US targets El Chapo sons in crackdown on China-Mexico fentanyl networks
The US Justice Department took aim at the four sons of notorious Mexican drug trafficker Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman and their Chinese chemical suppliers Friday in a new crackdown on deadly fentanyl.
In five linked cases filed in three federal courts, the Justice Department named the “Chapitos” and the Sinaloa Cartel they inherited from their now-imprisoned father as the primary source of the synthetic opioid now blamed for hundreds of overdose deaths every day across the country.
They also singled out two Chinese companies for sanctions for allegedly selling chemical ingredients to the Sinaloa cartel to manufacture fentanyl.
Four Chinese individuals associated with those sales were named in one of the indictments.
“Today the Justice Department is announcing significant enforcement actions against the largest, most violent, most prolific fentanyl trafficking operation in the world,” said Attorney General Merrick Garland.
“The United States government is using every tool at its disposal to combat the fentanyl epidemic,” he said.
– The four Chapitos –
In all 28 people were named in the cases filed in New York, Chicago and Washington, including the four El Chapo sons, Ivan Guzman Salazar, Jesus Guzman Salazar, Joaquin Guzman Lopez and Ovidio Guzman Lopez.
The Justice Department said the four, especially Ovidio, the youngest, “pioneered” the flood of fentanyl into the United States since about 2014, earning millions for the northern Mexico-based operation.
The Chapitos have previously been charged in US drug cases, and the US is already seeking the extradition from Mexico of Ovidio, after his arrest there in January.
But the new cases describe a brutal cartel viciously expanding its operations and focusing on fentanyl since El Chapo was imprisoned for life in the United States in July 2019.
And they show how two Chinese chemical producers, Wuhan Shuokang Biological Technology and Suzhou Xiaoli Pharmatech, ship the ingredients for fentanyl to the cartel knowing how they will be used.
The crackdown additionally included criminal charges in several US courts over drug and gun trafficking.
In parallel the US State Department announced $10 million bounties for the capture of Jesus and Ivan Guzman, and multi-million dollar bounties for several of their henchmen.
Eight of those charged are already being held by foreign governments and the United States will seek their extradition, Garland said, adding that Washington was “working closely” with the Mexican government on the case.
In addition, the State Department placed $1 million rewards for the capture of two of the Chinese individuals involved in the fentanyl precursor chemicals trade.
Beijing “must stop the unchecked flow of fentanyl precursor chemicals that are coming out of China,” said Garland.
– Fed rivals to tigers –
The synthetic opioid is the main cause of the nearly 102,000 overdose deaths in the country in the 12 months to October 2022.
“Fentanyl is the greatest threat to Americans today,” said Anne Milgram, head of the US Drug Enforcement Administration.
“It kills more Americans between the ages of 18 to 45 than terrorism, than car accidents, than cancer, than COVID,” she said.
“And the number of children under 14 dying from it has increased at an alarming rate.”
The indictments described wanton murder and torture carried out by El Chapo’s sons and their enforcers to protect and expand their dominance of the Mexican drug trade.
They tortured rivals with electrocution and some were fed, dead and alive, to tigers kept by Ivan and Jesus Guzman, one indictment said.
Making fentanyl was not hard and it was far cheaper than heroin, but getting the does right was so difficult that “multiple” cartel “cooks” died testing their product, it said.
Sometimes to test freshly made batches, the cartel gave it to people who were tied down.
Instead of shooting one woman dead, they repeatedly tried out fentanyl on her until she overdosed.
And in another case, they injected an addict with newly made fentanyl to gage its strength.
“When an addict died testing cartel fentanyl (they) sent the batch of fentanyl to the United States anyway,” the indictment said.