Crime and Violence

The DEA’s mission against the Sinaloa Cartel

09/21/2023 (written by tfaris) – As Justice in Mexico reported in May, the U.S. Department of Justice announced a crackdown on the Sinaloa Cartel because of their key role in transporting fentanyl to the United States. The fentanyl crisis in the United States has significantly worsened in recent years, and the Sinaloa Cartel has been identified by the Justice Department as the “largest, most violent, and most prolific fentanyl trafficking operation in the world.” According to El País, fentanyl killed 71,000 people in the U.S. in 2021. 

Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, former leader of the drug trafficking organization, was arrested in Mexico and extradited to the United States in 2014, where he has remained in maximum security prison. Since his extradition, his four sons, referred to as “Los Chapitos,” have been able to expand the Sinaloa Cartel’s network in the absence of their father. Since April 2023, there have been several notable events in relation to the DEA’s efforts to counter the Sinaloa Cartel. 

New Developments in Sinaloa Cartel Leadership 

In early September, two DEA informants within the Sinaloa Cartel were murdered in Sinaloa. These two informants were alleged criminals who have been given the opportunity to exchange helpful information to the U.S. for pardons or a lesser sentencing. According to Senator Chuck Grassley, the two cooperators gave the DEA information regarding Los Chapitos, who have publicly denied being affiliated with the Sinaloa Cartel. 

However, each of the Guzmán brothers currently has between a $5 to $10 million bounty from the United States, and the U.S. DOJ disclosed a criminal indictment against Los Chapitos in April 2023 for trafficking fentanyl. Ovidio Guzmán, a senior member of the Sinaloa Cartel, was arrested in January 2023. This was the second attempt at arresting Ovidio, the first being in October of 2019. The 2019 arrest led to violence and bloodshed, led by the Sinaloa Cartel, in the city of Culiacán, with at least 13 killed and dozens more injured. AMLO decided to release Ovidio at the time to stop more deaths. 

The second arrest in January 2023 was the result of a much more intensive process, starting months before the arrest happened. The Secretary of National Defense, SEDENA, functions as Mexico’s army. SEDENA is responsible for a six-month project of tracking Ovidio and identifying his whereabouts, as well as planning for the violence they know would ensue in the city of Culiacán after his capture. Ovidio’s arrest in January also led to violence in Culiacán, but AMLO did not release Ovidio this time and the violence diminished within a day. 

Ovidio Guzmán being arrested in October 2019. Source: CNN.

Ovidio was successfully extradited to the United States on September 15th, 2023, and pleaded not guilty before a U.S. district judge in Chicago on September 18th. Ovidio’s charges include drug trafficking and money laundering. Like the rest of his brothers, Ovidio claims that they have never “…produced, manufactured or commercialized fentanyl nor any of its derivatives.” Los Chapitos claim that they are made to be scapegoats because of who their father is.

Money Laundering Scheme Uncovered by the DEA and FBI

In April 2023, the DEA was able to uncover and dismantle a major criminal organization that laundered money for the Sinaloa Cartel. This recent success is the product of a two-year investigation led by the FBI and DEA. Luis Ramírez, a U.S. citizen residing in Mesa, Arizona, and Enrique Esparragoza of Sinaloa have been identified as key leaders in the sophisticated money laundering scheme that laundered $16.5 million for the Sinaloa Cartel. The investigation led to the indictments of twelve people, all charged with various counts of money laundering and/or extortion. 

According to U.S. Attorney Randy Grossman, “Mexican drug cartels cannot succeed without money launderers.” Therefore, this successful money laundering scheme investigation is a significant contribution to the DEA against the Sinaloa Cartel. As fentanyl’s impact increases in the United States, efforts to stop drug trafficking organizations like the Sinaloa Cartel strengthen. 


Abrizuela. “U.S. Department of Justice Cracks Down on the Sinaloa Cartel Amidst Fentanyl Crisis.” Justice in Mexico. May 9, 2023.

Alonso Viña, Daniel. “No soy la persona que reclama Estados Unidos”: Ovidio Guzmán rechaza su identidad durante su proceso de extradición.” El País. March 7, 2023. 

Cabrera Martínez, Javier. “Hallan cuerpo de Luis Benítez alias “El 14”, operador del Cártel de Sinaloa; la DEA ofrecía 1 mdd por él.” El Universal. September 9, 2023. 

De La Rosa, Yared. “Sedena detalla detención de Ovidio Guzmán; desde hace 6 meses lo seguían.” Forbes México. January 5, 2023. 

Díaz Briseño, José. “Matan a ‘informantes’ de la DEA en Cártel de Sinaloa.” Reforma. September 3, 2023. 

Howe, Shelley. “Sophisticated Sinaloa Cartel Money Laundering Organization Dismantled.” Drug Enforcement Administration. April 18, 2023. 

Plaza, Elizabeth, et. Al. “Extradition of ‘El Chapo’ son to the US halted after 29 killed in arrest operation.” CNN. January 7, 2023. 

Tarm, Michael. “‘El Chapo’ son Ovidio Guzmán López pleads not guilty to US drug and money laundering charges.” Associated Press. September 18, 2023. 

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