Justice Department Announces Charges Against Sinaloa Cartel’s Global Operation
“Chapitos” Charged in Department’s Latest Actions to Disrupt Flow of Illegal Fentanyl and Other Dangerous Drugs
The Justice Department today announced charges unsealed in the Southern District of New York, Northern District of Illinois, and District of Columbia, against several leaders of the Sinaloa Cartel, a transnational drug trafficking organization based in Sinaloa, Mexico, and its facilitators across the globe.
“Today, the Justice Department is announcing significant enforcement actions 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,” said Attorney General Merrick B. Garland. “Families and communities across our country are being devastated by the fentanyl epidemic. Today’s actions demonstrate the comprehensive approach the Justice Department is taking to disrupt fentanyl trafficking and save American lives.”
“The fentanyl crisis in America – fueled in large part by the Sinaloa cartel – threatens our public health, our public safety, and our national security,” said Deputy Attorney General Lisa O. Monaco. “Today’s indictments target every element of the Sinaloa Cartel’s trafficking network and reflect the Justice Department’s commitment to attacking every aspect of this threat: 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. Just as we have gone on offense against terrorists and cyber criminals around the globe, the Department is now waging a relentless campaign to disrupt the production and trafficking of fentanyl – before it can reach its victims.”
“Today’s indictments send a clear message to the Chapitos, the Sinaloa Cartel, and criminal drug networks around the world that the DEA will stop at nothing to protect the national security of the United States and the safety and health of the American people,” said DEA Administrator Anne Milgram. “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. I am grateful to the men and women of the DEA for their exceptional work on this case, which is the beginning of our work as ‘One DEA’ to dismantle every part of the criminal cartels that are killing Americans at record rates.”
“Far too many Americans have become victims in the national fentanyl crisis. These cartels have shown us they will stop at nothing to manufacture, traffic, and push these dangerous drugs to every corner of our country,” said FBI Director Christopher Wray. “Today’s indictments show that the FBI and our law enforcement partners will never tire in our pursuit not only to shut down their criminal enterprises, but also to go after individuals in their network. I want to thank the FBI team continuing to work on these cases everyday as we join with our law enforcement partners to tackle this national epidemic.”
“This indictment is another example of how this administration is taking on the cartels and their transnational criminal networks, and sending a clear message that we are going to hold them accountable,” said Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro N. Mayorkas. “I commend our workforce at Homeland Security Investigations and our federal partners who are relentless in their efforts to stop the scourge of fentanyl. Today’s announcement exemplifies a whole-of-government approach to protecting our homeland that is yielding results.”
The Sinaloa Cartel is one of the most powerful drug cartels in the world and is largely responsible for the manufacturing and importing of fentanyl for distribution in the United States. Fentanyl is a dangerous synthetic opioid that is more than 50 times more potent than heroin. Fentanyl is now the leading cause of death for Americans ages 18 to 49, and it has fueled the opioid epidemic that has been ravaging families and communities across the United States for approximately the past eight years. Between 2019 and 2021, fatal overdoses increased by approximately 94%, with an estimated 196 Americans dying each day from fentanyl.
The Sinaloa Cartel operated as an affiliation of drug traffickers and money launderers who obtain precursor chemicals – largely from China – for the manufacture of synthetic drugs, manufacture drugs in Mexico, move those drugs into the United States, and collect, launder, and transfer the proceeds of drug trafficking. Once led by Joaquin Guzman Loera, aka El Chapo, and Ismael Zambada Garcia, aka El Mayo, the Sinaloa Cartel’s members and associates – allegedly including the sons of Guzman Loera, collectively known as the Chapitos – smuggled significant quantities of drugs through Mexico and into the United States. The Chapitos are Ivan Guzman Salazar, 40, Alfredo Guzman Salazar, 37, Joaquin Guzman Lopez, 36, and Ovidio Guzman Lopez, 33.
Following Guzman Loera’s arrest in January 2016 and extradition to the United States in January 2017, the Chapitos allegedly assumed their father’s former role as leaders of the Sinaloa Cartel, along with Zambada Garcia and Damaso Lopez Nunez, aka Licenciado. The Chapitos subsequently amassed greater control over the Sinaloa Cartel by allegedly threatening and causing violence against Lopez Nunez, his family, and his associates and, as a result, became principal leaders and drug traffickers within the Sinaloa Cartel.
