MEXICO CITY – Mexico extradited accused drug kingpin Francisco Rafael Arellano Felix to the United States on Saturday to face drug charges, becoming the first major Mexican drug lord to be sent north for trial.
The extradition of the man who once ran the Arellano Felix drug clan was a victory for U.S. officials who have been pushing Mexico to send them more drug lords.
Arellano Felix was handed over in the Texas border town of Matamoros after serving a 10-year sentence in Mexico. He will be taken to California to face trial on charges stemming from a 1980 case in which he allegedly sold cocaine to an undercover police officer in the United States.
U.S. authorities requested Arellano Felix's extradition on June 2, 2003. A federal judge approved that request in 2004, but it took two years for the Foreign Relations Department to send him north.
Francisco Rafael was the oldest brother in a family accused of running what was throughout the 1990s one of Mexico's largest and most-violent drug smuggling gangs.
The Arellano Felix gang developed a reputation as one of the most bloodthirsty of the country's major smuggling groups.
Most of the Arellano Felix brothers have been arrested or killed, weakening the group. But Mexican and U.S. officials said the gang still moves tons of cocaine and marijuana into the United States from its operations base in Tijuana, across the border from San Diego.
Arellano Felix was arrested in December 1993 in Tijuana and was convicted under Mexico's tough weapons laws rather than for drug offenses.
His brother Benjamin, reputedly the planning chief of the gang bearing the family's name, was arrested in March 2002 in Puebla, east of Mexico City.
Another brother, Ramon, had been shot to death a month earlier in the Pacific tourist port of Mazatlan. Police say he had been the group's feared enforcer, in charge of killing to settle scores.
Francisco Javier Arellano Felix was captured on a fishing boat last month by the U.S. Coast Guard in international waters off the coast of La Paz, Mexico.