Unmasking the fentanyl kings: Sinaloa cartel leaders charged in New York, Illinois, and Washington DC

US officials target Sinaloa Cartel in fentanyl crisis, charging leaders across three districts and revealing their global network of facilitators.
  1. US Department of Justice charges Sinaloa Cartel leaders in three districts for their role in the nation’s fentanyl crisis.
  2. Factions within the Sinaloa Cartel and Jalisco Cartel – New Generation identified as primary manufacturers and distributors of fentanyl.
  3. US authorities expose global networks of facilitators and suppliers supporting cartel operations in manufacturing and trafficking synthetic opioids.

In light of the public health emergency that fentanyl trafficking has caused in the country of the Stars and Stripes, on Friday morning, April 14, the U. S. Department of Justice announced open charges in the District of New York, Northern District of Illinois, and the District of Columbia against several leaders of the Sinaloa Cartel and their facilitators around the world.

“The fentanyl crisis in the United States, driven largely by the Sinaloa Cartel, threatens our public health, safety, and national security,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney General Lisa O. Monaco.

Fentanyl use has caused thousands of overdose deaths in recent years in the country governed by Joe Biden, officials from different levels of government have accused Mexico and the cartels operating in the Aztec country of being responsible for trafficking and distributing the narcotic that they manufacture in clandestine laboratories.

“Too many Americans have become victims of the national fentanyl crisis. These cartels have shown us that they will stop at nothing to manufacture, traffic, and deliver these dangerous drugs to every corner of our country,” argued FBI Director Christopher Wray.

Aunque en México operan distintas organizaciones criminales, el Cártel de Sinaloa (CDS) y el Cártel Jalisco Nueva Generación (CJNG) han sido señalados por la DEA como los principales responsables de fabricar y distribuir fentanilo en Estados Unidos (Infobae/Jesús Avilés)
Although different criminal organizations operate in Mexico, the Sinaloa Cartel (CDS) and the Jalisco Cartel – New Generation (CJNG) have been identified by the DEA as being primarily responsible for manufacturing and distributing fentanyl in the United States (Infobae/Jesús Avilés).

According to the DEA intelligence report, Fentanyl Flow to the United States, published in January 2020 and consulted by Infobae in Mexico, transnational criminal organizations are producing greater quantities of fentanyl and illicit tablets containing said synthetic opioid.

The report also specifies that Mexican cartels use clandestine laboratories and increasingly sophisticated processing methods – glassware, unregulated chemicals, and industrial tablet presses – to manufacture fentanyl.

“Fentanyl is smuggled across the U.S.-Mexico border in low concentration but high-volume loads,” the report specified.

DEA reports have indicated that the Sinaloa Cartel and the Jalisco Cartel – New Generation (CJNG) are the main trafficking groups responsible for smuggling fentanyl into the United States from Mexico.

This premise is also based on the fact that until January 2020 – the date on which the DEA intelligence report was published – the operations to dismantle drug laboratories have occurred in territories controlled by these criminal organizations, in addition to the fact that the participation of members or associates of the drug mentioned above trafficking cartels has been confirmed.

Los chapitos, los zamudio and the sinaloa cartel

La facción de Los Chapitos del Cártel de Sinaloa ha sido identificada como productores y distribuidores de fentanilo (Imagen: Infobae)
The Los Chapitos faction of the Sinaloa Cartel has been identified as a producer and distributor of fentanyl (Image: Infobae).

While the fentanyl crisis currently plaguing the United States has entailed meticulous manufacturing, distribution, and marketing operations by both criminal organizations, behind the whole process, some people already appear among the most wanted lists not only by Mexican authorities but also by various U.S. law enforcement agencies.

Concerning the Sinaloa Cartel, after Joaquín Guzmán Loera – better known as El Chapo – was extradited and sentenced to spend the rest of his days in a maximum security prison in Colorado, the so-called Pacific Cartel was divided into at least three important factions: one headed by Ismael Zambada García, alias El Mayo; another led by Aureliano Guzmán Loera, brother of the co-founder of the criminal organization known as El Guano, and Los Chapitos, the capo’s sons.