The indictments being unsealed today demonstrate that the Sinaloa Cartel has been engaged in drug trafficking activities into the United States, and violence, spanning over a decade and a half. The Chapitos are alleged to have repeatedly and consistently transported lethal amounts of cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, and fentanyl.
The Chapitos allegedly 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. They allegedly maintained a network of couriers, tunnels, and stash houses throughout Mexico and the United States to further their drug-trafficking activities. The Chapitos allegedly used these networks to import the drugs into the United States.
Southern District of New York
Fentanyl trafficking, weapons, and money laundering charges were unsealed today in the Southern District of New York against 28 defendants, including three of the Chapitos; top lieutenants and leadership of the Sinaloa Cartel; alleged manufacturers and distributors of the Sinaloa Cartel’s fentanyl; the managers of the violent armed security apparatus that protects the Sinaloa Cartel’s drug trafficking operations; the sophisticated money launderers who repatriate the Sinaloa Cartel’s drug proceeds back to Mexico; and multiple chemical precursor suppliers in China that fuel the Sinaloa Cartel’s fentanyl distribution operation.
According to court documents, Ivan Guzman Salazar, Alfredo Guzman Salazar, Ovidio Guzman Lopez, and their co-conspirators allegedly controlled extensive, multi-faceted, and international operations covering the fentanyl trade. Through these efforts, the Chapitos and the Sinaloa Cartel allegedly reaped hundreds of millions of dollars in profits by flooding the United States with fentanyl.
Seven defendants are in custody pending extradition proceedings.
Ovidio Guzman Lopez is charged in a separate indictment alleging the same offenses.
The DEA investigated the case with assistance from the Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control and the Department of State’s Rewards for Justice Program.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Kyle A. Wirshba, Nicholas S. Bradley, Sarah L. Kushner, David J. Robles, and Alexander Li for the Southern District of New York are prosecuting the case. The Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs (OIA) provided substantial assistance.
Northern District of Illinois
Narcotics, money laundering, and firearms charges were unsealed today in the Northern District of Illinois against four of the Chapitos: Ivan Guzman Salazar, Alfredo Guzman Salazar, Joaquin Guzman Lopez, and Ovidio Guzman Lopez.
According to court documents, the charges stem from a decades-long, collaborative, multi-district effort between the Criminal Division’s Narcotic and Dangerous Drug Section (NDDS), the Northern District of Illinois, the Southern District of California, and their law enforcement partners. The indictment alleges that between May 2008 and April 5, 2023, the Chapitos operated a drug trafficking Continuing Criminal Enterprise (CCE), along with additional drug, money laundering, and firearms charges.
Ovidio Guzman Lopez is charged in a separate indictment alleging the same offenses, dating from May 2008 until October 2021, when Mexican authorities arrested him on Jan. 5 in Culiacan, Sinaloa, Mexico. Ovidio Guzman Lopez remains detained in Mexico pending extradition proceedings.
The FBI Washington Field Office and San Diego Field Office, Homeland Security Investigations Nogales Office, DEA’s Chicago Division and San Diego Division, and IRS Criminal Investigations Chicago Office are investigating the case.
Acting Deputy Chief Katharine Wagner and Trial Attorney Kirk Handrich of NDDS, Assistant U.S. Attorneys Andrew Erskine and Erika Csicsila for the Northern District of Illinois, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Sutton for the Southern District of California are prosecuting the case. OIA provided substantial assistance.
This case is supported by the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces (OCDETF).
District of Columbia
Narcotics, firearms, and witness retaliation charges were unsealed today in the District of Columbia against Nestor Isidro Perez Salas, aka Nini, 31, allegedly one of the Chapitos’ lead sicarios, or assassins.
According to court documents, Perez Salas is allegedly a leader and commander of the “Ninis,” a violent group charged with providing security for the Chapitos. From at least 2012 until February 2021, Perez Salas allegedly conspired to distribute and manufacture cocaine and methamphetamine for unlawful importation into the United States, used a firearm in furtherance of the alleged drug-trafficking offense, and killed, attempted to kill, threatened, and caused bodily injury to another to intimidate a government witness and informant.
The FBI Washington Field Office is investigating the case.
Trial Attorneys Kirk Handrich and Kate Naseef of the Criminal Division’s Narcotic and Dangerous Drug Section are prosecuting the case.
This case is supported by the OCDETF.