The charges, in five related cases, offered a panoramic view of how the deadly drug was created, transported and ultimately sold by the Sinaloa cartel on American streets.
By guest authors Benjamin Weiser and Alan Feuer from the New York Times.
Benjamin Weiser is a reporter covering the Manhattan federal courts. He has long covered criminal justice, both as a beat and investigative reporter. Before joining The Times in 1997, he worked at The Washington Post.
Alan Feuer covers extremism and political violence. He joined The Times in 1999.
Glenn Thrush contributed reporting.
April 14, 2023
Federal officials announced a flurry of charges on Friday against the four sons of the notorious Mexican drug lord known as El Chapo, saying the men were leading their imprisoned father’s empire and were responsible for moving vast quantities of fentanyl into and throughout the United States.
Attorney General Merrick B. Garland said at a news conference in Washington that in addition to the four sons — collectively known as Los Chapitos — federal indictments in Manhattan, Chicago and Washington had charged more than two dozen other people in what he described as a global fentanyl manufacturing and distribution operation run by the Sinaloa drug cartel. El Chapo, whose real name is Joaquín Guzmán Loera, led the organization for years and after his conviction in Brooklyn in 2019 is serving life in prison in the United States.
Mr. Garland said the defendants named in the five separate indictments included suppliers in China who sold so-called precursor chemicals used in manufacturing fentanyl; a broker based in Guatemala who bought the chemicals on behalf of the Chapitos; operators of clandestine fentanyl labs in Mexico; and a weapons supplier who provided the cartel with weapons smuggled into Mexico from the United States.
The indictments, taken together, provided a panoramic view of how fentanyl was created, transported and ultimately sold on the street in cities from New York to Nashville to Los Angeles. The charges noted that the fentanyl business earned the cartel millions of dollars while causing as many as 200 deaths in the United States each day.
“The Justice Department is attacking every aspect of the cartel’s operations,” Mr. Garland said.
The charges also gave a flavor of the violence and terror that has ravaged Mexico for years and supported the Sinaloa cartel’s fentanyl business. The indictments said that assassins working for Mr. Guzmán’s sons murdered law enforcement officers, tortured rivals with electrocution, stuffed chiles into the wounds of some of their victims and even fed others — both dead and alive — to their pet tigers.
Anne Milgram, the head of the Drug Enforcement Administration, said at the news conference that the sons had inherited their father’s “global drug trafficking empire” and transformed it by pioneering a novel product.
“They made it more ruthless, more violent, more deadly — and they used it to spread a new poison, fentanyl,” Ms. Milgram said.
A lawyer for the four sons declined to comment on the new charges.
The new indictments came at a moment of a high tension between U.S. and Mexican officials over their deteriorating law-enforcement relationship — and in particular, the issue of who was to blame for the scourge of fentanyl.
Ms. Milgram lashed out in February at the Mexican government, complaining that officials there had offered no assistance to U.S. agents working on cases involving fentanyl from Mexico. Within weeks, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador of Mexico shot back with baseless claims that his country had nothing to do with the drug.
“Here, we do not produce fentanyl,” he said.
At his news conference, Mr. Garland said directly, “The Sinaloa cartel is largely responsible for the surge of fentanyl into the United States over the last eight years.”
He credited the Mexican government for its cooperation in the U.S. effort, saying that Justice Department officials had met in Washington on Thursday with Mexico’s secretaries of defense and interior security, its attorney general and its foreign minister.
The indictments unsealed on Friday were not the first charges brought against Mr. Guzmán’s sons. Like their father, who was charged in seven cases in seven cities before his eventual conviction in Federal District Court in Brooklyn, they are now facing multiple indictments in several jurisdictions.
One of the sons, Ovidio Guzmán López, was facing charges with his brother Joaquín Guzmán López, unsealed in Federal District Court in Washington in 2019, days after their father was found guilty. Long known as the least accomplished of Mr. Guzmán’s children, Ovidio Guzmán López was arrested by the Mexican authorities in January in Culiacán, a northwestern city that has served for decades as the home base of the Sinaloa cartel.
Two of Mr. Guzmán’s other sons by a different wife — Iván Archivaldo Guzmán Salazar and Jesús Alfredo Guzmán Salazar — were named on Friday in two separate indictments in Chicago and Manhattan. The Chicago case also included Joaquín Guzmán López as a defendant.
Iván was already facing charges filed in 2014 in San Diego, and Jesús Alfredo had been charged in 2015 in Chicago. Both remain at large in Mexico, as does Joaquín.
The sons took control of a faction of their father’s fractured empire after his extradition to the United States in 2017, on the day before Donald J. Trump took office. Often derided in the Mexican news media as playboys and unworthy successors to the family patriarch, they nonetheless created a thriving trade in fentanyl, U.S. law enforcement officials say, while navigating the treacherous relations with other top cartel figures, including Mr. Guzmán’s brother, Aurelio, and his longtime business partner, Ismael Zambada García.
The trial of Mr. Guzmán, which sprawled over three months, laid bare the depravity at the heart of the Sinaloa cartel as witnesses described how its assassins seared people with irons and burned them alive in bonfires.
The new indictments painted Mr. Guzmán’s sons in a similar light.
They accused Iván of telling his associates that the cartel wanted to “flood the United States with fentanyl in order to supply ‘streets of junkies’” and noted that the cartel sometimes tested its product on bound captives.
The indictments also said that assassins loyal to the sons had gone to great lengths to prevent their arrests, “including drawing the Mexican military into gunfights, killing soldiers, and burning vehicles to create roadblocks.”
“We take aim at the Sinaloa cartel and the global network of death that feeds it,” Damian Williams, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, said at the news conference on Friday.
A version of this article appears in print on April 15, 2023, Section A, Page 8 of the New York edition with the headline: Sweeping New Charges Brought Against El Chapo’s Sons in Fentanyl Indictments.