(CN) - The alleged head of Mexico's Gulf Cartel was arraigned Tuesday on drug trafficking and money laundering charges after DEA agents arrested him as he shopped in South Texas.
Juan Francisco Saenz-Tamez, 23, of Camargo, Mexico, was arrested on Oct. 9 in Edinburg.
The seat of Hidalgo County, Edinburg is 20 minutes from the U.S.-Mexico border.
A federal grand jury charged Saenz-Tamez with conspiracy to distribute cocaine and marijuana and conspiracy to launder money in a sealed indictment in September 2013.
The indictment was unsealed in March.
Saenz-Tamez was taken from McAllen to Beaumont, where he appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge Keith F. Giblin on Tuesday.
He pleaded not guilty to all charges.
Giblin denied Saenz-Tamez bond. The alleged cartel boss is scheduled for a final pretrial conference on Dec. 15 before U.S. District Judge Marcia A. Crone.
If convicted of all the charges, Saenz-Tamez faces 30 years to life in federal prison.
"Juan Francisco Saenz-Tamez became the head of the Gulf Cartel following the 2013 arrest of former leader Mario Ramirez-Trevino," DEA Administrator Michele M. Leonhart said in a statement.
"He moved steadily up the cartel ranks, working as a lookout, record keeper, plaza boss, and finally its leader. ... He oversaw much of the violence and bloodshed that has plagued Mexico and DEA is pleased he will face justice in the United States."
Like many drug organizations, the Gulf Cartel had its origins in smuggling liquor to the United States during the Prohibition era, and smuggling back consumer items.
It moved into drugs in a big way in the 1970s and 1980s, and was headed by, among others, Juan N. Guerra and his nephew Juan Garcia Abrego.
Guerra died peacefully and spent little, if any, time in jail.
Garcia Abrego is serving 11 life terms in a U.S. prison, after he was arrested and extradited to the United States in 1996.
The Gulf Cartel is then believed to have been taken over by Osiel Cardenas Guillen, the alleged founder of Los Zetas. The Zetas, who began as enforcers for the Gulf Cartel, have since become one of the most vicious and powerful of the drug rings.
The Gulf Cartel is based in Matamoros, across the river from Brownsville, Texas.
All Mexican drug cartels protect their power with lucrative payoffs to Mexican officials.
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