Suspected Cartel Leaders Among 43 People Facing Drug Charges in U.S. and Mexico

U.S. Attorneys Patrick J. Fitzgerald, left, and Benton J. Campbell, center, join Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. in announcing the trafficking charges.
U.S. Attorneys Patrick J. Fitzgerald, left, and Benton J. Campbell, center, join Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. in announcing the trafficking charges. (By Susan Walsh -- Associated Press)

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By Carrie Johnson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 21, 2009

Law enforcement officials announced criminal drug-trafficking charges Thursday against 43 people in the United States and Mexico, including suspected leaders of prominent cartels in a country that has been plagued with gun violence.

Federal agencies including the Justice Department, the Drug Enforcement Administration, and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced the cases, filed in New York and Chicago. Eight defendants were arrested in the past week, and several current and former suspected kingpins in the organized-crime syndicate known as the Sinaloa cartel remained at large, authorities said.

The action marks the latest attempt by U.S. and Mexican law enforcement authorities to stem the flow of drugs, weapons and cash across the southwestern U.S. border.

The indictments "demonstrate our unwavering commitment to root out the leaders of these criminal enterprises wherever they may be found," said U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.

Between 1990 and 2008, the indictments say, the suspected drug lords and their allies imported and distributed on American soil nearly 200 tons of cocaine and vast stores of heroin that fetched more than $5.8 billion.

Chicago U.S. Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald, who appeared in Washington alongside Benton J. Campbell, his counterpart from Brooklyn, said the court filings "are among the most significant drug conspiracy charges ever returned" in his city.

Fitzgerald said that the suspects had used "practically every means of transportation imaginable" to import cocaine and heroin into American neighborhoods, including Boeing 747 cargo planes, submarines, container ships, fishing vessels, buses, trains and tractor-trailers.

U.S. agencies are "working closer than ever before" to develop a united strategy to break down criminal drug operations, said John Morton, the Department of Homeland Security's assistant secretary for ICE.

Among those charged in indictments unsealed Thursday are Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman-Loera, Ismael "El Mayo" Zambada-Garcia and Arturo Beltran-Leyva, who is suspected of helping to run the Sinaloa cartel in Mexico. El Chapo long has been one of the world's most wanted suspects. He appeared this year on the Forbes magazine list of the world's richest people, ranking 701, with an estimated $1 billion fortune.

El Chapo has been indicted in the United States before but has repeatedly eluded capture.

Also among the 43 defendants are seven other cartel leaders who face criminal charges, which could send them to prison for life. Most have ties to Sinaloa, also known as "the Federation," but a minority are connected to the Juarez cartel and other groups, the Justice Department said Thursday.


© 2009 The Washington Post Company

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