Security was tight Friday as four accused leaders of the Arellano Felix drug cartel refused to enter pleas to racketeering and drug charges several weeks after being extradited from Mexico. U.S. Magistrate Judge Cathy Bencivengo entered not guilty pleas on their behalf.
Attorneys for Jesus "Chuy" Labra told reporters their client should not have been extradited because he was in the midst of a trial in Mexico on essentially the same charges.
Authorities say the Arellano Felix cartel, which rose to power in the 1980s in Tijuana, Mexico, joined forces with Colombian drug lords and smuggled tons of cocaine into California.
Labra was considered the cartel's financial brains and one of its founding leaders, along with four Arellano Felix brothers. He was arrested in 2000 in Tijuana while watching his son play soccer.
Labra tapped extensive connections with Colombian cocaine traffickers, according to the 2003 indictment.
Armando Martinez Duarte, a former high-ranking law enforcement official who was captured in 2002, was the cartel's "chief enforcer" in Mexicali, a border city about 120 miles east of Tijuana, the indictment says. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration says he kidnapped, tortured and killed rivals.
The DEA says Perez Arciniega handled logistics of moving large shipments of cocaine and marijuana for the cartel, and Aureliano Felix, a former state law enforcement official, helped store drugs and keep financial accounts.
The defendants, all Mexican citizens, were among 10 suspected drug traffickers who were sent from Mexico to the U.S. on Dec. 31, capping a record year for extraditions between the two countries.
The cartel began to fall on hard times in 2002 when one brother, Ramon, was killed and another, Benjamin, was arrested in Mexico.