Los Filippini brothers rise to dominate Mexico’s illegal tobacco market amid health restrictions

Former federal agents control illicit tobacco trade while funding fentanyl operations and posing a public health risk to the US.

Tobacco has become, over time, one of the favorite legal vices of millions of people. In Mexico, although the Ministry of Health has adopted some measures restricting cigarette consumption to combat smoking, one of the possible consequences of this has been the growth of the illegal market.

Either because of the increase in the prices of tobacco products or because of the limitation in their consumption, a group of brothers emerged from the bowels of the former Mexican Attorney General’s Office (PGR) who have been identified as the ones responsible for heading the so-called Tobacco Cartel: “Los Filippini.”

According to information from N+, during the first three months of 2023, the Secretariat of Citizen Security (SSC) identified a new brand of cigars that has been distributed in small convenience stores in the Valley of Mexico, which raised alerts about the activities that the criminal group, which has also managed to associate with the Jalisco Cartel – New Generation (CJNG), continues to expand.

Who are “Los Filippini”?

"Los Filippini" estarían detrás del llamado Cártel del Tabaco (plaza central).
“Los Filippini” are allegedly behind the so-called Tobacco Cartel (central plaza).

Information from journalist Óscar Balderas, published in the digital magazine Eme Equis, indicates that the Tobacco Cartel has its origins in the federal government, as its founders are the brothers Carlos Alberto, Hugo, and Genaro Cedano Filippini, who served as agents of the Mexican Attorney General’s Office (PGR).

The US Department of Justice identified “Los Filippinis” as the leaders of a network of corrupt agents who collaborated with them to control the illegal tobacco market.

The stronghold of the Cedano Filippini brothers is in the state of Jalisco. Still, according to court documents released by N+, the criminal group is present in at least 10 states: Sonora, Sinaloa, Nayarit, Coahuila, Aguascalientes, Guanajuato, Veracruz, Tabasco, and Michoacán.

A través de amenazas, "Los Filippini" amedrentan a vendedores que se niegan a comprar su marca de cigarros . (VICTORIA VALTIERRA/CUARTOSCURO)
Through threats, “Los Filippini” intimidate sellers who refuse to buy their brand of cigars. (VICTORIA VALTIERRA/CUARTOSCURO)

Índice Político reported in 2021 that Carlos Alberto Cedano Filippini, alias “El Rambo,” joined the Attorney General’s Office (PGR) in 1996 as part of the Federal Investigation Agency (AFI) under which he worked in states such as Veracruz, Tabasco, Jalisco, and Michoacán.

In 2008, “El Rambo” was arrested in the United States as part of a drug trafficking investigation by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) following the seizure of US$600,000, of which he could not prove its origin.

Information from journalists Carlos Puig and Galia García indicates that the former federal agent also participated in a scheme of false operations to “seize” and destroy cigars of all brands other than those provided by the Tobacco Cartel.

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His brothers, Hugo and Genaro Cedano Filippini, were also agents of the now-defunct federal agency and, as of 2021, the former continued in his position and was even promoted by Alejandro Gertz Manero as director general of Judicial and Ministerial Injunctions of the Attorney General’s Office (FGR), reported Índice Político.

Similarly, Genaro Cedano Filippini was denounced for kidnapping, and accused of covering up for those responsible for the disappearance and death of film students in Guadalajara in 2018, in addition to the links he maintains with the powerful criminal organization headed by Nemesio Oseguera Cervantes, El Mencho.

Other “Los Filippinis” members include Ana Lilia (sister of the Tobacco Cartel leaders) and one of Genaro’s sons. Índice Político reported their active business participation thanks to the Tobacco International Holdings (THI) subsidy, which the Los Filippini brothers founded.

El Cártel del Tabaco cuenta con un peligroso aliado (Foto: Cuartoscuro)
The Tobacco Cartel has a dangerous ally (Photo: Cuartoscuro)

Last May, in a letter addressed to Janet Yellen, Secretary of the US Treasury Department, five senators from the country of the Stars and Stripes requested that sanctions be issued against the company TIH for alleged links to the Jalisco Cartel – New Generation (CJNG).

Various journalistic investigations indicate that the Tobacco Cartel has links within the Jalisco Cartel – New Generation (CJNG), so that members of the organization are in charge – through violence and threats – of ensuring that there are cities or municipalities where only TIH cigars are distributed and sold.

A report that journalists Carlos Puig and Galia Garcia produced for Milenio in 2018 shows how the illegal tobacco industry of “Los Filippinis” would have boosted the illicit activities related to fentanyl trafficking of the four-letter cartel.

In this way, the letter sent to the office of the US Treasury Department by the senators had the objective of alerting that the link between the Filippinis’ tobacco company and the Jalisco Cartel – New Generation (CJNG) poses a risk since the millionaire profits from the illegal tobacco market would be used to finance the fentanyl trafficking operations of the criminal organization headed by Nemesio Oseguera Cervantes, El Mencho.

With this premise, they requested that the Cedano Filippini brothers be sanctioned by OFAC since the freezing of their assets and the opening of investigations could halt the operations of the trafficking of the potent synthetic opioid that has generated a public health crisis in the United States.