U.S. Sanctions 10 More Sinaloa Cartel Members

Published: 14 July 2023

Mexico LosMochisLos Mochis, a city in Mexico’s Sinaloa region and home to one of the world’s deadliest drug trafficking organizations. (Photo: Daniel Ramirez, Flickr, License)

By Henry Pope

The United States sanctioned an additional 10 individuals and entities linked to Mexico’s Sinaloa Cartel, one of the world’s most dangerous drug trafficking organizations and a top offender in the sale of the deadly opioid known as fentanyl.

Those targeted by the U.S. Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) on Wednesday include several members and fugitives of the Los Chapitos faction of the Sinaloa Cartel.

“Los Chapitos,” or the Little Chapos, are the children of the infamous drug kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman Loera, who filled the power vacuum left by their father in 2017, following his third arrest and eventual extradition to the United States.

Together, they control a significant portion of the illegal drug trade, including the deadly fentanyl opioid, and are not averse to extreme measures of violence to maintain their place at the top.

“To dominate the fentanyl supply chain, the Chapitos kill, kidnap, and torture anyone who gets in the way,” the DEA said. “In Mexico, they’ve fed their enemies alive to tigers, electrocuted them, waterboarded them, and shot them at close range with a .50 caliber machine gun.”

With a potency more than 50 times that of heroin, the U.S. Department of Justice lists fentanyl as the leading cause of death for adults aged 18 to 49. Between 2019 and 2021, an estimated 196 Americans fatally overdosed on it every day.

And so, to curtail the Sinaloa Cartel’s drug production capabilities, OFAC sanctioned members of its precursor chemical supply network, including brothers Ludim and Luis Alfonso Zamudio Lerma.

The cartel sources its precursor chemicals from around the world, with multiple known suppliers based in China.

From Mexico’s end, it all starts with the Zamudio Lerma brothers, who supply illicit precursor chemicals to high-level Sinaloa Cartel members, U.S. authorities said.

Once in Mexico, the chemicals are transported to super labs—large-scale drug laboratories—that can produce vast quantities of deadly synthetic opioids in a short amount of time. From there, the drugs are trafficked into the U.S., where users can overdose on quantities as small as two milligrams.

“The Zamudio Lerma brothers and their network enable the production of synthetic drugs that devastate American lives, while lining the pockets of Sinaloa Cartel leadership,” said OFAC Director Andrea Gacki. “Depriving this network of access and resources will hinder the Sinaloa Cartel’s ability to produce and traffic the illicit drugs it depends on.”

Also named in the latest wave of sanctions are Noel Lopez Perez and Ricardo Paez Lopez. Lopez Perez is El Chapo’s brother-in-law and an uncle to two of Los Chapitos, while Paez Lopez is a maternal cousin to Joaquin Guzman Lopez, another Chapito.

The two have facilitated several of the cartel’s interests, including drug trafficking, maintaining supply chains, production control, and enforcement operations.

Mexican nationals Dora Vanessa Valdez Fernandez, Nestor Isidro Perez Salas (a.k.a. “Nini”) and Oscar Noe Medina Gonzalez (a.k.a. “Panu”) were similarly blacklisted for their criminal ties with Los Chapitos - ties that include trafficking and violence to help keep their bosses in power.

Rounding out the sanctions is REI Compania Internacional, a Mexican import-export company that “regularly receives chemical shipments” from China, the Treasury said.

With alleged connections to drug trafficking, the company was blacklisted for facilitating the international proliferation of illicit drugs, both in terms of supply and production.

Medina Gonzalez and Perez Salas were previously indicted by the U.S. in 2015 and 2021, respectively, on multiple drug trafficking charges. The two are currently fugitives and the American authorities have approved rewards for any information leading to their arrest and conviction.