SAN DIEGO -- Mexican drug cartel kingpin Benjamin Arellano-Felix has pleaded guilty in U.S. federal court in San Diego to racketeering and conspiracy to launder money.
The plea Wednesday avoids the spectacle of a trial for one of the world's most powerful drug lords of the 1990s.
The plea agreement calls for a maximum of 25 years in prison and a $100 million
forfeiture. Arellano-Felix's attorney, Anthony Colombo, said the deal is a good one for his 58-year-old client.
"I do believe that this is a very favorable agreement for Mr. Arellano-Felix and his family," Colombo said. "(It) gives him hope of one day being released from custody and being returned to Mexico."
Arellano-Felix faced up to 140 years in prison if convicted at trial. The defense attorney said the plea also benefited prosecutors by allowing them to avoid a long and costly trial. Sentencing will take place in April.
Prosecutors declined to comment after the 30-minute hearing.
Benjamin Arellano-Felix was considered the mastermind of the Tijuana-based Arellano-Felix cartel in the 1990s and was extradited to the United States from Mexico in April 2011. At Wednesday's hearing, he admitted through an interpreter to running the cartel for 16 years and ordering the kidnappings and murders of informants and witnesses, among other crimes.
The cartel trafficked in billions of dollars worth of drugs from Mexico and Colombia into the United States.
At one point, the cartel was said to control about one-third of the cocaine traffic into the U.S. The cartel also smuggled tons of marijuana, methamphetamine and heroin to American cities.
U.S. investigators previously said the cartel murdered competitors in the drug trade, as well as police and other government officials who got in the way.
Benjamin Arellano-Felix and his brothers were implicated by authorities in the 1993 assassination of Mexican Cardinal Juan Jesus Posadas Ocampo. The organization spent millions buying protection from Mexican police officers, judges and military personnel, officials say.
At one time, Benjamin Arellano-Felix and his now-deceased brother Ramon, were on most-wanted posters in the U.S. along with Osama Bin Laden.