Alleged Mexican Cartel Leaders, Associates Targeted in Newest Effort to Combat Drug Trafficking Organizations
JUL 20 - (WASHINGTON) – Today the Departments of Justice, State and Treasury announced coordinated actions against the Gulf Cartel/Los Zetas drug trafficking organization, now known as the “Company,” in the latest in a series of efforts by the U.S. government to neutralize and dismantle this violent cartel.
Antonio Ezequiel Cardenas-Guillen, Jorge Eduardo Costilla-Sanchez, Heriberto Lazcano-Lazcano and Miguel Trevino-Morales, high-level Mexican leaders of the Company and 15 of their top lieutenants, have been charged in U.S. federal courts with drug trafficking-related crimes. Also today, the State Department announced rewards of up to $50 million, collectively, for information leading to the capture of 10 of these defendants, including the four leaders who were also specially designated as Narcotics Kingpins today by the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC).
“These indictments allege a stunning and sophisticated operation by the Company to move illegal drugs into our communities and cash back to Mexico,” said Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer. “We have learned that the most effective way to disrupt and dismantle criminal organizations is to prosecute their leaders and seize their funding. Today’s coordinated actions by the Departments of Justice, State and Treasury will serve not only to bring these individuals to justice, but also to significantly slow the flow of cash that is so vital to cartel operations. These actions are also the result of our strong partnership with Mexican Attorney General Medina Mora, Secretary of Public Security Garcia Luna and other Mexican officials. We stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our brave Mexican colleagues in the fight against these destructive cartels.”
“Violent drug trafficking organizations represent a threat to the health and safety of people in Mexico and the U.S.,” said Acting Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Administrator Michele M. Leonhart. “These indictments and rewards prove our commitment to disrupting the cycle of drugs and associated violence that follow the cartels wherever they operate. I am especially proud of our DEA Houston and New York Divisions, whose investigations were the thrust behind the indictments of these offenders. With the help of the public, and in close coordination with the government of Mexico, they will be brought to justice.”
“Following on the heels of the President’s naming of Los Zetas as a drug kingpin organization in April, we are today targeting sanctions against four drug lords who are senior leaders in Los Zetas and the Gulf Cartel,” said OFAC Director Adam J. Szubin. “We remain committed to using all tools at our disposal to assist President Calderon in his courageous efforts against Mexico’s deadly narcotics cartels.”
Today, an indictment was unsealed in the Eastern District of New York charging Miguel Trevino-Morales with operating a continuing criminal enterprise, international cocaine distribution and firearms violations. The indictment also contains a $1 billion forfeiture allegation. If convicted on all charges, he faces life in prison. Miguel Trevino-Morales is a principal leader of Los Zetas, originally a security force used by the Gulf Cartel. The Zetas, whose origin includes former members of the Air Mobile Special Forces Group of the Mexican military, have evolved into not only a security force but a drug trafficking organization in their own right.
In addition, a three-count superseding indictment returned June 9, 2009, in the District of Columbia charges the four leaders and 15 other alleged cartel members with conspiracy to possess with intent to import cocaine and marijuana into the United States and two counts of possession with intent to import cocaine into the United States. Cardenas-Guillen, Costilla-Sanchez and Lazcano-Lazcano are Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) Consolidated Priority Organization Targets (CPOTs). Conviction on any count carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years and a maximum of life in prison.
According to the superseding indictment, the Company was led primarily by a governing council, or triumvirate, which consisted of Cardenas-Guillen, Costilla-Sanchez and Lazcano-Lazcano. The indictment alleges the Company has operated along the U.S./Mexico border, dividing the territory into areas known as “plazas” and assigning each plaza region a leader known as the “plaza boss.” The superseding indictment alleges Cardenas-Guillen, Costilla-Sanchez and Lazcano-Lazcano directed the Company’s cocaine and marijuana shipments via boats, planes and cars from Colombia and Venezuela to Guatemala, as well as to various cities and “plazas” in Mexico. From Mexico, the drugs were then shipped into cities in Texas for distribution to other cities in the United States.
The Company allegedly used sophisticated record keeping programs to track shipping, employment, payroll and payments made to law enforcement officials as well as payments received and owed. The superseding indictment alleges that the defendants discussed, among other things, supply issues, debt collection, pricing for the drugs in specific areas, bonus structures for individuals working at the “plazas,” concealment of the drugs during transportation, methods of shipment from Mexico to Texas, seizures of shipments and locations along the U.S./Mexico border where defendants allegedly believed the drugs could move more freely and control of law enforcement in certain areas.
