Cartel Lieutenant Admits to Drugs & Murder
SAN DIEGO (CN) - A cartel lieutenant faces 30 years in prison after pleading guilty to murder, kidnapping and methamphetamine charges, federal prosecutors say.
The United States extradited Armando Villareal Heredia aka El Gordo from Mexico last year on federal racketeering and drug charges.
Appearing before U.S. District Judge William Hayes on Friday, the 35-year-old Tijuana man pleaded guilty to conspiracy to a RICO conspiracy and conspiracy to distribute controlled substances.
U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy said the plea "knocks the teeth out of the Fernando Sanchez Arellano organization," or FSO.
Villareal's plea acknowledges that the cartel's activities "included assaults on law enforcement officers attempting to arrest FSO members, bribing public officials to release FSO members from prison, and payments to public officials for confidential law enforcement information," according to a statement from Duffy's office.
It also reveals the cartel's attempts "to keep rival traffickers, potential informants, witnesses against the cartel, law enforcement, the media and the public in fear
through intimidation, threats of violence, assaults and murders."
FSO territory includes Tijuana and parts of San Diego, and criminals operating therein had to pay the cartel a tax, according to the plea.
Prosecutors say Villareal is the lead defendant in a 43-defendant prosecution which has been ongoing in the Southern District of California since July 2010.
"To date, 40 of 42 defendants have entered guilty pleas in the case," Duffy's office said.
One of those defendants, Jesus Quinonez-Marquez, is serving eight years after admitting that he supported the cartel by abusing his position as international liaison officer with the Baja California Attorney General's Office.
Two defendants remain fugitives, prosecutors say.
Villareal faces sentencing on Dec. 16, 2013, at 9 a.m. The plea calls for a 30-year sentence, while the charges could have put Villareal for life.