Biden admin. targets Mexican drug cartel with sanctions, indictment

The Justice Department under Attorney General Merrick Garland on Thursday announced indictments charging two leaders of the infamous La Nueva Familia Michoacana Mexican drug cartel. File Photo by Ken Cedeno/UPI
The Justice Department under Attorney General Merrick Garland on Thursday announced indictments charging two leaders of the infamous La Nueva Familia Michoacana Mexican drug cartel. File Photo by Ken Cedeno/UPI | License Photo

June 20 (UPI) -- A Mexican drug cartel smuggling fentanyl and its precursor chemicals as well as migrants into the United States was hit with indictments and sanctions on Thursday, as the Biden administration targets supply chains of the narcotic fueling the nation's opioid epidemic.

Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid between 50 and 100 times stronger than morphine, and its analogues contribute to nearly 70% of overdose deaths in the United States, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Biden administration has launched a whole-of-government effort to dismantle channels cartels use to get it and its precursor chemicals stateside.


La Nueva Familia Michoacana, one of Mexico's most notorious drug cartels, is involved in not only smuggling fentanyl into the United States but also cocaine and methamphetamine.

U.S. Officials said the cartel produces fentanyl throughout Mexico and sends it through Nuevo Laredo and Tamaulipas/Reynosa into southern Texas via buses.


It has also been accused forcing migrants to carry the drugs over the border under threat of their families lives.

On Thursday, the Treasury sanctioned eight of its leaders and the Justice Department announced indictments against two of them.

"These actions demonstrate that in addition to holding cartel leaders accountable for their crimes, we are working together with our partners at the Treasury Department to hit the cartels' criminal operations where it hurts the most -- their profits," Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement.

"We will continue to mobilize a whole-of-government effort to disrupt the cartels profiting from the drug trafficking and human smuggling that devastate communities and endanger our national security."

Rodolfo Maldonado Bustos, 59, is described by the Treasury as a "powerful and trusted member" of the cartel who is next in-line to Johnny Hurtado Olascoaga and Jose Alfredo Hurtado Olascoaga, its leaders who were previously designated by the U.S. government in 2022.

He along with Euclides Camacho-Goicochea, 51, have been charged in a federal indictment announced Thursday with heroin conspiracy offenses.

The charges stem from an investigation launched by the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Internal Review Service in 2016, with the grand jury returning the indictments the next year, but they were only unsealed recently.


According to the court documents, Maldonado-Bustos, who also goes by the name Don Jose, was involved in the production of heroin, from directing the the harvesting of gum from opium fields, to procure chemicals needed to turn the gum into heroin and then supply Camacho-Goicochea and others with the drug to take it into the United States.

The proceeds were then sent back to Mexico, with agents in early 2017 seizing some $580,000 from vehicles in the Atlanta, Ga., area that had a final destination of Mexico.

According to the Treasury, Camacho-Goicochea, who also goes by the name El Quilles, has moved "a significant amount of drugs, particularly methamphetamine, to Houston, Texas, and Atlanta, Georgia, among other areas."

Along with Maldonado-Bustos and Camacho-Goicochea, the Treasury sanctioned cartel members Josue Ramirez Carrera, 44, Josue Lopez Hernandez, 47, David Duran Alvarez, 40, Uriel Tabares Martinez, 45, Kevin Arzate Gomez, 31, and Lucio Ochoa Lagunes, 48.

"Treasury has unique capabilities and expertise to target the financial flows of these cartels who are poisoning our communities, and going after them is a top priority for me and the department," Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said in a statement.

Accompanying the sanctions, the Treasury's Financial Crimes Enforcement Network released a Supplemental Advisory highlighting ways banks can guard against activity connected to illicit fentanyl.


"President Biden and I are committed to using every tool we have to target illicit fentanyl and its precursor chemicals so we can disrupt these deadly supply chains," Yellen added.

The sanctions, which were imposed with close coordination with Mexico, come after Yellen visited the United States' southern neighbor in December to boost collaboration on trade and the fight against drugs.

According to a report published last month from the CDC, 2023 saw the first decrease in overdose deaths since 2018.

In 2023, there were about 107,540 overdoes deaths, which is a drop of 3% from the 111,030 deaths in 2022, it said, adding overdose deaths involving opioids also decreased from 84,180 in 2022 to 81,80 in 2023.

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