Home San Diego Press Releases 2013 Top Lieutenant in Fernando Sanchez Arellano Cartel Pleads Guilty
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Top Lieutenant in Fernando Sanchez Arellano Cartel Pleads Guilty

U.S. Attorney’s Office September 27, 2013
  • Southern District of California (619) 557-5610

SAN DIEGO—Armando Villareal Heredia, who was extradited to the United States from Mexico last year to face federal racketeering and drug charges, entered a guilty plea in federal court today, admitting that as a leader in the Fernando Sanchez Arellano (FSO) drug trafficking organization he participated in cartel activities such as murder, kidnapping and the importation and sale of methamphetamine.

Villareal, appearing before U.S. District Judge William Q. Hayes, pleaded guilty to Conspiracy to Conduct Enterprise Affairs through a Pattern of Racketeering Activity (RICO conspiracy) and Conspiracy to Distribute Controlled Substances. The plea agreement calls for a 30-year sentence. “This guilty plea, along with 39 others in this case so far, knocks the teeth out of the Fernando Sanchez Arellano organization,” said U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy. “Our case has effectively built a wall of protection around San Diego, preventing the violence of this cartel from spilling into our communities here.”

FBI Special Agent in Charge, Daphne Hearn, commented, “Today’s conviction is the result of cooperation amongst a number of law enforcement agencies on both sides of the border. The FBI will continue our efforts to disrupt and dismantle domestic and international criminal enterprises that threaten the safety and security of our nation.”

Villareal acknowledged in his plea agreement that the FSO’s activities included assaults on law enforcement officers attempting to arrest FSO members, bribing public officials to release FSO members from prison, and payments to public officials for confidential law enforcement information.

According to the plea agreement, Villareal also admitted that the cartel attempted to keep rival traffickers, potential informants, witnesses against the cartel, law enforcement, the media and the public in fear through intimidation, threats of violence, assaults and murders, and the organization “taxed” other criminals who operated within FSO territory, which includes Tijuana and parts of San Diego. Villareal, aka “El Gordo,” was arrested in Sonora, Mexico in July of 2011 and extradited to the U.S. in May of 2012. Villareal is the lead defendant in a 43-defendant prosecution which has been ongoing in the Southern District of California since July 2010. Villareal was arrested by Mexican law enforcement officers at the request of the United States.

To date, 40 of 42 defendants have entered guilty pleas in the case. Like Villareal, those defendants admitted to participating in a violent transnational racketeering enterprise controlled by Fernando Sanchez-Arellano, and to committing murders, kidnappings, robberies, assaults, money laundering and a wide range of drug trafficking offenses. Among those who have pleaded guilty is Jesús Quiñónez Márquez, then- international liaison officer with the Baja California Attorney General’s Office.

Two defendants remain fugitives.

The indictment in this case resulted from a long-term investigation conducted by the multi-agency San Diego Cross Border Violence Task Force (CBVTF). The CBVTF was formulated to target those individuals involved in organized crime-related violent activities affecting both the United States and Mexico. Law enforcement personnel assigned to the CBVTF made extensive use of court-authorized wiretaps and other sophisticated investigative techniques to develop the significant evidence which led to the charges in this case.

United States Attorney Duffy praised the Mexican government for their assistance in the extradition of Villareal. She also commended the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) for the coordinated team effort in handling this investigation, “Operation Luz Verde.” Agents and officers from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, San Diego Police Department, Drug Enforcement Administration, San Diego Sheriff’s Office, Chula Vista Police Department, U.S. Marshals Service, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, San Diego District Attorney’s Office, and California Department of Justice participated in this OCDETF investigation. The OCDETF program was created to consolidate and utilize all law enforcement resources in this country’s battle against organized crime and major drug trafficking organizations.

Sentencing was set for December 16, 2013 at 9 a.m. before Judge Hayes.


Armando Villareal Heredia 35 Tijuana, Mexico


Case Number 10CR3044-WQH

Title 18, United States Code, Section 1962(d) - Conspiracy to Conduct Enterprise Affairs Through a Pattern of Racketeering Activity

Maximum penalties: Life in prison, Maximum $250,000 fine, 5 years of supervised release

Title 21, United States Code, Sections 846 and 841(a)(1) - Conspiracy to Distribute Methamphetamine

Maximum penalties: Mandatory Minimum of 10 years in prison; Maximum of Life in prison; Maximum $10 million fine; five years of supervised release


Federal Bureau of Investigation
San Diego Police Department
Drug Enforcement Administration
San Diego Sheriff's Office
Chula Vista Police Department
U.S. Marshals Service
Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms
California Department of Justice
San Diego District Attorney's Office

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