EXCLUSIVE: Cartel in the U.S.A.- Part 1: A Brutal Drug Lord Has Infiltrated America
A brutal Mexican cartel is infiltrating small towns across the U.S.A. In this 3-part series, the cartel’s leadership and tactics are detailed.
A dangerous crime lord known as “El Mencho” is one of America’s most wanted criminals, and for good reason. Described as violent, brutal and savage, Rubén “Nemesio” Oseguera Cervantes has a $10 million reward on his head and a place on the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s Most Wanted list.
El Mencho, 53, is the leader of Cártel Jalisco Nueva Generación (CJNG), a drug cartel known for its “extreme savagery in Mexico” including “beheadings, public hangings, acid baths, even cannibalism,” The Mexico Ledger reports. The brutality is sometimes recorded and later spread on social media to incite fear.
The CJNG rose to dominance after former Sinaloa Cartel capo Ignacio Coronel was killed in 2010 by Mexican security. Coronel had controlled the Milenio Cartel, a criminal group that moved drugs and managed finances for the Sinaloa Cartel.
Óscar Orlando Nava Valencia, alias “El Lobo,” was the leader of the Milenios. He had been captured at the time of Coronel’s death, and the Milenio Cartel began infighting. They eventually split into two factions: “La Resistencia” and the “Torcidos” (“The Twisted Ones”). La Resistencia accused the Torcidos of turning El Lobo in to authorities, and the two factions fought for control of drug trafficking in Jalisco.
The Torcidos eventually took over the Sinaloan capo’s network in the region and later became the CJNG, with “El Mencho” considered the leader and founder. The cartel’s “original top operators were Erick Valencia, alias ‘El 85,’ and Martin Arzola Ortega, alias ‘El 53,’” according to InsightCrime. The men were all former Milenio Cartel members.
Now, the CJNG is a billion-dollar organization. The criminal group “has a large, disciplined army, control of extensive drug routes throughout the U.S., sophisticated money-laundering techniques and an elaborate digital terror campaign, federal agents say,” the Ledger reports.
El Mencho’s Background
El Mencho snuck into the U.S. as a teen, starting a life of crime with an attempt to become a “street-level dealer,” according to the Ledger.
In 1992, he was sent to federal prison on drug trafficking charges after he and his older brother, Abraham Oseguera Cervantes, were caught selling heroin to two undercover police officers in San Francisco.
In 1997, El Mencho was deported from the U.S. Upon his return to Mexico, he built a drug trafficking business, eventually joining the Milenio Cartel. He had a reputation as a successful sicario (hitman).
When CJNG was formed, El Mencho created a private army by recruiting and kidnapping men and boys, some as young as 12. Matthew Donahue, who oversees foreign operations for the DEA, told the Ledger that many of these males were taken to “remote paramilitary camps where they were trained as assassins. Those who tried to run were tortured, killed and sometimes cannibalized by fellow recruits in what U.S. federal agents describe as a disturbing rite of passage.”
The CJNG is now the most powerful criminal organization in Mexico, “with a confirmed presence in 22 Mexican states,” the Daily Beast reports. The cartel is active in the U.S., Central America, and South America. They have followers in almost all of Mexico’s 32 states, including areas critical to smuggling drugs into the U.S. They also have customers in Australia, Europe, and Japan.
The cartel’s spot at the top of Mexico’s criminal entities is “due to a combination of luck, ruthlessness, timing, and organizational skills, as well as well-placed bribes to federal officials,” says Robert Bunker, a professor at the Strategic Studies Institute of the U.S. Army War College, according to The Daily Beast.
Bunker says the CJNG “achieved dominance by being edgy, dangerous, and highly profitable” and of “building out its presence through acquisitions of local criminal and drug gang cells as it franchises its operations throughout Mexico.”
Violence and Brutality
Specialist DEA agent Kyle Mori told Univision: “They are very violent. Decapitations, dissolving bodies in acid, public executions, ripping out the heart, killing women and children, bombings against people. It happens almost every day. El Chapo was violent, but El Mencho has taken it to a new level.”
There has been an increase in the number of women and children killed where the CJNG has operations or influence. Authorities believe the cartel may be behind many of these deaths. 88 women, some pregnant, have been murdered since August in Mexico, official state figures show. Over half were in areas CJNG has a presence.
In September, 44 missing people, many of them women, were discovered in a water well. The remains had been stuffed into 119 black bags. The site of the gruesome discovery is in an area known for “brutal drug cartel executions,” The Sun reports. The site is in Jalisco state, where the CJNG is based.
U.S. Takes Notice
In 2015, the U.S. Treasury Department designated El Mencho a “kingpin.”
In 2018, the Department of Justice, Treasury, and State Departments announced a coordinated enforcement effort against the CJNG. They released the following information:
The United States of America, through its Departments of Justice, Treasury, and State announced today a series of measures to target and dismantle the Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generacion (CJNG) – one of the largest, most dangerous drug cartels currently operating in Mexico. These measures include the unsealing of 15 indictments, the State Department’s approval of large rewards, the Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) designations, and the establishment of a citizen tip-line.
