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The US is actively working to dismantle Mexican cartel financial empires

One week after targeting the network run by Los Chapitos, the Treasury Department has added an ally of La Nueva Familia Michoacana to its blacklist

Elías Camhaji
Nueva Familia Michoacana
A Mexican narcotics agent investigates the scene of an armed attack in Michoacan; June 30.Juan José Estrada Serafín (Cuartoscuro)

The Nueva Familia Michoacana is the latest addition to the U.S. Treasury Department’s blacklist. On July 19, the U.S. slapped financial sanctions on Franco Tabárez Martínez, a drug trafficker operating in the Mexican state of Guerrero and an ally of La Nueva Familia Michoacana. A week earlier, the U.S. House imposed additional sanctions against people connected to Los Chapitos, including relatives of Joaquín El Chapo Guzmán’s sons. The aim is to dismantle the financial empire of organized crime and disrupt the drug supply chains of Mexican cartels.

Earlier this month, Tabárez was charged in a Georgia court for drug trafficking. He has been linked to La Nueva Familia Michoacana, a successor organization to the cartel of the same name. This cartel was very active in the early years of the war on drugs and is currently involved in the increasing shipments of “rainbow” fentanyl to the U.S. This variant of the drug has garnered attention for its vibrantly colored pills and shapes that allegedly appeal to children and youths. According to a press release from the U.S. Embassy in Mexico, Tabárez is reportedly involved in the distribution of cocaine, fentanyl and approximately one ton of methamphetamine every two months.

The 39-year-old Tabárez is accused of operating two methamphetamine laboratories in Mexico and importing fentanyl powder from China. His drug routes extend throughout the southern United States, including cities like Atlanta and Houston. Tabárez previously spent a year in a U.S. prison for methamphetamine trafficking. He has been designated on the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) blacklist for involvement in criminal activities that pose a “significant material risk” related to the international production and distribution of illicit drugs, leading to the freezing of his personal and business assets in the international banking system.

Nueva Familia Michoacana
La Nueva Familia Michoacana graffiti in the municipality of Aguililla (Michoacán, Mexico).Juan José Estrada Serafín (Cuartoscuro)

In November 2022, OFAC added two leaders of La Nueva Familia Michoacana to its blacklist: Johnny and José Hurtado. Since 2009, U.S. authorities have been actively working to weaken the economic influence of the organization, particularly its original branch. The group has a presence in 35 municipalities in southern Mexico, including Michoacán, Guerrero, Morelos and the State of Mexico.

The Treasury Department’s statement said, “It [La Nueva Familia Michoacana] is expanding into other regions of Mexico and generates revenue from drug trafficking, illicit mining, and extortion... Other drug trafficking activities include the planting of marijuana and poppy and trafficking various drugs from Central America, to include methamphetamine, heroin, cocaine, and fentanyl, all of which are destined for the United States… La Nueva Familia Michoacana has also demonstrated a willingness to attack government officials and buildings in Mexico, in addition to employing and training multiple assassins.” Johnny and José Hurtado are two of Mexico’s most wanted criminals, and the country’s Attorney General offered a $30,000 reward for information leading to their capture late last year. Johnny Hurtado has been a fugitive from U.S. justice for over 20 years.

In recent months, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has stressed the importance of dismantling the financial infrastructure that fuels criminal organizations. “The Sinaloa Cartel has never been more powerful, never made more money,” declared DEA Director Anne Milgram in a recent congressional hearing. “It costs the cartels as little as 10 cents to produce a fentanyl-laced fake prescription pill that is sold in the United States for as much as $10 to $30 per pill. As a result, the cartels make billions of dollars from trafficking fentanyl into the United States.”

Last week, sanctions were imposed on ten individuals connected to Los Chapitos. Leading the list is Noel López, brother of Griselda López, Joaquín Guzmán’s second wife. Also included are Ricardo and Saúl Páez López, cousins of the Guzmán children on their mother’s side. They are accused of smuggling fentanyl from Asia, dealing with suppliers of narcotic raw materials and using front companies to conceal their operations.

Less than two months ago, U.S. authorities targeted other parts of Los Chapitos’ global network. The Treasury Department designated 17 Chinese companies and individuals involved in supplying materials for the production of fentanyl, including substances for opioid manufacturing, counterfeit drugs and pill presses. Beijing criticized Washington’s decision to sanction the Chinese pharmaceutical industry, which the U.S. claims is the epicenter of the global fentanyl supply chain. According to official data, this synthetic drug claims over 70,000 lives in the United States every year.

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