(The Center Square) — The U.S. Department of Justice has charged 28 members of the Sinaloa Cartel, including drug kingpin El Chapo’s sons.
Attorney General Merrick Garland said the indictment charges Sinaloa Cartel members with trafficking fentanyl and other drugs, engaging in money laundering, committing murder, and other violent crimes.
The charges were unsealed in the Southern District of New York, Northern District of Illinois, and District of Columbia and detailed in a news release.
Garland said multiple agency enforcement actions were taken “against the largest, most violent, and most prolific fentanyl trafficking operation in the world, run by the Sinaloa Cartel, and fueled by Chinese precursor chemical and pharmaceutical companies.”
The Mexican and Chinese governments have denied their role in producing and trafficking fentanyl into the U.S. primarily through the southern border.
Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco said “the fentanyl crisis in America, fueled in large part by the Sinaloa cartel,” is not only a public health issue but a national security issue.
The indictments “target every element of the Sinaloa Cartel’s trafficking network,” Monaco said, “from the chemical companies in China that spawn fentanyl precursors, to the illicit labs that produce the poison, to the networks and money launderers and murderers that facilitate its distribution.”
DEA Administrator Anne Milgram also described cartel operations as a national security threat.
None of the officials, from Garland to Milgram, called on the president to designate the Sinaloa Cartel as a foreign terrorist organization or classify fentanyl as a weapon of mass destruction, something Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody and multiple attorneys general have repeatedly called on the president and his administration to do.
Milgram described how the DEA has targeted and infiltrated the Sinaloa Cartel network, saying, “The Chapitos pioneered the manufacture and trafficking of fentanyl — the deadliest drug threat our country has ever faced — flooded it into the United States for the past eight years and killed hundreds of thousands of Americans. Over the last year and a half, the DEA proactively infiltrated the Sinaloa Cartel and the Chapitos network, obtained unprecedented access to the organization’s highest levels, and followed them across the world.”
The Sinaloa Cartel operates as an affiliation of drug traffickers and money launderers, according to multi-state and agency investigations resulting in the indictments. Cartel operatives obtained precursor chemicals, largely from China, to manufacture synthetic drugs in Mexico and then moved them into the U.S. primarily through the southern border, then collected, laundered, and transferred hundreds of millions of dollars in proceeds, according to the charges.
The entire operation was led by Joaquin Guzman Loera, “El Chapo,” and Ismael Zambada Garcia, “El Mayo,” leaders of the Sinaloa Cartel. El Chapo is currently incarcerated for life in a maximum security prison in Colorado.
His sons, “the Chapitos,” allegedly took over the operation after violent infighting with rival cartel leaders. One son, Ovidio Guzman Lopez, was arrested and extradited to the U.S. in January. The others include Ivan Guzman Salazar, Alfredo Guzman Salazar, and Joaquin Guzman Lopez.
The unsealed indictments detail the Chapitos’ alleged violent trafficking operations over the last 15 years, including moving lethal amounts of cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, and fentanyl into the U.S. They used “cargo aircraft, private aircraft, submarines and other submersible and semi-submersible vessels, container ships, supply vessels, go-fast boats, fishing vessels, buses, rail cars, tractor trailers, automobiles, and private and commercial interstate and foreign carriers to transport their drugs and precursor chemicals,” according to the charges. They also allegedly maintained a network of couriers, tunnels, and stash houses throughout Mexico and the U.S. to traffic drugs into the U.S.
The unsealed charges in the Southern District of New York were against 28 people, including three Chapitos; top lieutenants and cartel leaders, alleged manufacturers and distributors of fentanyl, those who oversaw the cartel’s violent armed security apparatus protecting its trafficking operations, money launderers, and multiple chemical precursor suppliers in China. Seven defendants are in custody pending extradition proceedings.
In the Northern District of Illinois, narcotics, money laundering, and firearms charges were unsealed against four Chapitos. The indictment alleges that between May 2008 and April 5, 2023, they operated a drug trafficking Continuing Criminal Enterprise (CCE); charges also relate to drugs, money laundering and firearms.
The District of Columbia unsealed narcotics, firearms, and witness retaliation charges against a Chapito “sicario,” or assassin, Nestor Isidro Perez Salas. Perez Salas is allegedly a leader of the “Ninis,” a violent security force of the Chapitos. He allegedly conspired to distribute, manufacture and import into the U.S. cocaine and methamphetamine and used a firearm to do so. He also allegedly “killed, attempted to kill, threatened, and caused bodily injury to another to intimidate a government witness and informant,” according to court documents.
The U.S. Department of State’s Narcotics Rewards Program is offering rewards of up to $10 million for information leading to the arrest and/or conviction of Ivan Guzman Salazar, Alfredo Guzman Salazar, and Ovidio Guzman Lopez. It’s also offering up to $5 million for information leading to the arrest and/or conviction of Joaquin Guzman Lopez.