The powerful Sinaloa drug cartel has long operated as a family business, with kinship and blood ties binding its key members across generations. So when the US sanctioned the cartel’s alleged top fentanyl trafficker in the border city of Nogales this week, it targeted not just the local plaza boss Juan Carlos Morgan Huerta but his brothers, uncle, and in-laws too.
At least six members of the Morgan Huerta crime family were designated under the Kingpin Act by the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) for playing an “integral role” in Sinaloa Cartel operations like bribing officials, maintaining drug supplies, and laundering money.
Meet the Morgan Huertas
Juan Carlos Morgan Huerta – The reputed Sinaloa boss in Nogales known as “Cacayo” who oversees the smuggling of cocaine, heroin, meth, and fentanyl into Arizona. A 2021 federal indictment accused him of trafficking fentanyl, heroin, cocaine and meth. Morgan Huerta remains a fugitive from US justice.
- José Arnoldo Morgan Huerta – Juan Carlos’ brother, who goes by the alias “Chachio.” Helps manage logistics and transportation for drug deliveries across the border.
- José Luis Morgan Huerta – Another brother, alias “Gordo,” who handles negotiating trade agreements and laundering drug money.
- Miguel Ángel Morgan Huerta – Brother of Juan Carlos and ex-Mexican cop who uses his connections to bribe officials and facilitate trafficking.
- Martín Morgan Huerta – Brother who maintains links to sources of illicit drug supply, critical to keeping the pipelines flowing.
- Óscar Murillo Morgan – Juan Carlos’ uncle, alias “Chino,” was also tasked with maintaining access to contraband narcotics.
- David Alonso Chavarin Preciado – Juan Carlos’ brother-in-law, alias “Chava,” appointed to oversee Sinaloa’s smuggling ops in Nogales.
Family Acted as Key Cogs in Trafficking Machine
US officials described the clan as a close-knit network playing an integral function within the Sinaloa Cartel considered Mexico’s largest and most formidable drug trafficking organization. While Juan Carlos Morgan Huerta directed operations from the top, his relatives formed a trusted inner circle handling critical tasks like bribery, supply management, and money laundering.
“Family members filled other key roles, including managing transportation and logistics, negotiating trade agreements, and laundering drug proceeds,” said the Treasury Department, portraying the Morgan Huertas as vital cogs in the machine that kept illicit drugs flowing across the US-Mexico border.
Leveraging Connections Across Borders
As a former Mexican cop, Miguel Ángel Morgan Huerta allegedly abused his position in law enforcement to feed information to cartel cohorts and pay off pliant officers to pave the way for shipments.
Meanwhile, uncle Oscar Murillo Morgan and brother Martín Morgan Huerta tapped into their own underworld ties on the supply side, officials said, ensuring the Nogales corridors under “Cacayo’s” control remained stocked with narcotics ready for export.
The family links also extended across international boundaries through in-law David Alonso Chavarin Preciado, the husband of Juan Carlos Morgan Huerta’s sister. Their kinship bonds enabled “Chava” to be granted a key operational role under his brother-in-law’s command.
Clan’s Tentacles Spread Across Illicit Economy
Beyond drug trafficking, the Treasury Department indicated that Morgan Huertas had interests spanning the cartel’s illicit financial ecosystem. José Luis Morgan Huerta was described as a central figure in money laundering, cleaning the organization’s profits to obscure their criminal origins.
OFAC said he and José Arnoldo Morgan Huerta were also instrumental in cutting trade pacts and overseeing logistics, leveraging the family’s border connections to broker deals and ensure smooth delivery of narcotics moving north.
- Who Is Former Sinaloa Cartel Leader “El Rey” Zambada and Mayo’s Brother? Criminal Past and Life as a Corrido Composer
- Meet the armed members of CJNG’s Zicuirán Cartel who greet President Obrador in a bold video
- Guanajuato sees major Santa Rosa de Lima Cartel arrest with the capture of El Virolo, cousin of cartel’s leader, El Marro
This allowed the Morgan Huertas to project influence beyond just Nogales, as their transportation expertise and money networks benefited the cartel’s activities across Mexico and the United States.
Nogales Restaurants, Mines Among Family Businesses Hit by Sanctions
To target Morgan Huertas’ financial base, OFAC sanctioned four Mexico-based companies linked to the family’s illicit commercial activities. These included:
- Conceptos Gastronomicos de Sonora S. de R.L. de C.V. – A restaurant in Nogales named Habanero is identified as being part of Juan Carlos Morgan Huerta’s business portfolio.
- Morgan Golden Mining S.A. de C.V. – A mining business based in Hermosillo registered under Juan Carlos and Jose Luis Morgan Huerta.
- Comercializadora Villba Stone S.A. de C.V. – A Nogales stone trading company controlled by Sinaloa Cartel associate Sergio Isaías Hernández Mazón.
- Exportadora del Campos Ramos Acosta S. de R.L. de C.V. – A Nogales import/export enterprise linked to sanctioned Sinaloa money launderer Álvaro Ramos Acosta.
The sanctions aim to deny Morgan Huertas access to the licit economy and freeze any assets under US jurisdiction while exposing businesses tied to their shadowy dealings.
Racketeering Family Part of Larger Cartel Machine
While the prominent role of Morgan Huertas illustrates how the Sinaloa Cartel incubates criminality within bloodlines, the clan forms just one cell in a vast narco-trafficking network. Juan Carlos Morgan Huerta in Nogales coordinated with Sinaloa commanders across Sonora state and answered to kingpins like Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada García at the top of the cartel hierarchy.
OFAC said he collaborated with fellow Nogales plaza boss Sergio Valenzuela Valenzuela, who was sanctioned last February, along with Sinaloa associates Sergio Isaías Hernández Mazón and Álvaro Ramos Acosta.
Dismantling the cartel requires uprooting more than just its members. The US Treasury underscored that its goal is to deny the resources that allow sophisticated trafficking networks like Sinaloa to wield such corrosive power.
US Vows Sustained Campaign Against Mexican Cartel Finances
The sanctions offer a window into the US government’s evolving strategy to combat transnational organized crime by following the money trail. Since last December, OFAC has sanctioned nearly 40 individuals and entities affiliated with the Sinaloa Cartel and its rival, the Jalisco New Generation Cartel.
“The United States will aggressively pursue the complicit operators and facilitators of these deadly fentanyl distribution networks,” said Under Secretary Brian Nelson. “Treasury will continue leveraging its authorities to expose and isolate those who benefit from the deadly sale of fentanyl in the United States.”
While the Morgan Huertas are now financial pariahs in the US, efforts to undermine the cartel power structure they fed must be sustained to have a lasting impact. With synthetic opioids like fentanyl driving record drug deaths, American officials have made clear the fight against Mexican narco-traffickers will remain relentless.