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60 Sinaloa Cartel Members Charged With Drug Trafficking

Photo caption: Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, head of Mexico’s Sinaloa Cartel, is escorted to a ...

Photo credit: Associated Press

Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, head of Mexico’s Sinaloa Cartel, is escorted to a helicopter in Mexico City following his capture overnight in the beach resort town of Mazatlan, Feb. 22, 2014.

Sixty reputed members and associates of the Mexico-based Sinaloa cartel — including its highest ranking leaders — were charged with trafficking tons of cocaine, methamphetamine, marijuana and other illicit drugs to points around the United States, according to indictments unsealed Friday.

The indictments mark the conclusion of the third phase of a three-year investigation that resulted in charges against 117 people and had a significant impact on the worldwide operation of the Sinaloa cartel, according to prosecutors.

Cartel members and associates were targeted in a massive probe involving multiple countries, scores of law enforcement agencies around the United States and more than 200 court-authorized wiretaps in the Southern District of California alone, authorities said.

"This extraordinary case in this district's most significant, comprehensive and large-scale cartel prosecution since the dismantling of the Arellano-Felix drug trafficking organization," said U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy. "We are going after the Sinaloa cartel with the same passion, knowing that the drugs and violence peddled by the cartel are destroying lives and tearing the fabric of our communities."

The primary indictment unsealed Friday targets the alleged leader of the Sinaloa Cartel, Ismael Zambada-Garcia, known as "El Mayo," as well as two of his four sons, Ismael Zambada-Sicairos, known as "Mayito Flaco," and Ismael Zambada-Imperial, known as "Mayito Gordo." Zambada-Imperial was arrested by Mexican authorities in November.

As part of the primary indictment is Ivan Archivaldo Guzman-Salazar, known as "Chapito," whose father Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman Loera was the alleged leader of the Sinaloa Cartel along with "El Mayo" and considered the world's most powerful drug lord until his arrest in Mexico in February 2014.

The case began in late 2011 as an investigation of what was at first believed to be a small-scale drug distribution cell in National City and Chula Vista.

The alleged leader of that cell — Jose Luis Iglesias, also known as Jose Bautista Samano-Molina — and a number of his associates were indicted in 2012. Iglesias remains a fugitive, but most of his associates have been sentenced, authorities said.

The case morphed into a massive, multi-national, multi-state probe that has resulted in scores of arrests and seizures from San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago and New York City to countries including Mexico, Canada and China.

At the conclusion of the third phase of the investigation, the government has seized more than 652 kilograms of methamphetamine, 1,343 kilograms of cocaine, 12.2 tons of marijuana, 53 kilograms of heroin, 5,500 oxycodone pills and $14.1 million in drug proceeds, according to authorities.

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