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Tijuana Drug Trafficker Gets 30 Years in Prison

January 15, 2002|From Associated Press

SAN DIEGO — A man who became a top figure in one of Mexico's largest and most violent drug cartels after a relatively comfortable childhood in suburban San Diego was sentenced Monday to 30 years in prison.

With his ex-wife and three children looking on in federal court, Everardo Arturo "Kitti" Paez apologized as he became the highest-ranking member of the Arellano Felix drug cartel to be convicted and sentenced in the United States.

"I am very sorry for what I did," Paez said, choking with emotion. "I also want to apologize to the court, and to my family, especially my mother and children, and to society in general."

Paez, 35, pleaded guilty in October to one count of participating in a continuing criminal enterprise and a second of conspiracy to launder drug proceeds.

As part of his plea agreement, he admitted smuggling 3 1/2 tons of cocaine into the United States from 1989 to 1996.

Paez, who was a legal U.S. resident but held Mexican citizenship, was arrested while leaving a sushi restaurant he owned in Tijuana, Mexico, in 1997. He spent the next four years fighting extradition.

He lost his bid when Mexico's Supreme Court ruled in January 2001 that its citizens could be extradited to the United States provided they did not face the death penalty or life imprisonment. Last spring, Paez became the first major trafficker sent north for trial under the ruling.

"This lets traffickers in Mexico know that there is no escape from American justice," Assistant U.S. Atty. Patrick O'Toole said after the sentencing.

U.S. officials are hopeful Mexico soon will extradite Ismael Higuera Guerrero, who is said to be the chief operating officer of the Arellano Felix organization. The Tijuana-based cartel is said to control the drug trade in the Mexican state of Baja California, the busiest smuggling route into the United States.

The cartel maintains its control through intimidation, bribery and murder, officials said. Its alleged ringleader, Ramon Arellano Felix, is on the FBI's 10 most wanted list and U.S. authorities are offering a $2-million reward for his arrest or for that of his brother, Benjamin.

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