Four sons of Joaquín Guzmán Loera, the imprisoned former Sinaloa Cartel leader known as El Chapo, were indicted by a federal grand jury for large-scale drug trafficking, money laundering and violent crimes in connection with their assumption of cartel leadership following their father’s arrest and extradition to the United States.
The defendants, known collectively as the “Chapitos,” are Ivan Guzman Salazar, Alfredo Guzman Salazar, Joaquin Guzman Lopez, and Ovidio Guzman Lopez. Three brothers remain at large; Ovidio Guzman Lopez was arrested Jan. 5, 2023, by Mexican authorities in Culiacan, Sinaloa, Mexico. He remains detained in Mexico pending extradition proceedings.
The charges, unsealed today, were announced by Attorney General Merrick Garland, U.S. Attorney Randy Grossman and others at a news conference this morning at the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington, D.C. The charges stem from a decades-long, multi-district investigation by the Southern District of California, the Department of Justice Criminal Division’s Narcotic and Dangerous Drug Section, the Northern District of Illinois, and their law enforcement partners. A related indictment charging three of the brothers was also unsealed by the Southern District of New York.
According to the indictment, filed in the Northern District of Illinois, the defendants are charged under the “Continuing Criminal Enterprise Statute,” which targets large-scale drug traffickers who are responsible for long-term and complex drug conspiracies. They are also charged with additional drug trafficking, money laundering, firearms and violent crimes.
The indictment offers the most comprehensive look yet at the operations of the Sinaloa Cartel dating back 15 years. The indictment describes the cartel’s alleged drug transportation and distribution networks; its financial infrastructure that has laundered hundreds of millions of dollars in illicit proceeds; and the extensive use of violence to maintain power, including an internal power struggle
The Chapitos are alleged to have repeatedly and consistently obtained and transported multi-ton quantities of cocaine from and through Central and South America, including Colombia, Ecuador, Venezuela, Peru, Panama, Costa Rica, Honduras, and Guatemala, into Mexico, stored that cocaine throughout Mexico, and transported it across the U.S.-Mexico border for further distribution throughout the United States. The Chapitos and members of the Sinaloa Cartel also allegedly obtained, manufactured, and transported other drugs, including marijuana, heroin, and methamphetamine, knowing and intending that such drugs would be imported into and distributed throughout the United States. The Chapitos also allegedly obtained precursor chemicals for the manufacture of synthetic drugs and operated laboratories to manufacture methamphetamine.
The indictment said the defendants and other members and associates of the Sinaloa Cartel used, and caused to be used, various means to evade and escape law enforcement and military personnel and to protect their drug distribution activities, including on October 17, 2019, at what is known as the “Battle of Culiacán,” when the Mexican National Guard captured and then released Ovidio Guzmán López during a gunfight in Sinaloa state.
The indictment said the defendants obtained guns and other weapons; bribed corrupt public officials; and incited, threatened and engaged in violence, including murder, kidnapping, assault, and battery against law enforcement, rival drug traffickers, and members of their own drug trafficking organization.
The Chapitos allegedly used cargo aircraft, private aircraft, submarines and other submersible and semi-submersible vessels, container ships, supply vessels, go-fast boats, fishing vessels, buses, rail cars, tractor trailers, automobiles, and private and commercial interstate and foreign carriers to transport their drugs and precursor chemicals. They allegedly maintained a network of couriers, tunnels, and stash houses throughout Mexico and the United States to further their drug-trafficking activities. The Chapitos allegedly used these networks to import the drugs into the United States.
“The indictment alleges that for years, Joaquín Guzmán Loera’s (El Chapo) sons have destroyed lives and communities through drug trafficking and violence: their time is up,” said DEA Special Agent in Charge Shelly Howe. “These indictments were made possible by our cooperation with local, state, and federal partners. These partnerships demonstrate our collective commitment to tracking down, apprehending, and dismantling one of the strongest drug trafficking cartels from the top down.”
