03/23/21 (written by rramos) – On March 12, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) issued a press release stating that 34-year-old Jessica Johanna Oseguera González, the daughter of Jalisco New Generation Cartel (Cártel de Jalisco Nueva Generación, CJNG) leader Nemesio “El Mencho” Oseguera Cervantes, pled guilty to criminal violations of the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act, a U.S. federal law commonly known as the Kingpin Act. According to the DOJ statement, Oseguera González pled guilty to “willfully engaging in financial dealings with Mexican companies” that had been sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) for having “provided material support” to the CJNG’s drug trafficking activities. More specifically, court documents identified Oseguera González as an owner of two businesses that were formally identified by OFAC as “specially designated narcotics traffickers” for links to the CJNG, and as an “officer, director, or agent” of four other companies under OFAC sanctions. Two sushi restaurants, an advertising firm, and a tequila agency were among the six OFAC-designated entities with which Oseguera González “engaged in property transactions” and which were allegedly used to launder money for the CJNG. She is scheduled to be sentenced on June 11 and is facing up to 30 years in prison.
Jessica Johanna, a dual U.S.-Mexican citizen who also uses the criminal alias “La Negra,” was arrested by U.S. authorities in February 2020 at a federal courthouse in Washington, D.C. She had been attempting to attend the trial of her brother, Rubén “El Menchito” Oseguera González, who had just been extradited from Mexico to face drug trafficking charges in the United States.
El Mencho’s Inner Circle Under Pressure
As illustrated by the case of Jessica Johanna, the governments of Mexico and the United States have increasingly focused their attention on members of “El Mencho” Oseguera’s inner circle as part of the broader effort to locate the elusive cartel leader.
As mentioned earlier, his son Rubén has been in U.S. custody since 2020 after losing a “long legal fight against extradition.” He is currently awaiting trial for charges of conspiring to distribute large quantities of cocaine and methamphetamine, as well as using a firearm in furtherance of drug trafficking-related activities. A 2018 Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) press release had identified Rubén as the CJNG’s “second in command” until his capture by Mexican officials in June 2015.
Rosalinda González Valencia, widely reported to be the spouse of “El Mencho” and mother to both Rubén and Jessica Johanna, was arrested in May 2018 in Zapopan, Jalisco. Alfonso Navarrete Prida, Mexico’s then-interior minister, stated in a press conference following the arrest that González Valencia played a leading role in overseeing the CJNG’s financial operations. A month later, Rosalinda was formally accused in a Mexican court of “creating a network of 73 businesses” used to launder billions of pesos on behalf of the CJNG. In September 2018, however, she was released on bail after paying nearly 1.5 million pesos.
Rosalinda’s brother, Abigael González Valencia, is another prominent member of El Mencho’s family that has been targeted by authorities. Abigael, known also as “El Cuini,” is assessed to be the leader of Los Cuinis organization, described by the DOJ as the CJNG’s “primary financial support network” responsible for conducting extensive money laundering operations. Abigael was arrested in Mexico in 2015, but since then has waged a prolonged legal battle that has continuously hampered ongoing attempts to extradite him to the United States. He remains incarcerated at El Altiplano federal prison in the State of Mexico even as other González Valencia siblings alleged to be members of the CJNG’s Los Cuinis support network have already been extradited or are awaiting extradition to face drug charges in the U.S.
Beyond his family, authorities have also been vigorously pursuing some of El Mencho’s closest associates within the CJNG. In early March 2021, OFAC sanctioned Juan Manuel “El Árabe” Abouzaid under the Kingpin Act for “his high-level role in facilitating drug shipments and money laundering” for the CJNG, with U.S. officials asserting he “[maintained] a close relationship with senior leaders of CJNG.” According to Univision, the DEA had identified Abouzaid in June 2020 as a high-ranking figure in the CJNG with ties to “El Mencho.” On March 9, just days after his OFAC designation, Abouzaid was arrested by Mexican federal agents, with the U.S. now reportedly seeking his extradition.
As the U.S. and Mexico continue to exert pressure on “El Mencho” Oseguera’s closest relatives and partners, he remains one of the most sought-after criminals in both countries. Both governments are offering substantial monetary awards (10 million dollars in the U.S. and 30 million pesos in Mexico) for information leading to his capture. With this in mind, it is likely that the systematic targeting of those closest to “El Mencho” is intended to obtain information on his whereabouts as well as on the inner workings of the CJNG.
CJNG’s Continued Expansion
Nevertheless, the efforts of both the Mexican and U.S. governments to close in on “El Mencho” himself do not appear to be impeding the overall growth of the organization he leads. In its National Drug Threat Assessment released in March 2021, the DEA determined that the CJNG has seen a “rapid expansion” that has allowed the group to establish a “significant presence in 23 of the 32 Mexican states.” According to InSight Crime, the CJNG’s territorial advances within the past year have included “rapid gains in the states of Guanajuato, Zacatecas, Veracruz, and Mexico City.” In many of these areas, the CJNG appears to have nimbly exploited the fracturing or weakening of rival groups. In Guanajuato, the CJNG managed to win control of additional territories while its main adversary in the state, the Santa Rosa de Lima Cartel, was engulfed in internal disputes following the arrest of its leader José Antonio “El Marro” Yépez Ortiz in August 2020. Meanwhile in Veracruz, remnants of the once-powerful Zetas network have been unable to prevent the CJNG from “[asserting] control” over the port of Veracruz or operating in and around the port city of Coatzacoalcos.
Another key aspect of the CJNG’s continued growth has been its ability to leverage alliances with other criminal groups, often local-level organizations or fragments of weakened larger cartels, particularly in strategically-located areas along the U.S.-Mexico border. Authorities in the northern state of Chihuahua reportedly detected a meeting between members of the CJNG and La Línea, an armed wing of the Juárez Cartel, in which the two groups agreed to join forces to combat the Sinaloa Cartel for control of the Ciudad Juárez trafficking corridor. A similar dynamic is reportedly unfolding in the northeastern border state of Tamaulipas, with some media reports suggesting that the CJNG has maintained an alliance with Los Metros, an offshoot of the Gulf Cartel.
Given that the CJNG draws its strength from many factors, such as its strategic network of alliances, diversity in income sources, and advanced money laundering capabilities, it is far from guaranteed that its expansion will be halted even if “El Mencho” is captured in the future.