The ruthless Sinaloa Cartel has flooded the US with fentanyl — and business is booming. A shocking DOJ indictment reveals how they do it.
- The Sinaloa Cartel is the driving force behind the US's deadliest-ever drug threat — fentanyl.
- The cartel is led by "Los Chapitos," the sons of the infamous Mexican drug lord "El Chapo."
Fentanyl has quickly become one of the US's deadliest-ever drug threats.
According to a recent Department of Justice (DOJ) indictment, around 196 Americans died every day from the drug between 2019 and 2021, while in 2022, the Drug Enforcement Agency seized the equivalent of around 410 million potentially lethal doses of the synthetic opioid — enough to kill everyone in the US.
But despite government efforts to crack down on supply chains, the drug, which is 50 times stronger than heroin, continues to pour into the country.
This is largely due to the ruthless Sinaloa Cartel crime empire, one of the world's most powerful drug trafficking organizations.
The cartel is led by "Los Chapitos," the four sons of the infamous Mexican drug lord Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán, and it is the "most prolific fentanyl trafficking operation in the world," with its operations spanning 45 countries, the DOJ indictment says.
The sons, Iván Guzmán Salazar, 40, Alfredo Guzmán Salazar, 37, Joaquín Guzmán López, 36, and Ovidio Guzmán López, 33, who is in US custody, have been charged with numerous offenses, including fentanyl trafficking, money laundering, and firearms charges.
The cartel's savage and sadistic experiments
The fentanyl business has been booming for the cartel, and since 2014 the scale and sophistication of its operations have increased dramatically.
This has been partly due to the cartel's habit of mixing fentanyl with other drugs, which has simultaneously increased its strength and created new fentanyl users.
The group has also relied on key links with businesses in China, which is the source of the majority of the production chemicals needed to manufacture fentanyl, the DOJ report says. The group uses brokers to purchase and transport the chemicals from companies like SK Biotech, a Chinese chemical company, the report continues.
According to the indictment, chemical companies involved in supplying cartels attempt to portray an "air of legitimacy" and seek to avoid criminal charges by using techniques like disguising shipments, "cleaning up" factories to make them seem legitimate, and even changing company names.
As the Sinaloa Cartel's operations have expanded, it has also established secret fentanyl laboratories around Culiacán, the capital of Sinaloa state.
Many of these labs are in top-security ranches owned by senior cartel members, and they are protected by heavily-armed guards, the indictment says.
The indictment also says that one cartel "cook" alone is capable of manufacturing over 100,000 pills per day using pill press machines in the labs.
As this production ramps up, testing for purity is an increasingly important part of the drug trafficking process — but some of the Sinaloa Cartel's members have used this as an opportunity to carry out savage and sadistic experiments.
The DOJ report says that in one case, two members of the cartel repeatedly injected one woman who they were meant to shoot until she overdosed and ultimately died. It also says that they have tested fentanyl on people after tying them down.
But these barbaric testing methods are merely symptomatic of the wider group's reliance on violence, torture, and corruption.
The DOJ report highlights some of the cartel's brutal torture methods, including one case where it says the cartel tortured a victim by putting a corkscrew into his muscles and ripping it out before placing hot chiles in his wounds and into his nose. It has also been known to use electrocution, waterboarding, and even to feed its rivals, dead or alive, to some of its members' pet tigers.
The cartel also employs "sicarios," or assassins, who are equipped with "military-grade weapons" such as rocket launchers, grenades, AK-47s, and AR-15s, to establish loyalty and protection, per the indictment.
The cartel's use of such tactics is ultimately geared towards achieving its main aim — getting the finished product into the US.
The indictment spotlights a few of the methods it uses for smuggling fentanyl across the border, including hiding it in secret compartments in cars, in airplane luggage, among other goods in tractor trailers, in the bodies of drug mules, or using false paperwork to ship it.
Once it reaches the US, fentanyl can be sold wholesale for as little as 50 cents per pill, depending on the location, according to the report. On the streets of New York City, dealers can then charge up to $3 per pill, it adds.
It is this margin, and the drug's deadly, addictive potency, that has sent the US spiraling into a crisis.
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