Mexican Suspects Plead Not Guilty - - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News

01/30/07 - San Diego

Mexican Suspects Plead Not Guilty

Four Mexican drug traffickers who were extradited to the U.S. this month pleaded not guilty Monday to an array of federal drug charges.

They include brothers Ismael and Gilberto Higuera Guerrero, top figures in the Arellano Felix drug cartel, based in Tijuana, Mexico. A court-appointed defender entered not guilty pleas on their behalf to charges of racketeering, drug trafficking and money laundering charges stemming from a sweeping 2003 indictment that named 11 people.

The four men, who arrived in San Diego from Texas over the weekend, appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge Barbara Lynn Major. The judge ordered all four held without bail pending a detention hearing Thursday.

They were among 15 extradited to Houston on Jan. 20 by the government of Mexican President Felipe Calderon, who has pledged to crack down on drug smuggling and violence. All 15 were jailed in Mexico but had not been tried in the U.S.

Mexican officials have said the Calderon government was willing to extradite the alleged drug lords because they continued to run their drug operations from prison in Mexico, not because of U.S. pressure.

Mexico refuses to extradite anyone who would face the death penalty, which is illegal in Mexico.

Ismael Higuera Guerrero is suspected of being responsible for collecting payments and moving large shipments of Colombian cocaine and marijuana from Mexico into the U.S., as well as directing kidnapping, torture and murder of cartel enemies in Tijuana.

Gilberto Higuera Guerrero is suspected of having similar responsibilities in Mexicali, Mexico.

A third Arellano Felix cartel member, Jose Albert Marquez, also pleaded not guilty. He was charged in 2002 with participating in a conspiracy to import and distribute marijuana and cocaine.

Hector Palma Salazar, a suspected former leader of the Sinaloa cartel, pleaded not guilty to conspiring to distribute large quantities of cocaine stemming from a 1995 indictment.

Palma has denied any ties to drug trafficking, saying he works as a rancher.

The Sinaloa cartel, based in the Mexican state of Sinaloa, formed after the powerful narcotics trafficking organization of Miguel Angel Felix Gallardo, the so-called godfather of Mexican drug smuggling, split in two after his arrest in 1989. Felix Gallardo's nephews formed the rival Arellano Felix cartel.

Two suspected kingpins of the Arellano Felix cartel, Francisco Javier Arellano Felix and Manuel Arturo Villarreal Heredia, have been in federal custody in San Diego since August, when they were captured in a U.S. raid aboard a sport-fishing boat off La Paz, Mexico.

They have pleaded not guilty to running a criminal enterprise, racketeering, and conspiracy to commit racketeering, drug trafficking and money laundering. Both are eligible for the death penalty if they are found guilty of the crimes outlined in a December indictment.

Story courtesy of the Associated Press.

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