By Robert Boczkiewicz
DENVER (Reuters) - The leader of a Mexican drug cartel was sentenced on Friday to more than 22 years in prison by a federal judge in Colorado, who said the kingpin's criminal enterprise sold $1 billion worth of cocaine in eight U.S. states.
Oscar Arriola, 43, was "a clear and present danger to this country and its citizens," U.S. District Judge Robert Blackburn said.
The cartel distributed cocaine in 2002 and 2003 in New York, Illinois, Georgia and five other states from a storage center at a Colorado ranch, before an anonymous tip led to an investigation, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration said.
Arriola and his brother, Miguel, were among 29 people indicted in 2003 in federal court in Denver. Oscar Arriola was arrested in Mexico in 2006 and extradited to the United States in 2010.
In 2010, Miguel Arriola was sentenced to 20 years in prison on drug trafficking charges involving the Arriola cartel's smuggling of tons of cocaine from Mexico to the United States.
Oscar Arriola pleaded guilty last year to drug trafficking and money laundering crimes. He was one of the top 35 drug traffickers in the world in 2002, Drug Enforcement agent and lead investigator Paul Roach said.
A prison term of 22 1/2 years was justified, the judge said, because help Arriola provided to authorities while in U.S. custody was "more than offset by the lives ruined."
Arriola apologized to the judge for the harm his cartel inflicted on U.S. residents.
(Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Stacey Joyce)