WASHINGTON (AP) — The Justice Department on Friday charged 28 members of Mexico’s powerful Sinaloa cartel, including sons of notorious drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, in a sprawling fentanyl-trafficking investigation.

Attorney General Merrick Garland announced the charges alongside Drug Enforcement Administration chief Anne Milgram and other top federal prosecutors. The charges were filed against cartel leaders, as well as alleged chemical suppliers, lab managers, fentanyl traffickers, security leaders, financiers and weapons traffickers.

The indictments charge three of Guzman’s sons — Ovidio Guzmán López, Jesús Alfredo Guzmán Salazar and Iván Archivaldo Guzmán Sálazar — who are known as the Chapitos, or little Chapos, and who have earned a reputation as the more violent and aggressive faction of the cartel.

Only Guzmán López is in custody, in Mexico.

The indictments also charge Chinese and Guatemalan citizens accused of supplying precursor chemicals required to make fentanyl. Others charged in the cases include those accused of running drug labs and providing security and weapons for the drug trafficking operation, prosecutors said.

Nearly 107,000 Americans died of drug overdoses in the U.S. in 2021. The Drug Enforcement Administration says most the fentanyl trafficked in the United States comes from the Sinaloa cartel.

The Sinaloa cartel’s notorious drug lord was convicted in 2019 of running an industrial-scale smuggling operation. At Guzman’s trial, prosecutors said evidence gathered since the late 1980s showed he and his murderous cartel made billions of dollars by smuggling tons of cocaine, heroin, meth and marijuana into the U.S. A defiant Guzman accused the federal judge in his case of making a mockery of the U.S. justice system and claimed he was denied a fair trial.

In outlining the charges Friday, Garland described the violence of the Sinaloa cartel and how its members have tortured perceived enemies, including Mexican law enforcement officials. In some cases, cartel members have also fed victims, some still alive, to tigers owned by Guzman’s sons, Garland said.

Eight of those charged in Friday’s case have been arrested and remain in the custody of law enforcement officials outside the U.S. The U.S. government is offering rewards for several others charged in the case.

Ovidio Guzmán López, one of Guzmán’s sons, was arrested in January in the Sinaloa capital of Culiacan. Ovidio Guzmán, nicknamed the Mouse, had not been one of El Chapo’s better-known sons until an aborted operation to capture him three years earlier. This time Mexico successfully got Guzmán out of Culiacan. In 2019, authorities had him, but they released him after his gunmen began shooting up the city.

Some 30 people among authorities and suspected gunmen died in the operation, which unleashed hours of shootouts shutting down the city’s airport. The U.S. government is currently awaiting the younger Guzmán’s extradition.

Ovidio Guzmán López and his brother Joaquín Guzmán López allegedly helped moved the Sinaloa cartel hard into methamphetamines, producing prodigious quantities in large labs. They were previously indicted in 2018 in Washington on drug trafficking charges.

The other two sons Jesús Alfredo Guzmán Salazar and Iván Archivaldo Guzmán Sálazar, are believed to have been running cartel operations together with Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada. They were previously also charged in the U.S. in Chicago and San Diego.

Zambada had been rumored to be be in poor health and isolated in the mountains leading the sons to try to assert a stronger role to keep the cartel together.

The DEA said it investigated the case in 10 countries: Australia, Austria, China, Colombia, Costa Rica, Greece, Guatemala, Mexico, Panama and the United States.

“Death and destruction are central to their whole operation,” Milgram said of the cartel.


Sherman reported from Mexico City.