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Attorney General Merrick B. Garland Delivers Remarks on Charges Against Sinaloa Cartel’s Global Operation


Washington, DC
United States

Remarks as Delivered

Good morning. I am joined today by Deputy Attorney General Monaco, DEA Administrator Milgram, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Williams, Acting U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois Pasqual, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of California Grossman, FBI Associate Deputy Director Turner, and ICE Acting Deputy Director Lechleitner.

Today, the Justice Department is announcing significant enforcement actions against the largest, most violent, and most prolific fentanyl trafficking operation in the world. That operation is run by the Sinaloa Cartel and fueled by Chinese precursor chemical and pharmaceutical companies.

The Justice Department is attacking every aspect of the cartel’s operations.

We have charged:

Suppliers in China who sell fentanyl precursors to the Cartel;

A Guatemalan-based broker who purchases the precursor chemicals on behalf of the Cartel;

Operators of the clandestine labs in Mexico where the Cartel manufactures fentanyl;

A weapons supplier who arms the Cartel with firearms smuggled into Mexico from the United States;

Leaders of the Cartel’s security forces who terrorize communities;

Money launderers who enable the Cartel to fund its operations;

And the Cartel’s leaders, known as the Chapitos  who are sons of the now-imprisoned former head of the Cartel, known as El Chapo.  

Eight of those defendants are now in the custody of our international partners.  We will be seeking their extradition to the United States to face charges in federal court.  And we will be working closely with our partners in the Government of Mexico to seek the extradition of other defendants.

The United States government is using every tool at its disposal to combat the fentanyl epidemic. The PRC government must stop the unchecked flow of fentanyl precursor chemicals that are coming out of China.

Earlier this morning, the Treasury Department announced sanctions against two Chinese companies and five related individuals for their roles in the sale of fentanyl precursor chemicals from China to the Sinaloa Cartel. Four of those individuals are defendants in this case.

Before we provide further details on these actions against the Sinaloa Cartel, I want to explain why we took them.

Families and communities across our country are being devastated by the fentanyl epidemic. 

From August 2021 to August 2022, 107,735 people died of drug overdoses in the United States. Two-thirds of those deaths involved synthetic opioids – primarily fentanyl. 

Between 2019 and 2021, fatal overdoses in America increased by about 94%, with an estimated 196 Americans dying every day from fentanyl poisoning.

These statistics are horrifying. But they do not begin to capture the reality of the loss that so many families carry with them every day because of the fentanyl epidemic.

Many of us have heard the stories of those who have lost loved ones to fentanyl poisoning. In the face of unimaginable pain, those families have shown extraordinary bravery in sharing their stories. We are grateful to them.

We know that nothing can repair the harm they’ve suffered or bring back the loved ones they have lost.

But all of us at the Justice Department are committed to honoring their loved ones’ memories.

And we are doing everything in our power, and using every authority we have, to bring those responsible to justice.

As outlined in an indictment unsealed today in the Southern District of New York, the Sinaloa Cartel is largely responsible for the surge of fentanyl into the United States over the last eight years.

That surge is the result of a complex and comprehensive fentanyl manufacturing and trafficking network orchestrated by the Cartel and depicted on the screens above.

First, a Cartel associate brokers the sale and shipment of fentanyl precursor chemicals, principally from China, to clandestine labs in Mexico where the fentanyl is manufactured. Those labs are guarded by Cartel security forces, who brutalize and terrorize Mexican communities.

From the labs, Cartel traffickers move fentanyl from Mexico into the United States where it is sold wholesale to other criminal organizations.

Before re-sale, those criminal organizations often mix fentanyl powder into other drugs, such as cocaine and heroin. They also often sell fentanyl pills as counterfeit prescription pain medications. As a result, many Americans are unaware that they are purchasing and being poisoned by fentanyl.

Finally, money launderers working with the Cartel ensure that the profits from these deadly sales get back to the Cartel.

The charges unsealed today demonstrate the comprehensive approach the Justice Department is taking to disrupting the entire fentanyl trafficking ecosystem.

