Watch CBS News

U.S. sanctions top Mexican cartel leaders, including alleged assassin known as "The Doctor"

Funding Cartels: The Fentanyl Fight | CBS Reports
Funding Cartels: Why America Is Losing the Fentanyl Fight | CBS Reports 22:30

U.S. officials announced economic sanctions Thursday against eight targets affiliated with a Mexican drug cartel, La Nueva Familia Michoacana, accused of fentanyl trafficking and human smuggling.

The U.S. Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) measures are aimed at stifling a network known for sending illicit drugs from Mexico across the southern U.S. border to Dallas and Houston, as well as to other cities including Chicago and Atlanta, according to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen.

"The leaders we're targeting have carried out heinous acts, from controlling drug routes, to arms trafficking, to money laundering, to murder," Yellen said, according to prepared remarks ahead of an event in Atlanta.

"Our sanctions will cut off the cartel leaders from their ill-gotten money and make it harder for them to bring deadly fentanyl to our streets."

The sanctions target leaders of the organization, as well as key lieutenants whom Treasury said had meaningfully engaged in and promoted the illicit drug trade.

Among the leaders targeted is an alleged assassin named Uriel Tabares Martinez.  According to the Treasury Department, he is known as "El Medico" ("The Doctor") for the violent and surgical manner in which he tortures and kills those who cross the high-ranking members of the cartel.

In this Oct. 16, 2019, file photo, a streetlight marked with the word "Viagra," the name of the armed branch of the Familia Michoacana cartel, to mark its territory in El Terrero, Michiacán state, Mexico. Marco Ugarte / AP

The group is also known for human smuggling, with La Nueva Familia Michoacana staging videos in which participants falsely claim to be under interrogation in order to win U.S. asylum. The participants then pay money to the cartel, officials said in a statement.

"La Nueva Familia Michoacana is one of the most powerful and violent cartels in Mexico and has become a priority focus of the Mexican government in recent years," the Treasury Department said while announcing the sanctions. 

Last year, the cartel was accused of  suspected of leaving a severed human leg found hanging from a pedestrian bridge Wednesday in Toluca, just west of Mexico City. At the bridge, the trunk of the body was left on the street below, near the city's center, along with handwritten signs signed by the Familia Michoacana.

In 2022, the U.S. Treasury Department announced sanctions on the Familia Michoacana, accusing the cartel of manufacturing "rainbow" fentanyl pills purportedly aimed at children.

In addition to the OFAC actions, the U.S. Treasury's Financial Crimes Enforcement Network released an advisory of red flags and trends intended to help U.S. financial institutions detect signs of the illicit fentanyl supply chain.

"The opioid crisis, and especially the rise of synthetic opioids like fentanyl, has devastated communities and claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of Americans," Secretary Yellen said in a statement Thursday. "Treasury has unique capabilities and expertise to target the financial flows of these cartels who are poisoning our communities, and going after them is a top priority for me and the Department."

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.