Miguel Ángel Félix Gallardo (born January 8, 1946), commonly referred to by his alias El Padrino ("The Godfather"), is a convicted Mexican drug lord who formed the Guadalajara Cartel in the 1970s, and controlled almost all of the drug trafficking in Mexico and the corridors along the Mexico–United States border.
Félix Gallardo was arrested for the murder of Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agent Enrique "Kiki" Camarena, who was tortured to death at one of Félix Gallardo's ranches. Félix Gallardo was serving his 37-year sentence at the Altiplano maximum-security prison but was transferred to a medium-security facility in 2014 due to his declining health.
Born on a ranch in Bellavista, on the outskirts of Culiacán, Sinaloa, Félix Gallardo graduated from high school and studied business in college. He took a job as a Mexican Federal Judicial Police agent. He worked as a family bodyguard for the governor of Sinaloa state Leopoldo Sánchez Celis, whose political connections Félix Gallardo used to help build his drug trafficking organization. Félix Gallardo was also the godfather of Celis' son Rodolfo.
Félix Gallardo started working for drug traffickers brokering corruption of state officials, and together with Rafael Caro Quintero and Ernesto Fonseca Carrillo, who previously worked in the Avilés criminal organization, took control of the trafficking routes after Avilés was killed in a shootout with the police.
Connections to Colombian cartels
In the early 1980s, drug interdiction efforts increased throughout Florida, which was then the major shipping destination for illegal drug traffickers. As a result, the Colombian cartels began to utilize Mexico as their primary transhipment point.
Juan Matta-Ballesteros was Félix Gallardo's primary connection to the Colombian cartels. Matta-Ballesteros had originally introduced Félix Gallardo's predecessor, Alberto Sicilia-Falcon, to Santiago Ocampo of the Cali Cartel, the head of one of the largest U.S. cocaine smuggling rings. Rather than taking cash payments for their services, the smugglers in the Guadalajara cartel took a 50% cut of the cocaine they transported from Colombia. This was extremely profitable for them; some estimate that the trafficking network operated by Felix Gallardo, Ernesto Fonseca Carrillo, and Caro Quintero was pulling in $5 billion annually.
Until the end of the 1980s, the Sinaloa coalition headed by Félix Gallardo (comprising what is today the Sinaloa, Tijuana, Juarez, and Pacifica Sur cartels) had nearly monopolized the illegal drug trade in Mexico.
Murder of DEA Agent Kiki Camarena
An undercover agent from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Kiki Camarena, managed to infiltrate deep into the drug trafficking organization and get close to Félix Gallardo. In 1984, acting on information from Camarena, 450 Mexican soldiers, backed by helicopters, destroyed a 1,000 hectare (≈2,500 acre) marijuana plantation known as "Rancho Búfalo" in Chihuahua, Mexico, known to be protected by Mexican DFS intelligence agents, as part of "Operation Godfather". Thousands of farmers worked the fields at Rancho Buffalo, and the annual production was later valued at US$8 billion. All of this took place with the knowledge of local police, politicians, and the military. Camarena was also beginning to expose the connections among drug traffickers, Mexican law enforcement, and high-ranking government officials within the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI), which Félix Gallardo considered to be a major threat to the Guadalajara cartel's operations throughout Mexico.
In response, Félix Gallardo ordered the kidnapping of Camarena. On February 7, 1985, Jalisco police officers on the cartel's payroll kidnapped Camarena as he left the U.S. consulate. His helicopter pilot, Alfredo Zavala Avelar, was kidnapped shortly afterward. They were brought to a ranch owned by Félix Gallardo, where they were tortured and interrogated over a period of 30 hours. On February 9, Camarena was killed when a hole was made in his head with a powerful electric drill. His shrink-wrapped body was later found, along with Avelar's, in a shallow hole on a ranch in Michoacan state.
Camarena's murder prompted one of the largest DEA homicide investigations ever undertaken, Operation Leyenda. A special unit was dispatched to coordinate the investigation in Mexico, where corrupt officials were being implicated.
Investigators identified Félix Gallardo and his two close associates, Ernesto Fonseca Carrillo and Rafael Caro Quintero, as the primary suspects in the kidnapping. Under pressure from the US, Fonseca and Quintero were apprehended, but Félix Gallardo still enjoyed political protection.
Félix Gallardo kept a low profile, and in 1987 moved with his family to Guadalajara City. He was arrested in Mexico on April 8, 1989, and was charged by the authorities in Mexico and the United States with the kidnapping and murder of DEA Agent Enrique Camarena, racketeering, drug smuggling and multiple violent crimes.
According to US officials, Félix Gallardo also spent time at the Sinaloa governor's house as a guest, which governor Antonio Toledo Corro has denied. When asked about his association with Félix Gallardo, governor Toledo said he was "unaware of any outstanding arrest warrants" against Félix Gallardo.
