Justice News

Attorney General Eric Holder at the Press Conference to Announce Mexican Cartel Indictments
Washington, DC
United States
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Thursday, August 20, 2009

Remarks as prepared for delivery.

Good morning. Joining me today are U.S. Attorney Pat Fitzgerald from the Northern District of Illinois, U.S. Attorney Ben Campbell from the Eastern District of New York, Acting Administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration Michele Leonhart, and Assistant Homeland Security Secretary for Immigration and Customs Enforcement John Morton.

Today, we are announcing, in a coordinated action, major drug-trafficking charges against 43 individuals, including cartel leaders, members and associates in two federal districts. Specifically, we allege that these defendants shipped multi-ton quantities of narcotics into the United States through various established smuggling corridors, and then, through a network of affiliated distributors, dispersed these drugs into cities and neighborhoods across the country.

The defendants whose indictments we announce today include alleged leaders of the Sinaloa and Beltran-Leyva cartels, such as:

  • Joaquin Guzman-Loera – also known as "Chapo";
  • Ismael Zambada-Garcia – also known as "el Mayo"; and
  • Arturo Beltran-Leyva.

The indictments unsealed today outline nearly two decades of criminal activity by these cartels and their leaders here in the United States, as well as in Mexico and other countries.

These cartels are not abstract organizations operating in far-off places. They are multi-billion dollar networks funneling drugs onto our streets. What invariably follows these drugs is more crime and more violence in our communities. The audacity of the cartels’ operations is matched only by their sophistication and their reach.

But today, because of the dedicated work of our DEA and ICE agents, the diligence of our prosecutors in Chicago and Brooklyn, and the support of our courageous law enforcement partners in Mexico, we are able to charge leaders and members of these insidious cartels for their heinous crimes here in the United States. Our friends and partners in Mexico are waging an historic and heroic battle with the cartels as we speak. This is not a fight that we in the United States can afford to watch from the sidelines. The stakes are too high and the consequences too real for us. We will continue to investigate, charge, and arrest the cartel leaders and their subordinates, and we will continue systematically to dismantle and disrupt their far-reaching and dangerous operations.

I will let the two U.S. Attorneys with us today describe the charges in more detail, but suffice it to say that the criminal conduct alleged in these indictments did not take place solely in Mexico. Rather, it played out right here in our own backyards. For example, in Chicago we have arrested and charged individuals who allegedly worked directly with Mexican cartels to receive thousand kilo shipments of drugs, and then dispersed those drugs into the Chicago community and throughout the country.

We have learned from previous successful experiences in fighting organized crime that we must not only go after the leaders of these cartels, but also seize the money that funds their operations. That is why in these indictments, we are seeking forfeiture of more than $5.8 billion in illegal drug proceeds. If we can suffocate their funding sources, we can cripple their operations.

Breaking up the Mexican drug cartels and stemming the flow of drugs and illegal firearms across the Southwest border is a top priority for this Justice Department. And we have made important strides in this fight:

  • Earlier this year, an extensive investigation of the Sinaloa Cartel known as Project Xcellerator led to the arrest of more than 750 people in the United States and Mexico and the seizure of more than $59 million in illegal drug proceeds.
  • We have rolled out the President’s National Southwest Border Counternarcotics Strategy to stem the flow of illegal drugs and their illicit proceeds across the border.
  • We have directed much-needed resources to break up the cartels and to support border-related initiatives. Just last month, for example, I announced $8.7 million in Recovery Act funds for California communities to use in fighting crime and drug trafficking as part of our Southwest Border Strategy.
  • We have formed an arms trafficking working group, led by the Criminal Division, to tackle the critically important problem of weapons flowing across the border into Mexico.
  • We have formalized agreements with our partners at the Department of Homeland Security and with the government of Mexico to increase cooperation as we carry out our fight on several fronts.
  • And we have brought charges against high-level Mexican leaders of the Gulf Cartel, now known as the "Company," and 15 of their top lieutenants for drug trafficking-related crimes.

All of these efforts have been in addition to the numerous investigations, prosecutions, arrests, and interdictions that our prosecutors and agents carry out across the country every day.

Today’s charges demonstrate that we will not stop until these violent criminal enterprises have been eliminated. And we will continue to stand with our partners in Mexico as we carry on this vital fight. On that note, I would like to acknowledge President Calderon and his administration for all that they continue to do in leading Mexico’s fight against violent narco-traffickers. I would also like to thank the brave professional agents and prosecutors here in the United States who have made the indictments announced today possible. Their hard work, courage, and sacrifice make all the difference in our ongoing fight. They have shown in the past that we can defeat international narco-traffickers; I am confident that, with their help, we will do so again.

With that, I will turn it over to Pat Fitzgerald, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois.