Gonzalo Curiel was born in East Chicago, Indiana, to parents who had immigrated into the United States from Mexico. He received his Bachelor of Arts Degree from Indiana University in 1976 and his Juris Doctor from the Indiana University School of Law in 1979. He was an Assistant United States Attorney in the Southern District of California from 1989 to 2002. While in the Southern District, he served as Deputy Chief (1996-1999) and then Chief (1999-2002) of the Narcotics Enforcement Division. While in the Southern District, he served as Deputy Chief (1996-1999) and then Chief (1999-2002) of the Narcotics Enforcement Division. During his tenure with the Narcotics Enforcement Division, Curiel prosecuted the Arellano Felix cartel in Tijuana, Mexico. and was reportedly the subject of an assassination plot connected to the drug cartel.
He was an Assistant U.S. Attorney in the Central District of California from 2002 to 2006. In 2006, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger announced the appointment of Gonzalo Curiel to the bench of the Superior Court of San Diego, the position he held until his appointment to the federal bench. On November 10, 2011, President Obama nominated Gonzalo Curiel to serve as a judge on the United States District Court for the Southern District of California. He received a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on March 28, 2012, which reported his nomination to the Senate on April 26, 2012, by voice vote. In the early hours of September 22, 2012, on what was officially still the legislative day of September 21, the Senate confirmed Curiel by voice vote. He received his commission on October 1, 2012.
The Tijuana Cartel or Arellano-Félix Organization is now a small Mexican drug cartel based in Tijuana. The cartel once was described as “one of the biggest and most violent criminal groups in Mexico” however since the 2006 Sinaloa Cartel incursion in Baja California and the fall of the Arellano-Félix brothers, the Tijuana Cartel has been reduced to a small group of scattered cells.