4 ‘El Chapo’ sons indicted in Chicago, accused of ruthless takeover of Sinaloa Cartel

The charges against the four men known as the “Chapitos,” are part of a Justice Department campaign against what Attorney General Merrick Garland called “the largest, most violent and most prolific fentanyl trafficking operation in the world.” They even fed people to tigers, authorities say.

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Jesus Alfredo Guzman-Salazar, one of the “Chapitos”

Drug Enforcement Administration

Four sons of drug kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman Loera are charged in a federal indictment unsealed Friday in Chicago accusing them of taking control of their father’s empire after his arrest and strengthening their grip over the cartel through brutal violence.

The charges against the four men known as the “Chapitos” are part of a wider Justice Department campaign against what Attorney General Merrick Garland called “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.”

In recent years, fentanyl-related deaths in Chicago and elsewhere in the country have risen to alarming levels, prompting the Drug Enforcement Administration and other federal and local law enforcement agents to boost their efforts to cut off the supply in Mexico.

Fentanyl — 50 times more potent than heroin — is the leading cause of death for Americans 18 to 49, authorities say.

Charged in Chicago are Ivan Archivaldo Guzman Salazar, Jesus Alfredo Guzman Salazar, Joaquin Guzman Lopez and Ovidio Guzman Lopez. They were accused Friday by Justice Department officials of torturing their enemies by electrocuting them, waterboarding them and feeding them alive to tigers that authorities said Ivan Arhcivaldo Guzman Salazar and Jesus Guzman Salazar kept on their ranches as pets.

Weapons seized from the Sinaloa Cartel in Mexico.

Weapons seized from the Sinaloa Cartel in Mexico.

U.S. District Court in New York.

The Chicago indictment ties the men to at least four killings. Anne Milgram, the DEA’s administrator, said the men took their father’s cartel and made it “more ruthless, more violent, more deadly. And they used it to spread a new poison: fentanyl.”

The Chicago indictment says the brothers were involved in the Battle of Culiacan in the Sinaloa Cartel’s stronghold in Mexico, where, on Oct. 17, 2019, about 700 armed cartel members attacked government and military targets, thwarting the capture of Ovidio Guzman Lopez. At least 13 people died.

Guzman Lopez was captured on Jan. 6 in Culiacan and is being detained in Mexico pending extradition. Another 19 people died in connection with that arrest.

Federal authorities are offering rewards of up to $10 million for information leading to the arrests and convictions of the “Chapitos,” whose father is serving a life sentence in Colorado after his 2019 conviction in federal court in Brooklyn.

Acting U.S. Attorney Morris Pasqual joined Garland for the announcement in Washington, D.C. He said the indictments “provide a substantial step in bringing this younger generation of Sinaloa Cartel leaders to justice for more than a decade of harm caused by their enterprise.

“The damage that these dangerous drugs have caused in Chicago’s neighborhoods is truly immeasurable,” Pasqual said.

The indictment says the “Chapitos” shipped drugs from countries in Central America and South America to Mexico using aircraft, submarines, boats and other carriers, then smuggled them in to the United States using vehicles, rail cars and tunnels.

The Chicago case says they sold and distributed cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine and marijuana throughout the Chicago area. Several New York indictments unsealed Friday said the brothers are also fentanyl traffickers.

The Sinaloa Cartel first began making fentanyl at a modest home in Culiacan in 2014. Since then, the number of its processing labs has exploded, including some that are underground, authorities say.

Profits from fentanyl sales have been astronomical, according to federal authorities. For $800, the cartel can buy a kilogram of chemicals to make 415,000 pills, which then get sold wholesale in the United States for as little as 50 cents a pill.

The “Chapitos” have been responsible for shipping thousands of kilograms of drugs at a time to the United States, authorities say.

The indictment says they shipped 20 kilograms of heroin to Chicago on Nov. 13, 2008, but doesn’t provide details.

That same day, though, authorities seized 20 kilograms of heroin in Northlake. Margarito Flores and Pedro Flores, Chicago twin brothers who were among El Chapo’s biggest customers, were cooperating with federal authorities. They tipped off authorities about the shipment, sources say.

Two days later, on Nov. 15, 2008, Pedro Flores and El Chapo spoke on the phone and discussed the price of a drug shipment. The recorded call was a central piece of evidence in the arrest and conviction of El Chapo.

The Chicago indictment also accuses the “Chapitos” of murder, kidnapping and assault against law enforcement, rivals and members of their own cartel. In 2017, for instance, they kidnapped two Mexican federal police officers, fatally shooting one and torturing the other before killing that officer, too. The torture involved ripping the officer’s muscles from his arm and stuffing chili peppers into the wounds and his nose, authorities say.

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