The United States sanctions members of Mexican cartel La Nueva Familia Michoacana

The Treasury accuses the group of trafficking fentanyl, cocaine and methamphetamine and of illegally smuggling migrants into the U.S.

Janet Yellen
U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen announces sanctions on Thursday.ERIK S. LESSER (EFE)
Miguel Jiménez

The Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) of the United States Department of the Treasury has sanctioned eight Mexican targets affiliated with the La Nueva Familia Michoacana drug cartel for trafficking fentanyl, cocaine and methamphetamine to the United States, as announced by Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, on Thursday in Atlanta (Georgia). In addition to drug trafficking, La Nueva Familia Michoacana is responsible for the illicit smuggling of migrants from Mexico to the United States, according to the Treasury. La Nueva Familia Michoacana is one of the most powerful and violent cartels in Mexico and has become a top priority of the Mexican government.

Historically, La Nueva Familia Michoacana primarily trafficked methamphetamine. However, in recent years, it has expanded into trafficking fentanyl, obtaining the necessary precursor chemicals, purchasing critical pill pressing machines, and then producing fentanyl throughout Mexico, including Mexico City, Pineda, Santa Teresa, Ciudad Altamirano, Tejupilco, Arcelia, Cuernavaca, Culiacán, Guadalajara and Toluca, Mexico, according to the Treasury, which has acted in coordination with Mexican authorities.

La Nueva Familia Michoacana sends fentanyl and other drugs to the United States through Nuevo Laredo and Tamaulipas/Reynosa along the southern border of Texas, using buses, among other means of transportation. Once the drugs are in the United States, they are shipped to various cities across the country, including Atlanta, Houston, Dallas, Tulsa, Chicago and Charlotte.

In addition to drugs, the cartel also engages in illegal human trafficking. According to the Treasury, in exchange for money, members of La Nueva Familia Michoacana upload photos and videos in which people appear under interrogation or in danger of being murdered. With these photos or videos in hand, individuals falsely declare to U.S. immigration officials their supposed need to seek asylum in the United States.

La Nueva Familia Michoacana is also known for forcing people to enter the United States illegally with drugs in order to sell them in the country. If they do not follow the order, the cartel threatens to kill them and their family. La Nueva Familia Michoacana also uses tobacco industry workers to introduce narcotics into the United States.

The Treasury sanctioned Johnny Hurtado Olascoaga and José Alfredo Hurtado Olascoaga, the two co-leaders of the cartel, in November 2022, and continued to target their allies. Now it has sanctioned new members of the organization, including Rodolfo Maldonado Bustos, the next in line of command. He controls the drug routes that pass from Ciudad Altamirano to the Zihuatanejo-Lázaro Cárdenas area. On April 23, 2017, a federal grand jury from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Georgia presented an indictment against him on two counts of conspiracy related to heroin trafficking.

Also sanctioned is Josué Ramírez Carrera, the financial leader and next in line after Maldonado Bustos, who controls the laundering of drug money through used clothing businesses. He is also involved in arms trafficking, where he directs people throughout the Rio Grande Valley to hide weapons inside packages of used clothing bound for Mexico City, according to the Treasury.

The sanctions also affect other lieutenants and hitmen of the cartel: Josué López Hernández, David Durán Álvarez, Kevin Arzate Gómez, Euclides Camacho Goicochea, Lucio Ochoa Lagunes and Uriel Tabares Martínez. The latter is a hitman who works directly for the cartel’s co-leaders and has a leadership role in the Guerrero/Ciudad Altamirano region of Mexico. He is known as “The Doctor” for the violent and surgical way in which he tortures and murders those who cross paths with high-ranking members of the La Nueva Familia Michoacana cartel.

The sanctions entail the freezing of all assets of the targeted individuals and a veto on U.S. and U.S.-based transactions with the sanctioned individuals. These sanctions make money laundering somewhat more difficult, but since these are organizations operating outside the law, they are of limited effectiveness in curbing their activity.

Since 2019, Mexican cartels have been the main suppliers of illicit fentanyl and other synthetic opioids in the United States. They purchase precursor chemicals and manufacturing equipment from suppliers based in China, and through intermediaries acquire chemicals to synthesize illicit fentanyl and other synthetic opioids in clandestine laboratories in Mexico. They then traffic these highly addictive and deadly drugs, primarily across the southwest border of the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 107,000 Americans died from drug overdoses in 2023, and more than 74,000 of those deaths were related to synthetic opioids, primarily illicitly manufactured fentanyl.

“The opioid crisis, and especially the rise of synthetic opioids like fentanyl, has devastated communities and claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of Americans. President Biden and I are committed to using every tool we have to target illicit fentanyl and its precursor chemicals so we can disrupt these deadly supply chains,” said Secretary Yellen in a statement released on Thursday. “Treasury has unique capabilities and expertise to target the financial flows of these cartels who are poisoning our communities, and going after them is a top priority for me and the Department.”

Red flags for banks

Treasury's Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) also published a supplementary 15-page advisory to help banks detect red flags that may be indicators of activities related to the acquisition of chemical precursors and manufacturing equipment used for the synthesis of fentanyl and other illicit synthetic opioids. The Treasury has identified some patterns that are repeated in operations and has called on banks to monitor for this type of activity.

The notice lists 14 different warning signs, concerning the counterparty of the transactions, the volume of operations, the means of payment and the use of virtual currencies. The advisory states: "As no single red flag is determinative of illicit or suspicious activity, financial institutions should consider the surrounding facts and circumstances, such as a customer’s historical financial activity, whether the transactions are in line with prevailing business practices, and whether the customer exhibits multiple red flags, before determining if a behavior or transaction is suspicious or otherwise indicative of illicit procurement of fentanyl precursor chemicals and manufacturing equipment or is otherwise suspicious."

The idea is to help US banks and other financial institutions protect themselves against activities related to the illicit fentanyl supply chain. Financial institutions reporting of suspected financial transactions related to illicit fentanyl and narcotics trafficking plays a critical role in law enforcement investigations and Treasury's global sanctions efforts.

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