WASHINGTON (CN) — Appearing dazed following a whirlwind extradition to the United States five years in the making, the son of one of Mexico’s most wanted cartel leaders pleaded not guilty Friday to drug conspiracy charges.
Known as “El Menchito,” Rubén Oseguera-González, 30, was clad in the same khaki jumpsuit he wore Thursday afternoon in northern Mexico where U.S. agents escorted him to a flight bound for Dulles International. A Mexican judge had dismissed Oseguera’s latest appeal only an hour earlier.
U.S. authorities have a $10 million award out on Oseguera’s father, Nemesio “El Mencho” Oseguera Cervantes, who heads the Jalisco New Generation Cartel.
Prior to his 2015 arrest, Oseguera was considered by the U.S. to be second in command of that organization, which ranks as one of Mexico’s fastest-growing and most violent criminal enterprises.
The baby-faced defendant stood in court Friday with a public defender before U.S. Magistrate Judge Michael Harvey, pleading not guilty to international conspiracy to distribute cocaine and methamphetamine, and to possession of firearms.
Born in California, Oseguera is a U.S.-Mexico dual citizen and faces a maximum sentence of life in prison if convicted. Chief U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell will preside over those proceedings, beginning on Feb. 28.
When asked Friday if he would be hiring an attorney, Oseguera demurred. “At the moment I do not know because I have not spoken with my family,” he said, speaking with the help of an interpreter.
The public defender confirmed that he had discussed the matter with Oseguera’s relatives and that the defendant would be seeking private counsel.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Brett Reynolds urged Harvey to keep the defendant in custody, reminding the judge that the Oseguera’s father is one of the most powerful drug kingpins in Mexico.
Stressing Oseguera’s high rank in the cartel, Reynolds said the defendant posed a high flight risk and that he “would have the means to escape if given the opportunity.”
The judge agreed and scheduled a detention hearing for Feb. 26, telling Oseguera: “OK, so, sir, we’ll see you back here on Wednesday.”
The U.S. Embassy issued an alert on Thursday, following the extradition, warning U.S. citizens that the cartel may seek retaliation.
“We would like U.S. citizens to be aware that, following previous high-profile security operations, criminal groups operating in Jalisco have responded by taking retaliatory actions including an increase in anti-government rhetoric (banners and internet threats) and blockades inside the city and on interstate highways,” the alert states. “On some occasions, these criminals have seized private vehicles and set them on fire.”
Oseguera’s rapid land in U.S. judicial system follows pressure placed on Mexico within the last year by President Donald Trump to increase the extradition of drug-trafficking suspects. U.S. Attorney General William Barr furthered that aim in early December in a visit to Mexico where he condemned the violence fueled by cartels.