It is precisely this last faction that has been identified by US security agencies as the main manufacturers and distributors of the synthetic opioid, so that Ivan Archivaldo Guzman Salazar, Jesus Alfredo Guzman Salazar, Joaquin Guzman Lopez and Ovidio Guzman Lopez — who was apprehended in January 2023 — can be considered the fentanyl kings of the criminal organization.

EEUU identificó a la familia Zamudio como proveedora de precursores para "súper laboratorios" del Cártel de Sinaloa. (OFAC)
The US identified the Zamudio family as suppliers of precursors for “super labs” of the Sinaloa Cartel. (OFAC)

In addition to Joaquín Guzmán Loera’s sons, in February 2023, the US State Department issued a statement identifying a network that collaborates with the Sinaloa Cartel to traffic fentanyl.

The Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) reported brothers Luis Alfonso and Ludim Zamudio Lerma as responsible for placing illicit precursor chemicals directly into the hands of Sinaloa Cartel members and laboratory operators.

“The Zamudio Lerma brothers and their network promote the production of synthetic drugs that devastate the lives of Americans while the Sinaloa Cartel leaders line their pockets,” said OFAC Director Andrea Gacki.

Adán Salazar es requerido por la DEA por distribuir fentanilo y otros narcóticos a los Estados Unidos (DEA)
The DEA wants Adán Salazar to distribute fentanyl and other narcotics to the United States (DEA).

The DEA also identified a family in Sonora that collaborates with the Los Chapitos faction in the trafficking of fentanyl. The group known as “Los Salazar” has been the armed wing of the Sinaloa Cartel in that state and Chihuahua since the 1980s under the command of Adán Salazar, also known as Don Adán.

Although the capo has been held in a maximum security prison since 2011, from behind prison walls and with his son, Alfredo Salazar Ramirez, alias El Muñeco, they have coordinated the criminal group’s operations through messages sent by lawyers and visits from family members.

The “kings” of the CJNG

Según la DEA, el CJNG supo ramificarse y hoy tiene presencia en 23 de los 32 estados mexicanos (Archivo DEF)
According to the DEA, the CJNG has branched out and now has a presence in 23 of Mexico’s 32 states (DEF file).

The US Department of Justice, Treasury, and State consider the Jalisco Cartel – New Generation (CJNG) as one of the drug cartels responsible for trafficking thousands of tons of cocaine, methamphetamine, and heroin mixed with fentanyl to the United States, according to a statement issued by the agency in October 2018.

As a result, the Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Section of the Criminal Division of the Department of Justice, in collaboration with the prosecutors’ offices of the states of California, Illinois, Mississippi, and Virginia, filed indictments against leaders, financiers, transporters, and sources of drug supply of that criminal organization, including:

Nemesio Oseguera Cervantes, alias El Mecho: leader and founder of the Four Letter Cartel that has acquired the designation of criminal enterprise for conspiring to distribute significant quantities of narcotics and opioids for illegal importation into the United States.

Rubén Oseguera González, alias El Menchito: son of the founder of the Jalisco Cartel – New Generation (CJNG), accused of conspiring to distribute significant quantities of narcotics for illegal importation into the United States. He was arrested in 2015 by Mexican authorities and extradited.

Erick Valencia Salazar, alias El 85: He is accused of participating in the conspiracy to distribute significant quantities of narcotics and opioids to the United States between 2003 and 2018.

Similarly, although their names have not been released, the US State Department is aware of multiple members who make up a fentanyl trafficking network operating for the Four Letter Cartel on the border.

“They are using much smaller packages, they can break [shipments] into smaller packages, they are using more cars, more people, so it’s a pretty big challenge, but with every challenge, there is an answer, and we are looking for them,” said Todd D. Robinson, the State Department’s Assistant Secretary for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs.