High-Ranking Member of Sinaloa Cartel Pleads Guilty to Drug Trafficking

A high-ranking leader of the Sinaloa Cartel admitted Wednesday to transporting tons of cocaine and marijuana into the U.S. and participating in cartel violence.

Jose Rodrigo Arechiga-Gamboa – also known as “Chino Antrax” – will have to forfeit $1 million in drug-trafficking earnings after he pleaded guilty in federal court to conspiracy to import at least five kilograms of cocaine and 1,000 kilograms of marijuana into the U.S.

In his plea agreement, Arechiga-Gamboa said the Mexico-based Sinaloa Cartel uses violence to intimate rivals. He admitted to being “a direct participant in, and communicated to other members of the Sinaloa Cartel, orders to commit acts of violence or threats of violence.”

Court documents allege Arechiga-Gamboa worked for the cartel as a bodyguard and the leader of “Los Antrax,” an enforcement group which provided security for drug shipments.

Before his arrest, Arechiga-Gamboa went to great lengths to conceal his identity, undergoing plastic surgery, trying to alter his fingerprints and traveling under the fake name “Norberto Sicairos-Garcia,” according to federal prosecutors.

However, Arechiga-Gamboa was still arrested in December 2013 when he got off a flight to Amsterdam, Netherlands. U.S. officials were able to confirm Arechiga-Gamboa’s identity through forensic techniques, they said. He was extradited to San Diego on July 11, 2014.

Arechiga-Gamboa now 10 years to life in prison at his sentencing, scheduled for Oct. 16, 2015.

Federal prosecutors say the Sinaloa Cartel imports narcotics into Mexico from parts of Asia, Columbia, Ecuador, Peru, Guatemala and other Central and South American countries. Cartel members move drugs any way they can, through cargo and private aircraft, submarines, various ships, boats, trucks, cars and carriers, according to an indictment in a related case.

Many of the drugs end up in San Diego, where they are stored in stash houses and warehouses. From there, the narcotics are distributed throughout the country, prosecutors say.

“Chino Antrax is one of the highest-ranking Sinaloa Cartel kingpins ever prosecuted in the United States,” said U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy in a news release. “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.”

The cartel leader was captured in part thanks to the Drug Enforcement Agency's "Operation Narco-Polo," which has involved more than 200 court-authorized wire taps. Another 117 people have been charged in the investigation. Among them are sons of two reputed cartel leaders.

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