Cardenas-Guillen, Costilla-Sanchez and Lazcano-Lazcano were previously charged with drug trafficking crimes in 2008 in two separate indictments returned in the District of Columbia cases. The other previously charged defendants, included in the superseding indictment, are Jaime Gonzales-Duran; Samuel Flores-Borrego; Mario Ramirez-Trevino; Alfredo Rangel-Buendia; FNU LNU, aka Lino; Gilberto Barragan-Balderas; Juan Reyes Mejia-Gonzales; Omar Trevino-Morales; Jesus Enrique Rejon Aguilar; Alfonso Lam-Liu; Eleazar Medina-Rojas; and Aurelio Cano-Flores. The superseding indictment also added the following defendants: Carlos Cerda-Gonzalez, Victor Hugo Lopez-Valdez and Sigifredo Najera-Talamantes.
Costilla-Sanchez is also charged, along with Osiel Cardenas-Guillen and eight others, in a 17-count superseding indictment filed in the Southern District of Texas in April 2002 with conspiracy to import and possess with intent to distribute cocaine and marijuana, conspiracy to launder drug money and threatening to assault a federal officer. A State Department reward of up to $5 million has previously been offered for information leading to the arrest of Costilla-Sanchez.
Ezequiel Cardenas-Guillen, along with 13 others, is also charged in a 10-count indictment filed in the Southern District of Texas in December 2002 with conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine, possession with intent to distribute cocaine and conspiracy to launder drug money. Ezequiel Cardenas-Guillen is alleged to have controlled a cocaine and money laundering organization in Matamoros, Mexico, with multiple cells in Houston that warehoused, transported and distributed multi-kilogram quantities of cocaine and laundered millions of dollars in drug proceeds that were smuggled into Mexico beginning in 1998.
Members of the Company on the DEA Most-Wanted List are also subjects of rewards, up to $5 million each, offered by the State Department through the Narcotics Rewards Program for information leading to these individuals’ arrest. They include:
Since the inception of the Narcotics Rewards Program in the 1980s, the Department of State has paid more than $44 million in rewards to individuals whose information helped bring to justice many major violators of U.S. drug laws who were responsible for importing hundreds of tons of illegal narcotics into the United States each year. In addition, the Mexican Attorney General’s Office previously announced rewards of up to $2.4 million (30,000,000 pesos), per individual, for information leading to the capture of Costilla-Sanchez, Cardenas-Guillen, Lazcano-Lazcano and Miguel Trevino-Morales.
In support of the coordinated U.S. government effort against this organization, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s OFAC today designated Costilla-Sanchez, Cardenas-Guillen, Lazcano-Lazcano and Miguel Trevino-Morales as Specially Designated Narcotics Traffickers through the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act (Kingpin Act). Today’s designation action freezes any assets the individuals may have under U.S. jurisdiction and prohibits U.S. persons from conducting transactions or dealings in the property interests of the designated individuals and entities. Penalties for violations of the Kingpin Act range from civil penalties of up to $1,075,000 per violation to more severe criminal penalties. Criminal penalties for corporate officers may include up to 30 years in prison and fines up to $5 million. Criminal fines for corporations may reach $10 million. Other individuals face up to 10 years in prison and fines for criminal violations of the Kingpin Act. On April 15, 2009, the President designated Los Zetas as a Specially Designated Narcotics Trafficker Kingpin organization.
During the coordinated investigation that led to the superseding indictment in the District of Columbia being returned, foreign law enforcement seized substantial amounts of drugs belonging to this organization. Among the shipments intercepted was a 2,400 kilogram cocaine shipment intercepted and seized in Panama on Nov. 30, 2007. On Oct. 5, 2007, Mexican authorities seized an 11.7 ton load of cocaine, which was (at the time) the largest cocaine seizure in Mexican history. On Oct. 16, 2008, Mexican law enforcement agents seized more than 9,000 kilograms of marijuana belonging to the Company in Guadalupe, Mexico.
In September 2008, the Department announced the arrests of more than 175 alleged Gulf Cartel members and associates in Project Reckoning, a multi-agency international law enforcement effort that targeted key leadership elements of this organization. That effort is continuing through the coordinated multi-agency initiatives and developments announced today. To date, Project Reckoning has resulted in more than 620 arrests and the seizure of more than $84 million in U.S. currency, multiple tons of illegal drugs and 934 weapons.
The case is being investigated by the DEA Houston Office in coordination with the Special Operations Division, comprised of agents, analysts and attorneys from NDDS, DEA, FBI, ICE, ATF, U.S. Marshals Service and Internal Revenue Service.
For more information on the Most-Wanted list, please visit: www.dea.gov. For more information about the Narcotics Reward Program, please visit: www.state.gov. For more information on Kingpin Act designations, please visit: http://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/sanctions/Programs/Pages/narco.aspx.
The DEA Houston Field Division has created an interagency Task Force, as part of the Houston Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Strike Force, whose primary responsibility is coordinating and focusing interagency efforts in a multifaceted attack on the cartel. The Task Force has established an e-mail address, GULFTF@USDOJ.GOV, and toll-free phone line, 877-800-1323, for the reporting of information concerning the Company.