CJNG is one of the most powerful cartels in Mexico and the Department of Justice considers it to be one of the five most dangerous transnational criminal organizations in the world, responsible for trafficking many tons of cocaine, methamphetamine and fentanyl-laced heroin into the United States, as well as for violence and significant loss of life in Mexico.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions of the U.S. Department of Justice, Assistant Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, Acting Administrator Uttam Dhillon of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), FBI Deputy Director David L. Bowdich, Director Andrea Gacki of OFAC, Assistant Secretary for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs Kirsten D. Madison of the U.S. Department of State, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Executive Associate Director Derek Benner and Chief Don Fort of IRS Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI), made the announcement.
Founded in 2011, CJNG has grown in size and strength rapidly since its inception. Today, the DEA estimates the CJNG exerts influence in 23 of 31 (75 percent) of Mexican states, including key drug production and transportation corridors. CJNG is a powerful drug cartel in Mexico as a result of the organization’s disciplined command and control, sophisticated money laundering techniques, efficient drug transportation routes, and extreme violence. The cartel has also expanded globally, with significant presence and illicit business not only throughout the United States and Mexico, but also Europe, Asia, and Australia.
“We will continue to hammer transnational criminal organizations like the Cartel de San Jalisco Nueva Generacion, or CJNG,” said Attorney General Sessions. “The DEA has said for three years in a row that Mexican drug cartels are the single gravest drug threat that this country faces. President Trump recognizes this, and the day I was sworn in as Attorney General, he ordered me to dismantle transnational criminal organizations, including the cartels. We have been faithful to that order. Today, I am announcing 15 indictments returned against the leaders of CJNG. These indictments are our next steps—but not our last. We will continue following President Trump’s order.”
“DEA has a strong partnership with the Government of Mexico that is demonstrated in the relentless pursuit of the violent leadership of the CJNG cartel,” said Acting Administrator Dhillon. “We will continue to work closely with our international partners to bring Nemiso Cervantes aka El Mencho to justice and dismantle drug cartels like CJNG.”
Unsealing of Indictments
Today, the Department of Justice Criminal Division’s Narcotic and Dangerous Drug Section, U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of California, the Northern District of Illinois, the Southern District of Mississippi, and the Eastern District of Virginia are announcing 15 indictments, some recently unsealed, against the following CJNG leaders, financiers, transporters, and sources of drug supply:
Nemesio Oseguera Cervantes, aka “Mencho”: Oseguera Cervantes, 52, is the lead defendant in a three-count superseding indictment returned in the District of Columbia in 2017 alleging that he is the leader of a Continuing Criminal Enterprise, conspired to distribute significant quantities of narcotics for illegal importation into the United States, and has used a firearm during and in relation to these drug trafficking crimes. In addition to the indictment in the District of Columbia, Oseguera Cervantes has also been charged with drug trafficking offenses in the Southern District of Mississippi (SDMS). He is currently a fugitive and was designated as a “Kingpin” under the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act by the Department of the Treasury in April 2015.
Ruben Oseguera Gonzalez, aka, “Menchito”: Oseguera Gonzalez, 28, Oseguera Cervantes’ son, served as the CJNG’s second in command until the time of his arrest by Mexican authorities in June 2015. Oseguera Gonzalez is charged in a two-count indictment returned in the District of Columbia in 2017 alleging that between 2007 and February 2017, Oseguera Gonzalez engaged a conspiracy to distribute significant quantities of narcotics for illegal importation into the United States and that Oseguera Gonzalez engaged in the use of a firearm during and in relation to one or more drug trafficking crimes. Oseguera Gonzalez remains in Mexican custody and is currently pending extradition to the United States.
Abigael Gonzalez Valencia: Gonzalez Valencia, 45, the head of the “Cuinis” organization, is charged in a three-count indictment returned in the District of Columbia in 2014 alleging that he was a leader in a Continuing Criminal Enterprise, conspired to distribute significant quantities of narcotics for illegal importation into the United States, and used a firearm during and in relation to one or more drug trafficking crimes. The CJNG has flourished in significant part because of its close affiliation with the Cuinis organization, which is the primary financial support network of the CJNG drug trafficking efforts. The Cuinis organization is composed of multiple members of the Gonzalez Valencia family. The relationship between the Cuinis organization and the CJNG is cemented through both intertwined drug trafficking and money laundering dealings as well as familial relationships, including the marriage of one member of the Gonzalez Valencia family to CJNG leader Nemesio Oseguera Cervantes. Gonzalez Valencia was designated as a “Kingpin” under the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act by the Department of the Treasury in April 2015. Gonzalez Valencia was arrested by Mexican authorities in February 2015 pursuant to his charges in the United States and is awaiting extradition.
