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US Changes Release Date of Eduardo Arellano Félix to "Unknown"

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Eduardo Arellano Félix will not be deported to Mexico on August 18, 2021, after changing his “status” and possibly becoming a “protected witness,” says Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard. 

As previously reported on Borderland Beat, Eduardo Arellano Félix, the former head of the Tijuana Cartel, was scheduled to be released from US prison and deported to Mexico on August 18, 2021. Milenio reporter Laura Sanchez Ley revealed that there still was no paperwork filed to rearrest him upon his re entry into Mexico as of August 15, 2021.

The Details on the Status Change

The head of the Ministry of Foreign Relations Marcelo Ebrard participated in a press conference held by President Andrés Manuel López Obrador on August 17, 2021.

During the press conference he was asked by a reporter about the impending US release of drug kingpin Eduardo Arellano Félix. In response he said “What we presume is that the witness’s condition has changed, we are going to check it today. In other words, he will not be deported on Friday,” he said.

Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard during the press conference on August 17, 2021.

Minister Ebrard explained that the United States “has no obligation” to explain the reason for a change in the status of a detainee, although it is most likely that “the condition of the witness changed.”

Ebrard was then further questioned by a reporter in regards to whether the Attorney General’s Office (FGR) has any active charges against the Tijuana Cartel drug trafficker should he still be deported.

He replied “It would depend on the FGR, but as far as we do, I confirm that the status was changed and we presume that it is due to the change in the quality of the defendant…but we will clarify it in the afternoon.”

What This Means

When referring to the “status” of Eduardo Arellano, the Foreign Minister is likely referring to the US Federal Bureau of Prisons online records which lists details such as a prisoner’s expected release date. 

Eduardo Arellano Félix’s federal inmate number is 04117-748. One could use the US Bureau of Prisons’ search engine (located here) to find out basic details such as  his age, race, sex, the prison he was located in and his release date. Prior to August 16, his release date read “August 18, 2021”. 

Now, according to Milenio newspaper, Eduardo’s listed release date has changed sometime over the course of Monday, August, 16, 2021. 

The new prison registry for Eduardo Arellano Felix.

Eduardo Arellano already has a known cooperation agreement with the US which allowed him to plead guilty to only 2 of the 8 charges levied against him in 2013, while the other six charges were dropped. The two charges he pled to only incurred a 15 year jail sentence. He has only served 8 years so far of his 15 year sentence yet his scheduled release date was supposed to be August 18, 2021. Should he have been convicted on all 8 charges, he would have faced considerably more jail time. 

Francisco Javier Arellano Félix being escorted off following his arrest in international waters.

Prior Arellano Félix Cooperation Agreements

It is worth remembering that this change of “unknown” status has happened before with other Mexican drug traffickers who have either become protected witnesses or reached cooperation agreements with the United States.  Inherent in all plea agreements is also the opportunity for infamous drug lords to avoid the spectacle of a trial. 

Eduardo’s younger brother Francisco Javier Arellano Félix (not to be confused with his older brother Francisco Rafael) was arrested while on a luxury yacht while in international waters by U.S. agents in 2006. 

Francisco Javier faced the possibility of the prosecution seeking the death penalty for his crimes, but in 2007 then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez decided not to seek that punishment. Just two days after Alberto Gonzalez made this decision, Francisco Javier pled guilty to charges related to running a criminal enterprise and laundering money. He received a life sentence for these charges. 

Francisco Javier Arellano Félix after his arrest.

At the time, many suspected that the reason the death penalty was dropped was due to Javier’s willingness to not only plead guilty but also his willingness to cooperate with the US in ways that might bring down his other brothers who remained free. 

Sometime after this, while he was serving time in prison, Francisco Javier came to an agreement with the US government to testify against his brother Benjamin Arellano Félix, who was already in custody in Mexico. 

Benjamin Arellano Félix in custody.

Benjamin Arellano Félix was then extradited to the US on April 29, 2011 to face charges of trafficking cocaine into California. 

Following his extradition, The San Diego Union-Tribune reports that federal agents secretly arranged for Francisco Javier to meet with his brother Benjamin in person later in 2011. The purpose of this meeting was allegedly to  convince Benjamin that Francisco Javier had already and willfully agreed to testify against him as Benjamin had made clear through negotiations with prosecutors that he was skeptical Francisco Javier would ever turn on him. 

The prosecution was likely hoping that once Benjamin understood that his brother Francisco was going to testify against him, then Benjamin would become more receptive to their plea negotiations and overall a more willing collaborator. Benjamin still had key information and potential testimony that could aid US agents keen on taking down more members of the CAF. 

The brothers are said to have spoken in a room at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar that was under heavy guard but had no lawyers present in the room. What precisely was said between the two isn’t known. 

Benjamin Arellano Félix in US custody after his extradition.

In January 2012, Benjamin Arellano pled guilty on charges of racketeering and conspiracy to launder money. He had agreed to plead guilty on these charges under his own agreement with federal prosecutors that said he could be sentenced to no more than 25 years in prison.

In June 2015, Francisco Javier‘s life sentence in prison was reduced to a sentence of just under 24 years.

US DEA agent Asa Hutchinson explains Benjamin’s original 2002 arrest to the press. 

Witness Protection for an Arellano Félix Brother

The federal Witness Security Program is better known for protecting people on the outside of prison walls however, the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) runs the program for inmates who have agreed to testify against major criminals.

It is notable that Francisco Javier Arellano Félix’s name does not appear in the online inmate locator for federal prisoners. The San Diego Union-Tribune speculates that Javier is likely part of a witness protection program (WITSEC) operation by the US BOP.

The media relations office of the BOP was twice asked by the Tribune if it could say where Javier is located, and both times the office confirmed he was not in the prison inmate database. Journalist Greg Moran writes that when the BOP was asked if that meant he was in the witness program, a spokesman refused to comment. 

When John Kirby, a former federal prosecutor on the Arellano Félix indictments was asked about Francisco Javier, he said “He’s clearly in the BOP WITSEC.” 

A Department of Justice audit of the US BOP witness program from 2008 said that about 500 inmates were currently in the witness protection program. These 500 inmates are housed in special units inside seven facilities in the U.S. Only people on an approved list are allowed to visit the inmates in the witness program. 

Sources: Milenio, SwissInfo, Lopez Doriga, Politico.MX, La Voz de Michoacan, NBC News, The San Diego Union-Tribune


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