SAN DIEGO – A former Mexican law enforcement official pleaded guilty Tuesday in federal court in San Diego to aiding members of a violent Tijuana-based drug cartel in a case prosecutors said included helping traffickers get away with a double homicide in 2010.
Jesus Quinonez could face life in prison for sharing confidential information with traffickers while he worked closely with U.S. authorities as international liaison for the Baja California state attorney general's office, prosecutors said.
He is the highest-ranking of five Baja California officials arrested in the case, U.S. Assistant Attorney James Melendres said.
A total of 43 defendants were named in the federal racketeering complaint alleging murder, kidnapping and other crimes. Four are still fugitives, and one is awaiting trial. About half of those arrested are U.S. citizens.
Quinonez, 50, was a primary contact in Baja for U.S. law enforcement agencies and was a familiar figure at cross-border gatherings of officials, including parties at the home of the U.S. consul general in Tijuana.
He admitted to helping smugglers working for drug kingpin Fernando Sanchez Arellano in Tijuana, across from San Diego, prosecutors said.
In his plea, he also acknowledged conspiring to launder $13 million for the ring.
It was the 38th conviction for federal prosecutors in the case. Quinonez is scheduled to be sentenced Aug. 6.
Quinonez was arrested in 2010 during a traffic stop in San Diego.
Prosecutors said Quinonez shared information with a cartel associate in March 2010 about a double homicide in Tijuana. Days later, the associate, Jose Alfredo Najera Gil, told another cartel operative that Quinonez was hoping the drug traffickers would buy him an apartment, authorities said.
U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy previously said none of the shared information jeopardized anyone's safety. She and other U.S. officials have insisted his arrest did not deter cooperation with Mexican officials.
Sanchez Arellano, also known as "El Ingeniero," or "The Engineer," is a nephew of the brothers who headed the Arellano Felix cartel, a Tijuana-based group that was once one of Mexico's top criminal organizations. Most of its leaders have been killed or jailed since 2002.