The federal government today announced a coordinated crackdown against the Gulf Cartel/Los Zetas drug trafficking organization, now known as the "Company," - 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 defendants including the four leaders who were also specially designated as narcotics kingpins today by the Treasury Department.
"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.
The big question is, however, will any of the individuals named in the various indictments ever be brought to trial. Several have been wanted by the U.S. government for seven years now.
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 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. 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.
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.