“Today, the Justice Department is announcing significant enforcement actions against the largest, most violent, and most prolific fentanyl trafficking operation in the world – run by the Sinaloa Cartel, and fueled by Chinese precursor chemical and pharmaceutical companies,” said Attorney General Merrick B. Garland. “Families and communities across our country are being devastated by the fentanyl epidemic. Today’s actions demonstrate the comprehensive approach the Justice Department is taking to disrupt fentanyl trafficking and save American lives.”
“Today, we deliver the most crushing blow to the Sinaloa Cartel since the conviction of Chapo Guzman,” said U.S. Attorney Randy Grossman. “We have charged Chapo’s four sons with leading a criminal enterprise built on trafficking tons of deadly drugs into our nation, money laundering, and murder. This case and others we have brought out of the Southern District of California demonstrate our unwavering resolve to dismantle the Sinaloa Cartel by attacking it at every level.”
“These indictments have been a long time in the making and we wouldn’t be here without the collaboration of our local, state, federal, and international partners,” said Special Agent in Charge Stacey Moy of the FBI’s San Diego Field Office. “While there will always be more work to be done, these indictments will continue the dismantlement of an extremely vicious criminal enterprise that has been a primary driver of violence in our communities. We will continue to leverage our law enforcement partnerships to keep pressure on transnational criminal organizations like Los Chapitos.”
“Dismantling this notorious criminal organization flooding the U.S. with deadly narcotics and brutal criminal activity takes the collaboration of a multitude of law enforcement agencies and we are seeing the results of our collective efforts in today’s indictment,” said Special Agent in Charge Chad A. Plantz, HSI’s San Diego Field Office. “HSI proudly stands with our local, state and federal partners as we disrupt and dismantle criminal organizations such as the Sinaloa Cartel to end the violence they fuel across the country.
“The indictment alleges that the Chapitos moved drugs and money on a grand scale, and secured and maintained power with intimidation and violence,” said IRS-CI Chief Jim Lee. “Today, we say, no more. For the special agents of IRS Criminal Investigation, the work of investigating dangerous criminals never stops. This indictment shows our commitment to aggressively go after those committing financial crimes who are profiting from their illegal activities no matter who they are or where they commit the crime.”
Once led by the Chapitos’ father, Joaquin Guzman Loera, aka El Chapo, and Ismael Zambada Garcia, aka El Mayo, the Sinaloa Cartel’s members and associates – allegedly including the Chapitos – smuggled significant quantities of drugs through Mexico and into the United States.
Following Guzman Loera’s arrest in January 2016 and extradition to the United States in January 2017, the Chapitos allegedly assumed their father’s former role as leaders of the Sinaloa Cartel, along with Zambada Garcia and Damaso Lopez Nunez, aka Licenciado. The Chapitos subsequently amassed greater control over the Sinaloa Cartel by allegedly threatening and causing violence against Damaso Lopez Nunez, his family, and his associates and, as a result, became principal leaders and drug traffickers within the Sinaloa Cartel.
The U.S. Department of State, through its Narcotics Rewards Program, is offering rewards of up to $10 million for information leading to the arrest and/or conviction of Ivan Guzman Salazar, Alfredo Guzman Salazar, and Ovidio Guzman Lopez and up to $5 million for information leading to the arrest and/or conviction of Joaquin Guzman Lopez.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew J. Sutton for the Southern District of California and Acting Deputy Chief Katharine Wagner and Trial Attorney Kirk Handrich of the Criminal Division’s Narcotic and Dangerous Drug Section, and Assistant U.S. Attorneys Andrew Erskine and Erika Csicsila for the Northern District of Illinois, are prosecuting the case.
The FBI San Diego Field Office and Washington Field Office, Homeland Security Investigations San Diego and Nogales Office, DEA’s San Diego Division and Chicago Division, and IRS Criminal Investigation are investigating the case.
This prosecution is also part of an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces (OCDETF) investigation. OCDETF identifies, disrupts, and dismantles the highest-level drug traffickers, money launderers, gangs, and transnational criminal organizations that threaten the United States by using a prosecutor-led, intelligence-driven, multi-agency approach that leverages the strengths of federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies against criminal networks.