How Efrain Perez Arciniega, AKA El Efra, helped the Arellano Felix brothers and the Tijuana Cartel

Delve into the life of 'El Efra', his crimes under Tijuana Cartel, and the unrelenting legal battle for his early prison release.

At the end of the 80s, a criminal organization emerged in northern Mexico that, through family ties, managed to dominate drug trafficking across the border in Baja California: the Arellano Felix.

A business between brothers, betrayals, and pacts with other criminal groups made the Tijuana Cartel one of Mexico’s most dangerous and powerful criminal organizations.

However, in addition to having woven a meticulous network of corruption with authorities from the three levels of government, the Arellano Felix family also had loyal allies who were in charge of doing the cartel’s “dirty work,” as did Efrain Perez Arciniega, better known as “El Efra.”

"El Efra" figuró junto a los hermanos Arellano Félix como uno de los narcotraficantes más buscados por agencias de seguridad estadounidenses (Departamento de Estado EEUU)
“El Efra” was listed along with the Arellano Felix brothers as one of the most wanted drug traffickers by US security agencies (US State Department).

The US State Department, through its Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, detailed that in July 2003, members of the Arellano Felix cartel were accused of conducting the affairs of an illegal enterprise through a pattern of organized criminal activity, conspiracy to import and distribute cocaine and marijuana, as well as money laundering.

Following a request from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the State Department issued rewards for some of the members of the Tijuana Cartel, including brothers Eduardo and Javier Arellano Felix, as well as their lieutenant Efrain Perez.

In December of that same year, an indictment was filed in the Southern District of California against “El Efra” for large-scale organized crime based on drug trafficking and money laundering offenses. “It is alleged that he was a lieutenant in the Arellano Felix Organization, responsible for the logistics associated with receiving large shipments of cocaine and marijuana,” reads a US State Department filing document.

“El Efra” and the “Pozole Method”

El lugarteniente del Cártel de Tijuana habría sido enviado a Israel a aprender una peculiar técnica (Captura de pantalla)
The lieutenant of the Tijuana Cartel was allegedly sent to Israel to learn a peculiar technique (Screenshot)

As one of the main organized crime organizations in Mexico, the Tijuana Cartel had multiple disputes with other criminal groups that left a wave of violence in the border city and the rest of the state and many missing and murdered people.

According to information that journalist Laura Sanchez Ley published on her social networks, Efrain Perez Arciniega was sent by the Arellano Felix brothers to Israel with a peculiar mission.

“El Efra” was to learn how to dissolve human bodies in caustic soda – as sodium hydroxide is also known – and to install a drainage system so the remains would not be found.

This is how the Tijuana Cartel lieutenant became one of the first drug traffickers to employ the atrocious practice of disposing of the human bodies that the violent criminal organization accumulated. In fact, according to a previous investigation by the Attorney General’s Office (PGR), Perez Arciniega was identified as the master of Santiago Meza Lopez — better known as “El Pozolero” — who admitted to having dissolved in caustic soda between 300 and 600 bodies that had previously been dismembered.

La Procuraduría General de la República (PGR) presentó a Santiago Meza López, El Pozolero, El Chago o El Chaguito, encargado de desaparecer los cuerpos de los ejecutados por la facción del cártel de Tijuana 
The Attorney General’s Office (PGR) presented Santiago Meza Lopez, El Pozolero, El Chago, or El Chaguito, in charge of disappearing the bodies of those executed by the Tijuana cartel faction (JULIETA MORA/CUARTOSCURO.COM).

Data from the State Department of the neighboring country indicates that Efrain Perez Arciniega was captured in June 2004 and later extradited to the United States, where, after an arduous legal battle, he was sentenced to 25 years in prison.

In 2021, journalist Laura Sánchez Ley reported in a report for Milenio that, after serving 11 of the 25 years to which he was sentenced, “El Efra” requested his early release.

After two years of pleas for clemency to the U.S. government, Judge Larry Alan Burns denied the former lieutenant of the Arellano Felix family any possibility of getting out of prison, according to a document consulted and published by Milenio.

In his request, Efrain Perez Arciniega’s legal defense argued multiple health conditions, including coronary artery disease, renal deficiency, diabetes, hypertension, obstructive sleep apnea, latent tuberculosis, and advanced age.

Similarly, “El Efra” requested his early release because, after his extradition, he cooperated with the U.S. justice system by providing key information for the decline of the Tijuana Cartel.

The document consulted by Laura Sánchez Ley and published in Milenio reports the final determination of Judge Larry Alan Burns on the request of the lieutenant of the Arellano Felix cartel:

“Perez was responsible for egregious conduct perpetrated to further the cartel’s goals, the consequences of which often involved corruption and brutal violence. That Perez will not survive beyond the remainder of his sentence is an unfortunate consequence of his choices over nearly twenty years,” the U.S. judicial authority argued.

Thus, despite his declining health, Efrain Perez Arciniega will remain in prison until he completes his 25 years and another three years of parole.