The arrest of Félix Gallardo was the catalyst for exposing the widespread corruption at political and law enforcement levels in Mexico. Within days of Félix Gallardo's arrest, and under pressure from the media, several police commanders were arrested, and as many as 90 officers deserted.
While incarcerated, Félix Gallardo remained one of Mexico's major traffickers, maintaining his organization via mobile phone until he was transferred in the 1990s to the Altiplano maximum security prison, where he served part of his 37-year sentence.
As he aged, Félix Gallardo complained that he lived in poor conditions while in jail. He says that he suffers from vertigo, deafness, loss of an eye, and blood circulation problems. He lives in a 240 × 440 cm (8x14ft) cell, which he is not allowed to leave, even to use the recreational area. In March 2013, Félix Gallardo started a legal process to continue his prison sentence at home when he reached his 70th birthday (8 January 2016). On 29 April 2014, a Mexican federal court denied Félix Gallardo's petition to be transferred from the maximum-security prison to a medium-security one. On 18 December 2014, federal authorities approved his request to transfer to a medium-security prison in Guadalajara (State of Jalisco), due to his declining health.
On 20 February 2019, a court in Mexico City denied his request to complete the remainder of his sentence at his home. The court stated that Félix Gallardo's defense did not provide them with sufficient evidence to prove that his health issues were putting his life at risk.
Division of territory
After his arrest, Félix Gallardo decided to divide up the trade he controlled as it would be more efficient and less likely to be brought down by law enforcement. Félix Gallardo instructed his lawyer to convene the nation's top drug narcos in 1989 at a house in the resort of Acapulco where he designated the plazas or territories. The Tijuana route would go to his nephews, the Arellano Felix brothers. The Ciudad Juárez route would go to the Carrillo Fuentes family. Miguel Caro Quintero would run the Sonora corridor. Joaquín Guzmán Loera and Héctor Luis Palma Salazar were left the Pacific coast operations, with Ismael Zambada García joining them soon after and thus becoming the Sinaloa Cartel. The control of the Matamoros, Tamaulipas corridor – then becoming the Gulf Cartel – was left undisturbed to Juan García Ábrego, who was not a party to the 1989 pact.
Félix Gallardo still planned to oversee national operations, but when he was transferred to a high-security prison in 1993, he lost any remaining control over the other drug lords.
In 2008, the investigative journalist Diego Enrique Osorno was able to contact Félix Gallardo through Félix Gallardo's 13-year-old son. Through this connection, the first memoirs of a Mexican drug lord were written from prison, in secret and hurriedly, by hand, by an author with ailing vision. The memoirs include narrative about his arrest and presentation before police, and explains a bit of his family tree, jumping from one topic to another. Selections of the 35 pages were published in the Mexican magazine Gatopardo, with background by the journalist.
Upon his arrest at least nine of Miguel Ángel Félix Gallardo's nieces and nephews took over different roles within the organization to form the Arellano Félix Organization, also known as the Tijuana Cartel. Another niece, Sandra Ávila Beltrán, is a former member of the Sinaloa Cartel.
- Alicia Arellano Félix, a member of the Arellano Félix Organization, also known as the Tijuana Cartel, is his niece.
- Benjamín Arellano Félix (Incarcerated), a member and former leader of the Arellano Félix Organization, also known as the Tijuana Cartel, is his nephew.
- Carlos Arellano Félix, a member of the Arellano Félix Organization, also known as the Tijuana Cartel, is his nephew.
- Eduardo Arellano Félix (Incarcerated), a member of the Arellano Félix Organization, also known as the Tijuana Cartel, is his nephew.
- Enedina Arellano Félix de Toledo, Leader of the Arellano Félix Organization, also known as the Tijuana Cartel, is his niece.
- Fabian Arellano Corona, a member of the Arellano Félix Organization, also known as the Tijuana Cartel, is his grandnephew.
- Francisco Javier Arellano Félix (Incarcerated), a member of the Arellano Félix Organization, also known as the Tijuana Cartel, is his nephew.
- Francisco Rafael Arellano Félix (Deceased), a member of the Arellano Félix Organization, also known as the Tijuana Cartel, was his nephew.
- Javier Benjamin Briseño Arellano, a member of the Arellano Félix Organization, also known as the Tijuana Cartel, is his grandnephew.
- Luis Fernando Arellano Félix, a member of the Arellano Félix Organization, also known as the Tijuana Cartel, is his nephew.
- Luis Fernando Sánchez Arellano (Incarcerated), a member of the Arellano Félix Organization, also known as the Tijuana Cartel, is his grandnephew.
- Ramón Arellano Félix (Deceased), a member and former leader of the Arellano Félix Organization, also known as the Tijuana Cartel, is his nephew.
- Sandra Ávila Beltrán, a former member of the Sinaloa Cartel, is his niece.
In popular culture
In the Netflix series Narcos: Mexico (2018), Félix Gallardo is portrayed by actor Diego Luna.