The 23 defendants we have charged in this indictment represent each stage of the movement, manufacturing, and sale of deadly fentanyl, from start to finish.

As alleged in the indictment, two of the defendants, Ivan Archivaldo Guzman Salazar and Jesus Alfredo Guzman Salazar, are leaders in the Cartel – alongside Ovidio Guzman Lopez, a defendant who we charged in a separate indictment, also unsealed today, for his role in manufacturing and trafficking activities for the Cartel.

The indictments describe in detail how the Sinaloa Cartel operates – without respect for human rights, for human life, or the rule of law.

For example, two of the defendants tested the potency of the Cartel’s fentanyl on individuals who were tied down. In another instance, those defendants experimented on a woman they had been ordered to shoot. Instead, they injected her repeatedly with fentanyl until she overdosed and died.

And after an addict died testing a batch of the Cartel’s fentanyl, one of the defendants sent the batch to the United States anyway.

As described in the indictment, the Chapitos’ security forces attack law enforcement, intimidate civilians, destroy unsupportive businesses, and capture contested territory.  They often torture and kill their victims.

They have fed some of their victims, dead and alive, to tigers belonging to the Chapitos.

In another example, we allege that four defendants were responsible for capturing, torturing, and killing Mexican law enforcement officers. One of the officers was tortured for two hours before he was shot by Ivan Archivaldo Guzman Salazar.

U.S. Attorney Williams, Acting U.S. Attorney Pasqual, and U.S. Attorney Grossman will explain in further detail other court filings unsealed today in the Southern District of New York and the Northern District of Illinois related to the Sinaloa Cartel. A separate indictment charging one of the leaders the of Cartel’s security forces is also being unsealed in the District of Columbia.

The cases we are announcing today exemplify the comprehensive approach the Justice Department is taking to disrupt and hold accountable those who bear significant responsibility for the fentanyl epidemic. And all of the agencies represented here today exemplify the whole-of-government commitment the United States is making to that effort.

The entire Justice Department – from the DEA, to the FBI, to our litigating divisions, and across all 94 of our U.S. Attorneys’ Offices – is working to keep fentanyl out of our communities and hold accountable the cartels, and their members and associates, who put it there.

In 2022, the DEA – together with our federal, state, and local law enforcement partners – seized more than 50.6 million fentanyl-laced, fake prescription pills. That is more than double the amount seized in 2021. The DEA has also seized more than 10,000 pounds of fentanyl powder. Together, these seizures represent more than 379 million potentially deadly doses of fentanyl. That much fentanyl could kill every single American.

We are also putting our resources to work to combat the public health challenges of addiction and substance abuse by supporting prevention and treatment programs.

The cases we are announcing today represent an enormous amount of work from across the Department.

I particularly want to recognize the DEA and FBI agents who do difficult and dangerous work every day, alongside our local partners, to disrupt drug trafficking.

And I want to recognize the Department’s Criminal Division, including its Office of International Affairs and its Narcotics and Dangerous Drug Section, as well as the U.S. Attorney’s Offices for the Southern District of New York, the Northern District of Illinois, and the Southern District of California for their extraordinary effort on these cases.

We are also grateful for the support of our colleagues at the Department of State, Department of the Treasury, and Department of Homeland Security.

And I want to express our gratitude to the many Mexican servicemembers and law enforcement officers who have bravely put their lives on the line to combat the cartels in their country. I want to again express my condolences to the families of the many servicemembers and officers who have lost their lives in that effort.

Just yesterday, we met with our law enforcement and security counterparts in the Mexican government here at the Department of Justice.  Together, we renewed our commitment to working closely in the fight against fentanyl and firearms trafficking.

Finally, the Justice Department will never forget the victims of the fentanyl epidemic. We will never forget those who bear responsibility for this tragedy. And we will never stop working to hold them accountable for their crimes in the United States.

I will now turn the podium over to Deputy Attorney General Monaco.

Drug Trafficking
Updated April 14, 2023