Jesus Contreras Arceo, aka “Canasto”: Contreras Arceo, 41, is charged in a two-count indictment returned in the Eastern District of Virginia in 2017 alleging that between 2011 until March 2017, Contreras Arceo engaged in a conspiracy to distribute significant quantities of narcotics for illegal importation into the United States and that Contreras Arceo engaged in a conspiracy to commit money laundering. Contreras Arceo was arrested by Mexican authorities in July 2018 pursuant to his charges in the United States and is awaiting extradition.
Erick Valencia Salazar, aka “El 85”: Valencia Salazar, 41, is charged in a one-count indictment returned in the District of Columbia in 2018 alleging that between 2003 until August 2018, Valencia Salazar engaged in a conspiracy to distribute significant quantities of narcotics for illegal importation into the United States. Valencia Salazar is currently a fugitive and is believed to be in Mexico.
Juan Perez-Vargas, aka, “Piolin”: Perez-Vargas, 37, is charged in a two-count indictment returned in the Southern District of California in 2017 alleging that Perez-Vargas engaged in a conspiracy to distribute significant quantities of narcotics for illegal importation into the United States. Perez-Vargas was arrested by Mexican authorities in September 2017 pursuant to his charges in the United States and is awaiting extradition.
Diego Pineda Sanchez, aka “Botas” and Carlos Parra-Pedroza: Pineda Sanchez, 33, and Parra-Pedroza, 35, are charged with 28 others in a 63-count indictment returned in the Northern District of Illinois in 2015, alleging that between 2011 and September 2014, Pineda Sanchez and Parra-Pedroza led a Mexico-based conspiracy to launder more than $100 million in narcotics proceeds belonging to Mexico-based drug traffickers, through the purchase and resale of gold. The evidence in the case established that Pineda Sanchez and Parra-Pedroza laundered most of these narcotics proceeds on behalf of CJNG and its leader, Nemesio Oseguera Cervantes aka “Mencho.” Pineda Sanchez and Parra-Pedroza have pleaded guilty to the money laundering conspiracy charges, and are facing a statutory maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. On Oct. 5, Pineda Sanchez was sentenced to serve 15 years in prison by the U.S. District Court in Chicago. The Court will set a sentencing date for Parra-Pedroza at a status hearing on Nov. 1. All other charged and arrested members of the conspiracy have pleaded guilty and have either been sentenced or are awaiting sentencing.
The following individuals linked to the CJNG have also been indicted as a result of the coordinated efforts against the cartel:
- Oswaldo de Jesus Miramontes-Diaz, 44, was charged in the Central District of California in 2015. Miramontes-Diaz is currently serving a sentence pursuant to the charges in the United States;
- Gerardo Gonzalez Valencia, aka, “Lalo,” 41, was charged in the District of Columbia in 2016. He was arrested by Uruguayan authorities in April 2016 on these charges, and is awaiting extradition;
- Jose Gonzalez Valencia, aka, “Chepa,” 42, was charged in the District of Columbia in 2016. He was arrested by Brazilian authorities in December 2017 on these charges, and is awaiting extradition;
- Ulises Yovany Mora-Tapia, aka, “Yiyo,” 33, was charged in the District of Columbia in 2016. Mora-Tapia is currently a fugitive and is believed to be in Mexico;
- Jorge Manuel Cobian-Gonzalez, 43, was charged in the Eastern District of Virginia in 2017. Cobian-Gonzalez is currently awaiting trial;
- Juan Manuel Abouzaid El Bayeh aka, “El Escorpion,” 45, was charged in the District of Columbia in 2017. Abouzaid El Bayeh is currently a fugitive and is believed to be in Mexico; and
- Alfredo Galindo-Salazar aka, “Tucan,” 47, was charged in the District of Columbia in 2018. Galindo-Salazar is currently a fugitive and is believed to be in Mexico.
Treasury OFAC Designations
Since April 2015, OFAC has announced nine designation actions totaling 63 separate individuals and entities in Mexico tied to the CJNG and the Cuinis organization. In the initial 2015 designation action, both Nemesio Oseguera Cervantes and Abigael Gonzalez Valencia were designated by OFAC as Specially Designated Narcotics Traffickers under the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act. These Kingpin Act designation actions targeting the CJNG and the Cuinis organization are among the most aggressive and targeted in OFAC’s history against Mexican drug trafficking organizations. Based upon this series of OFAC designations, Mexican authorities were able to seize the Hotelito Desconocido, an exclusive boutique hotel on the Pacific coast of Mexico, which was controlled by members of Los Cuinis organization. OFAC designations have allowed U.S. and Mexican government officials to follow the money of the CJNG and the Cuinis organization in an effort to disrupt their money laundering activities.
“Treasury has strategically targeted leaders of CJNG and the Cuinis organizations, as well as complicit family members, criminal operatives, and businesses under their control,” said OFAC Director Gacki. “Our goal is to disrupt the cartels’ finances, which are overwhelmingly generated from drug sales that occur in the United States, and deny them access to the U.S. financial system. OFAC is committed to working with the Department of Justice and Mexican counterparts in order to apply economic pressure on CJNG and the Cuinis organizations until they are effectively dismantled.”
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