SAN DIEGO – When former Mexican law enforcement official Jesus Quiñonez was making frequent trips to San Diego to discuss cross-border investigations of organized crime with U.S. law enforcement officials, never did he think he would be the target of them.
Now more than two years after he and 42 others were charged in a far-reaching indictment that targeted remnants of Tijuana-based Arellano Felix cartel, Quiñonez is facing a possible life sentence in federal prison.
On Monday the ex-Mexican official will be sentenced for the racketeering conspiracy he has admitted to having been a part of. While a life in jail is on the table, more than two prosecutors have recommended that Quiñonez be sentenced to eight years and one month in prison.
Quiñonez was the international liaison for Baja California Attorney General Rommel Moreno, serving as his primary contact with U.S. federal, state and local law enforcement agencies in an area that includes the border cities of Tijuana and Mexicali. He pleaded guilty in May, weeks before he was scheduled for trial.
As part of the plea agreement, Quiñonez admitted that he agreed to help smuggle $13 million into Mexico for a group headed by Fernando Sanchez Arellano, a nephew of the Arellano Felix brothers. The Arellano Felix cartel was once one of the world's most powerful drug cartels but its power began to erode in 2002, when its leaders began getting killed or captured.
Quiñonez also admitted sharing information with a reputed Sanchez Arellano lieutenant, Jose Alfredo Najera Gil, about an investigation of a double homicide in Tijuana in 2010. According to the plea agreement, the murders were committed by the Sanchez Arellano gang.
The episode has been an embarrassment for Moreno, who took office in late 2007 when Tijuana was in the throes of a fierce battle between Sanchez Arellano and a rival that horrified residents with bodies hung from bridges, daytime shoot-outs and decapitated bodies found around town. Such gruesome displays of violence have largely disappeared in Tijuana since the Sinaloa cartel expanded its presence in the last few years.
Quiñonez has been in custody since his arrest on a San Diego traffic stop in 2010, less than a month after he attended a U.S. Independence Day party at the home of the U.S. consul general in Tijuana.
Based on reporting by the Associated Press.