The federal government may seek the death penalty for the accused kingpin of one of Mexico's oldest and most notorious drug cartels, a prosecutor said Monday.

Francisco Javier Arellano Felix currently faces a maximum sentence of 40 years in prison under a 2003 indictment that accused him and others of moving tons of Colombian cocaine and Mexican marijuana to the United States and involvement in a string of assassinations or plots, U.S. authorities said.

Laura Duffy, an assistant U.S. attorney, said the government may seek new charges against Arellano Felix that would allow for the death penalty or life in prison if he is convicted. She did not elaborate on the possible charges at a hearing before U.S. District Judge Larry A. Burns.

Arellano Felix, 36, dressed in an orange jumpsuit and shackled at his wrists and ankles, gave one-word answers in Spanish and did not seek bail during a hearing Monday.

He pleaded not guilty last week to racketeering, racketeering conspiracy, conspiracy to import and distribute controlled substances and money laundering.

Last week, Mexican Attorney General Daniel Cabeza de Vaca also said Mexico would seek Arellano Felix's extradition to Mexico, but perhaps not until he had been tried and sentenced for crimes in the United States.

Arellano Felix was captured by the U.S. Coast Guard last week off the coast of La Paz, Mexico, aboard the U.S.-registered sport boat Dock Holiday.

Seven other men aboard the yacht were arrested and taken to the United States last week, including Arturo Villarreal Heredia, whom U.S. authorities said was a high-ranking figure in the Tijuana-based Arellano Felix cartel.

John Kirby, a former federal prosecutor in San Diego who worked on the 2003 indictment, said Arellano Felix took over field operations after his older brother Benjamin was jailed in Mexico in 2002 and brother Ramon was killed that same year.