Federal law enforcement officials announced today that 36 people, including three alleged leaders of rival Mexican drug cartels, have been indicted in Chicago’s federal court for conspiracies to traffic drugs between the U.S. and Mexico.
“These are the most significant drug importation conspiracies ever charged in Chicago,” said Patrick Fitzgerald, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois. “The defendants allegedly used practically every means of transportation imaginable to move these large amounts of drugs and to funnel massive amounts of money back to Mexico.”
Forty six defendants have now been charged in 15 separate drug trafficking conspiracies since March. Eight of the defendants have been arrested in the past week, while around 15 were arrested prior to that. The rest are fugitives.
Three of the defendants, Joaquin “el Chapo” Guzman-Loera, Ismael “el Mayo” Zambada-Garcia and Arburo Beltran-Leyva, have also been charged in Brooklyn for separate drug trafficking activities. The three allegedly are, or at one time were heads of the notorious Sinaloa cartel, also known as The Federation, and have been some of the highest priority targets of U.S. and Mexican law enforcement.
The Brooklyn and Chicago indictments together indicate that the three trafficked drugs in the U.S. between 1990 and December 2008.
“Breaking up these dangerous cartels and stemming the flow of drugs, weapons and cash across the Southwest Border is a top priority for this Justice Department,” said Attorney General Eric Holder. “Today’s indictments demonstrate our unwavering commitment to root out the leaders of these criminal enterprises wherever they may be found.”
Guzman-Loera, Zambada-Garcia and Beltran-Leyya reportedly managed the importation and distribution of nearly 200 metric tons of cocaine, and the smuggling of more than $5.8 billion in cash from drug sales. Today’s Chicago indictments seek forfeiture of more than $1.8 billion, as well as vehicles and residences.
In raids conducted mostly in the past year, law enforcement seizures have produced over 3,000 kilograms of cocaine, 64 kilograms of heroin and over $20 million in cash.
Guzman-Loera and Zambada-Garcia allegedly supplied wholesale amounts of cocaine and heroin to twin brothers Pedro and Margarito Flores, who led a widespread distribution cell in Chicago. The twins reportedly received between 1,500 and 2,000 kilograms of cocaine a month. The indictments are part of a “coordinated strike” against traffickers, according to a Justice Department press release today, stemming from street gang investigations in Chicago and drug-related murder investigations in New York.
In addition to drug smuggling, the cartels protected their highly coordinated operations through bribery, violence, threats, and intimidation against both law enforcement officials and rival gangs. In Mexico, more than 11,000 people have been killed in drug-related crimes since President Felipe Calderon began taking major action against traffickers in late 2006.
Holder says the cartels’ actions have now spread “to our own backyards.”