SAN DIEGO (CN) — The highest-ranking Sinaloa cartel member ever to surrender of his own volition at the border was arraigned Monday in San Diego on federal drug-smuggling and money laundering charges.
Damaso Lopez-Serrano, 29, surrendered on July 27 at the Calexico Port of Entry, about 120 miles east of San Diego. He is believed to have been a high-ranking member of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman’s cartel.
Lopez-Serrano was arraigned on a federal grand jury indictment date-stamped Aug. 19, 2016, but dated March 2015. He is the first of five defendants in the indictment, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said, but the last three have been blacked out. They are charged with conspiracy to import and distribute methamphetamine, cocaine and heroin, and conspiracy to launder money.
“This extraordinary case is this district’s most significant, comprehensive and large-scale cartel prosecution,” Acting U.S. Attorney Alana Robinson said in a statement.
The heavily redacted 5-page indictment marks the end of a 5-year, four-part investigation which has netted charges against 125 people, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
It began in late 2011 as an investigation into what was believed to be a small-scale drug ring in National City and Chula Vista, and led to a multinational, multistate probe of the Sinaloa cartel and seizures of tons of drugs and more than $27 million in money, prosecutors said.
More than 1,300 kilograms of methamphetamine; 2,200 kilograms of cocaine; 17.2 tons of marijuana and 95 kilograms of heroin were seized during the investigation.
Guilty pleas have been rendered by one of cartel leader Ismael Zambada-Garcia’s sons.
The Department of Justice also unsealed an indictment against Lopez-Serrano and his father, Damaso Lopez Nunez.
That indictment from Virginia charges the father and son with conspiracy to distribute controlled substances. The elder Damaso Lopez Nunez was arrested in Mexico on May 2 the United States has asked for his extradition.
Also indicted were El Chapo’s son, Ivan Archivaldo Guzman-Salazar and Zambada-Garcia.
A status hearing is scheduled for Nov. 2.
Lopez-Serrano did not seek bond and will remain in custody.
Although the U.S. Attorney’s Office and Department of Justice called Lopez-Serrano’s surrender and the extradition of Guzman “significant blows” against the Sinaloa cartel and drug dealers in general, independent experts say that decapitation of the leaders of powerful cartels merely sets of periods of increased violence until new leaders emerge. The effect such arrests have upon the volume of drugs smuggled into the United States is uncertain.