01/10/14 — A high-ranking lieutenant in the Sinaloa Cartel that faces drug trafficking charges in San Diego, California, was arrested in the Netherlands on December 30. Dutch police detained José Rodrigo Aréchiga Gamboa, also known as “El Chino Ántrax,” at the airport after his flight landed in Amsterdam. Aréchiga was indicted on December 20 by a Southern California federal grand jury for conspiracy to import and distribute drugs, and launder money. The indictment specifically says Aréchiga worked with others to transport marijuana, 500 grams of methamphetamine, and five kilograms of cocaine. On January 3, the U.S. government unsealed the indictment and formally requested that the Dutch extradite Aréchiga to California to face the charges.
Aréchiga is considered one of the top enforcers in the powerful Sinaloa Cartel led by Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada and Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán. According to Mexico’s National Security Commission (Comisión Nacional de Seguridad, CNS), he heads the cartel’s enforcement cell known as Los Ántrax that works specifically for El Mayo to provide protection for him and his family, and that offers top hit men for cartel operations. Proceso reports the cell is based in Culiacán, Sinaloa, and includes members known as “Sargento Phoenix Ántrax,” “El Traka Ántrax,” “Cheyo Ántrax,” and “El Mele.” Two other known Ántrax members, “El Roque” and “Pancho Arce,” were killed in 2011 and 2012, which were thought to be results of internal cartel struggles between El Mayo’s and El Chapo’s factions. Nevertheless, Aréchiga’s cell has been linked to a number of high profile killings in Mexico, including a 2010 fight against the Beltrán Leyva Organization in Sonora that killed 30 people, and the 2011 public display of three tortured men’s bodies strung from a Sinaloa bridge.
The U.S. government has placed economic sanctions on Aréchiga since his December 20 indictment. Under the Kingpin Act, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) has frozen any bank accounts in the United States or under its jurisdiction that have ties to Aréchiga, as well as prohibited any U.S. citizen or business from establishing commercial ties or financial interactions with him. He also ranks on the U.S. government’s list of top international drug traffickers and, according to OFAC Director Adam Szubin, “[he] represents the next generation of hyper-violent drug traffickers.”
This blow to the Sinaloa Cartel comes just one month after U.S. authorities captured El Mayo’s son, Serafín Zambada Ortíz, as he crossed the U.S.-Mexico border in Arizona on November 20. Serafín, a U.S. citizen, has pleaded not guilty to charges of drug trafficking, and is set to begin trial in February of this year in federal court in San Diego.