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U.S. awaiting forensic tests to see if drug cartel leader is Ramon Arellano Felix is dead

March 01, 2002|By DARREN SIMON, Staff Writer

Ramon Arellano Felix, a head of the most notorious drug cartel in Mexico, has been described as the enforcer in the enterprise, the one who would kill to maintain control.

Today, U.S. authorities involved in the effort to stop the flow of drugs from Mexicali and Tijuana into the United States are waiting to see whether reports Ramon Arellano Felix was killed in a gun battle with Mexican authorities on Feb. 10 are true.

That is going to have to be determined by forensic testing of DNA, since the body thought to be that of Arellano was taken from a morgue and cremated.

The results of the forensic test could be available late next week, said Jan Caldwell, an FBI spokeswoman in San Diego. The FBI has been assigned the task of conducting the forensic test. Caldwell said the test will be done in Washington, D.C.

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If it is Arrellano who was killed, Drug Enforcement Administration officials in the Imperial Valley and San Diego say, it could hurt the cartel, at least for a time.

Donald Thornhill, a DEA agent who is a spokesman for the DEA in San Diego, said he is 99 percent confident one of two men killed in a gunfight with Mexican authorities in Mazatlan is the Arellano Felix.

"There is no question in my mind it is him," Thornhill said Thursday.

Thornhill, before being assigned as a spokesman, worked on an Arellano Felix task force and had been stationed in Mexico.

He said based on photographs of the man shot by authorities and on identification found with the body he thinks there is a match.

Identifying the body has become a difficult task since the body was claimed from a morgue and was cremated.

Thornhill was unsure how the body could have been claimed from the morgue. He said there are conflicting reports about how the body was removed from the morgue.

Still, he added some forensic evidence was collected and that could be enough to determine whether one of the men killed was indeed Ramon Arellano Felix.

Thornhill said based on reports from Mexican authorities, the man thought to be Arellano was in Mazatlan to kill a rival drug dealer.

Authorities caught up to him and on Feb. 10, according to reports, there was a gun battle in which a police officer was killed and two men were killed by the authorities.

One of the men had a shaved head and it is that man who was thought to be Arellano Felix. That man had identification on him that listed his name as Jorge Perez Lopez.

Another brother, Benjamin Arellano Felix, has headed the family with Ramon. Benjamin, Thornhill said, is considered the businessman of the family while Ramon has been described as the enforcer.

"He was just a stone cold killer," Thornhill said.

Thornhill said he does not think the incident could have been staged.

"Given what we know it would be pretty hard to stage something like that," Thornhill said.

A DEA supervisory agent assigned to the Imperial Valley, who did not wish to be identified, said the Arellano Felix family has "significant influence" over the movement of drugs through Tijuana and Mexicali.

The supervisory agent said if Ramon Arrellano was killed it would be an important step in that the family's enforcer would be removed from the picture.

"I think in that sense it hurts them," the supervisory agent said.

Still, he said, "I don't think it will stop them from doing what they are doing."

Thornhill said, "If it was in fact (Arrellano), there will not be anyone who will cry over his loss."

>> Staff Writer Darren Simon can be reached at 337-4082.

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