A top enforcer for Mexico's Sinaloa cartel pleaded guilty Wednesday to drug charges in a wide investigation of the group in the United States.

Jose Rodrigo Arechiga Gamboa, known as "Chino Antrax," acknowledged that he helped bring tons of cocaine and marijuana to the country from Mexico and ordered and participated in violence against cartel rivals. He said in a plea agreement with prosecutors that he was a high-ranking member "responsible for a number of aspects of the cartel's operations."

Arechiga Gamboa, 34, faces a maximum sentence of life in prison when he is sentenced Oct. 16 for conspiracy to import a controlled substance.

The defendant appeared in court under tight security 10 months after his extradition from the Netherlands. He was arrested in December 2013 at Amsterdam's airport after a flight from Mexico City, less than two months before the cartel's top leader, Joaquín "Chapo" Guzmán, was captured in Mexico.

"Chino Antrax is one of the highest-ranking Sinaloa cartel kingpins ever prosecuted in the United States," said Laura Duffy, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of California. "While we know that the world's most powerful drug syndicate continues to operate, we also know that it is under intense pressure after a succession of high-impact, high-profile arrests and indictments of the organization's highest-ranking players."

Arechiga Gamboa's attorney, Frank Ragen, didn't immediately respond to a phone message seeking comment.

Arechiga Gamboa was arrested in a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration investigation that began in 2011 by targeting a small drug-dealing ring in the San Diego suburbs of Chula Vista and National City and reached top leaders through the use of more than 200 wiretaps.

Ismael "El Mayo" Zambada, who is at-large, and three of his four sons are among dozens charged in the investigation. Serafín Zambada pleaded guilty to drug trafficking charges last year after his arrest at a Nogales, Arizona, border crossing.

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