Washington — Federal prosecutors unsealed criminal charges against 28 members and associates of the Mexican Sinaloa Cartel — including the three sons of former— accusing them of orchestrating a transnational fentanyl trafficking operation into the United States.
Announcing the charges on Friday, Attorney General Merrick Garland and Justice Department officials laid the loss of hundreds of thousands of American lives fromsquarely at the feet of the defendants.
Investigators say the accused — part of the "Chapitos" network — facilitated the purchase of the precursor chemicals of fentanyl from China, manufactured the deadly drug in Mexico, and then worked to smuggle the substance into the U.S.
Four Chinese nationals and one Guatemalan national were charged with supplying fentanyl ingredients to the cartel. The FBI wants the four Chinese nationals captured and is offering a $1 million reward, though taking them into custody to face charges in the U.S. will likely prove difficult. On Friday, the Treasury Department also announced sanctions against two Chinese companies for their role in supplying the precursor chemicals.
Once manufactured, the investigators allege the cartel used a network of vehicles, tunnels, aircraft, and couriers to smuggle the fentanyl into the United States, despite knowing the drug would kill Americans. Ivan Guzman Salazar, Alfredo Guzman Salazar, and Ovidio Guzman Lopez —— allegedly made hundreds of millions of dollars by sending fentanyl to the U.S., according to the Justice Department.
Other charged individuals include operators of secret labs in Mexico where fentanyl is made, weapons dealers who help the Sinaloa Cartel arm its security, and money launderers who funded the operations. Of the 24 charged, eight are in custody across the globe. The attorney general said the U.S. government would work to seek their extradition to face charges on American soil.
"The United States government is using every tool at its disposal to combat the fentanyl epidemic," Garland said, "Many of us have heard the stories of those who have lost loved ones to fentanyl poisoning. In the face of unimaginable pain, those families have shown extraordinary bravery in sharing their stories. We are grateful to them. We know that nothing can repair the harm they've suffered or bring back the loved ones they have lost."
"We are doing everything in our power, and using every authority we have, to bring those responsible to justice," he added.
Federal officials on Friday detailed the Chapitos' gruesome and cruel practices aimed at extending their power and amassing greater wealth — from testing the potency of the fentanyl they allegedly produced on prisoners to feeding victims of their violence to tigers in order to intimidate civilians.
According to the Justice Department, between August 2021 and August 2022, 107,735 people died of drug overdoses in the United States, two-thirds primarily from fentanyl. Nearly 200 people die every day from fentanyl poisoning. And in 2022, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) seized more than 50 million fentanyl-laced pills, more than double the amount collected the year prior, the Justice Department said.
Garland said Friday that the Sinaloa Cartel is "largely responsible" for the increased fentanyl trafficking into the U.S.
The news comes just one day after Garland and Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco met with members of Mexican security officials in Washington, D.C. in part to discuss the fentanyl crisis. According to the Justice Department, both sides "pledged" to increase information-sharing and cooperation on criminal investigations.
Last month, Mexico's President Andrés Manuel López Obrador controversially stated that the deadly drug is neither created nor consumed in his country and blamed Americans for the totality of the epidemic.
Garland said that Justice Department officials met Thursday with their counterparts in the Mexican government and the two countries renewed their commitment to working together against fentanyl and firearms trafficking.
Monaco highlighted the need to combat drug trafficking and fentanyl proliferation on social media, telling reporters on Friday that she and DEA Administrator Anne Milgram met with social media companies last week discuss how social media companies "must do more to stop the sale of fentanyl on their platforms."
"It's no longer enough to protect our children from drug dealers in the park or on the street corner—because now those drug dealers ply their deadly trade on social media apps running on the phones in our kids' pockets," Monaco said. She said online platforms are usually where the initial contact between buyer and sellers occurs and described social media applications as the "super highway" of the fentanyl supply chain.
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