WASHINGTON — Federal prosecutors on Thursday announced new indictments against 10 suspected Mexican drug cartel leaders accused of using everything from a cargo plane to makeshift submarines to bring huge quantities of drugs to U.S. cities that generated nearly $6 billion in profits.
The indictments of the alleged bosses of the cartels and 33 other suspects expand previous U.S. efforts to dethrone the cartels' senior leadership.
First, though, they must be caught. The accused cartel leaders indicted Thursday are wanted in Mexico, and some have been sought by Mexican and U.S. law enforcement for many years.
"The criminal conduct alleged in these indictments did not take place solely in Mexico. Rather, it played right out here in our own backyards," Attorney General Eric Holder said
Investigators say the suspects used almost every type of transportation imaginable to move the drugs: a Boeing 747 cargo plane, submarines and semi-submersibles, container ships, fishing vessels, buses, rail cars and tractor-trailers.
The rings generated nearly $6 billion in drug profits, prosecutors said.
Holder said he expects the cartel leaders eventually will "be here in the United States and they will face justice," adding that the indictments are not symbolic acts but a sign the U.S. government is aggressively hunting the cartels.
The flurry of indictments unsealed in Chicago and New York depict sprawling distribution networks stretching back nearly two decades, based on investigations by the Drug Enforcement Administration, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Internal Revenue Service.
John Morton, the head of ICE, said the cartels "are not indestructible. They are made up of men who commit crime. Through these indictments, these men will be left with lives on the run, looking over their shoulders. And they should be running."
DEA chief Michele Leonart said there are "fewer and fewer places for these criminals to hide."
Three suspects – Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman-Loera, Ismael "El Mayo" Zambada-Garcia and Arburo Beltran-Leyva – are accused of being the past and present heads of the organized crime syndicate called the Sinaloa cartel, or the Federation.
The three allegedly oversaw the shipment of about 200 tons of cocaine and large amounts of heroin into the United States.
Eight suspects were arrested in Chicago and Atlanta earlier this week. Another 10 suspects, all accused customers or couriers of the ring, were charged in Chicago earlier this year.
From Chicago, authorities charge the cartels moved cocaine and heroin to Cincinnati and Columbus, Ohio, Detroit, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Washington, Vancouver, British Columbia, and beyond. The indictments grew out of a street gang investigation in Chicago and drug-related killings in New York.
Drug violence has claimed more than 11,000 lives in Mexico since President Felipe Calderon took office in late 2006 and launched a major offensive against cartels, which responded with unprecedented violence.
Many of the killings are the result of battles between rival drug smugglers for lucrative routes into the United States.