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‘El Chapo’ associate in San Diego court on drug, money laundering charges

SAN DIEGO — The alleged leader of a Mexican money laundering and cocaine trafficking organization and close associate of alleged Sinaloa drug boss Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman made his first appearance in San Diego federal court Tuesday.

Victor Manuel Felix-Felix was indicted by a federal grand jury in San Diego in 2011 and charged with engaging in a continuing criminal enterprise, conspiracy to distribute cocaine and conspiracy to commit money laundering. He was flown from Mexico City to San Diego on Monday.

“Today is a reminder that international drug kingpins who profit by shipping narcotics into our community are not safe from prosecution,” said U.S. Attorney Adam Braverman. “We will work with our international partners to bring them to justice wherever they reside.”

According to extradition documents, Drug Enforcement Administration agents began investigating a money laundering organization based in Southern California in 2009.

One agent, acting in an undercover capacity, flew to Panama City and posed as the leader of a transportation cell capable of moving narcotics and bulk currency using private aircraft, authorities said.

After several additional undercover meetings, the agent gained the trust of the organization and agreed to begin picking up bulk currency for transfer to Mexico.

Over the course of 2010 and 2011, the agent arranged for the transfer of millions of dollars in currency, coordinating with local law enforcement to arrange pickups in Los Angeles, New York, Houston, Chicago, Montreal and Vancouver, British Columbia, authorities said.

After the successful currency pickups, the undercover agent began traveling to Central America to meet with higher-level members of Felix-Felix’s organization, authorities said.

In September 2010, the agent offered that he could transport cocaine from Ecuador to Mexico City, according to extradition documents.

Felix-Felix agreed, and provided the agent with an encrypted phone and a cash down payment of $3.5 million for his services, the documents stated.

A team of DEA agents then flew to Ecuador to set up a roadside checkpoint and seized a truck containing 2,500 kilograms of cocaine intended for Felix-Felix, according to authorities.

After the seizure in Ecuador, the undercover agent offered Felix-Felix a plan that he would transport another load of cocaine from Ecuador to Mexico City.

After receiving an upfront payment of $1 million, DEA agents coordinated with Ecuadorian and Mexican law enforcement to arrange for an international “controlled delivery” of cocaine using a private jet.

Agents picked up cocaine in Ecuador, transported it to Mexico City, then seized it after it was delivered to members of the Felix-Felix organization, according to the extradition documents.

Felix-Felix, whose daughter is reportedly married to Guzman’s son, and 18 others were arrested.

Guzman was extradited to the United States earlier this year and faces trial in New York.