor Jesus Blancornelas.
According to federal authorities, Barron recruited the indicted gang members as "henchmen" for the cartel. The defendants have been charged with various drug violations and interstate travel to commit murder.
U.S. Atty. Alan Bersin said some of those indicted were tied to the May 1993 murder of Cardinal Juan Posadas Ocampo at the Guadalajara Airport. Mexican authorities said the cardinal was mistakenly shot by hit men hired by the Arellanos, who were attempting to kill narcotics rival Joaquin "Chapo" Guzman Loera.
Guzman escaped the gunfire, but Cardinal Posadas and six others died in the fusillade.
On Tuesday, a task force of federal, state and local law enforcement agencies also arrested 21 additional members of the same San Diego street gang for immigration, parole or probation violations. Seven other members of the gang, which frequents the city's Logan Heights neighborhood, were recently arrested by immigration authorities.
Also at the press conference Tuesday was Gen. Jose Luis Chavez, an official with the Mexican attorney general's office, whose presence was designed to symbolize a new era of cooperation between U.S. and Mexican law enforcement officials in fighting drug trafficking.
Chavez and U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration Special Agent-in-Charge Errol J. Chavez both said, when questioned by reporters, that leaders of the Arellano clan may have hidden out in the United States in recent years.
DEA Agent Chavez said that DEA and FBI agents had followed up on information from "reliable informants" that the Arellanos had been hiding in San Diego. However, he declined to say exactly when the brothers were believed to have been here, other than it was after 1993 and before September 1997, when Ramon Arellano was indicted by a federal grand jury and placed on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted list.
"The DEA and FBI did follow up on those investigative leads, and we were not successful in locating them in this country," the agent said. "Now, had they been here in the past? Yes, they had, according to what we hear. Are they here now? We don't know."
"If you're talking about the past, we really have to be concerned about when in fact there was an indictment or an arrest warrant," Chavez said. "If there was no arrest warrant . . . at that time there was nothing we could do. We were still conducting our investigation in order to develop evidence for prosecution in the United States."
The surprising statement came after a question was asked of Gen. Chavez.
"What are the efforts in Mexico to find [the Arellanos]?" asked a reporter.
"We have told the U.S. authorities that they could be here," the general said. "We have received information that they could be here. That possibility exists."
Bersin then said "we can speculate all day on where people are."
When then asked about reports in the Mexican press that the Arellanos had been seen in Hollywood and Hawaii, Bersin replied, "This is getting a little bit silly. [Ramon Arellano-Felix] was also seen somewhere in the vicinity of the moon." Bersin then ended the press conference.
However, DEA Agent Chavez later acknowledged that sources have said the Arellanos had used the United States as a hide-out in the past and that U.S. officials are not sure if they are presently in this country.