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9th Circuit Sends Alleged Assassins Back To Mexico

A unanimous decision by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Thursday means at least one alleged member of the Arellano-Felix drug cartel will be going home to Mexico shortly -- in irons.

"While the magistrate judge, the district judge and we are troubled by evidence suggesting that torture may have occurred, we agree with the district court that competent evidence supports the magistrate judge's finding of probable cause and that there is no basis for applying a humanitarian exception to extradition in this case," wrote U.S. District Judge Pamela Ann Rymer in Mainero, et al., v. Gregg.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Gonzalo P. Curiel hailed the ruling, which he hopes will help American and Mexican law enforcement officials to work more closely together in their fight against the cartel.

"I think this can't but help the ongoing cooperative efforts between the U.S. and Mexico," Curiel said. "With respect to the case itself, all three courts who have looked at it have decided there was credible and reliable evidence that these individuals were not only members of the Arellano-Felix organization but assassins for that group."

However, Michael Pancer, who argued the case for Emilo Valdez Mainero and Alfredo Hodoyan Palacios, had a different view.

"I'm disappointed with the decision," Pancer said. "I felt the extradition shouldn't go forward because the statements (supporting it) came from people who had been tortured."

However, he did find a few bright spots in the ruling.

"The court did say if there had been proof of the torture, they wouldn't have ordered the extradition," Pancer said. "They didn't disagree with our legal position, only with our factual position."

According to the opinion, the case began with a spree of shoot-outs during the spring and fall of 1996.

"Mexico sought extradition of Hodoyan based on two charges," Rymer wrote. "The first-degree murders of Ernesto Ibarra Santes, who was then sub-delegate of the National Institute for the Combat of Drugs, Mexican Judicial Agents Israel Moreno Flores and Juan Aaron Rosas Gallegos and taxi driver Juan Arturo Hernandez Lizardi on Sept. 14, 1996 and criminal association, the Mexican equivalent of conspiracy, with the Arellano-Felix organization to plan and carry out assassinations of perceived Arellano-Felix enemies."

Valdez, came to the attention of Mexican law enforcement after he allegedly murdered two other men on behalf of the cartel in April.

Unlike the cartel's alleged leader, Ramon Eduardo Arellano-Felix, who federal officials believe started his career as a street thug, both defendants came from privileged backgrounds.

"They represented a part of the group known as the narco juniors," Curiel said. "They were the sons of prominent Tijuana businessmen and their association was part of their social contacts with Ramon Arellano.

"Mexico viewed them as an important group that was being utilized by the Arellano group for assassinations. Valdez was also significant because, according to the information in the extradition papers, he was involved in drug trafficking."

After they were arrested by American officials, the duo began their fight against the extradition proceeding, arguing that witnesses who testified in support of the Mexican government's request had been tortured to obtain their cooperation and that both Valdez and Hodoyan could be killed if they left the U.S.

Rymer found both pleas unavailing.

"To the extent Valdez and Hodoyan suggest that the evidence does not establish probable cause to believe that either is guilty of the crimes charged even if all of the submissions are considered unchallenged, we disagree," she wrote. "As the district court noted, claims that they will be mistreated by the Mexican authorities are speculative."

However, Valdez will be an involuntary guest for the U.S. government for at least the near term. As the extradition case proceeded, federal prosecutors developed their own case against him and he's currently serving two concurrent 30 year sentences.

While Hodoyan also pled guilty to federal charges, he received only 30 months in jail and is expected to face Mexican justice shortly.

Meanwhile, the hunt for the duo's alleged boss, who earned a place on the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Ten Most Wanted List in 1997, continues.

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