By Jim Kouri
Five suspected members of the deadly Mexican drug cartel known as Los Zetas were among the 20 suspects in Chicago, Illinois, facing federal narcotics charges involving the transportation of millions of dollars in drug proceeds between Chicago and northern Mexico, according to federal law enforcement officers yesterday.
A joint investigation led by the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Federal Bureau of Investigation resulted in the charges, as well as accumulated seizures during 2010 of more than $12.4 million cash and upwards of 250 kilograms of cocaine in the Chicago area. An additional $480,000 cash and two kilograms of heroin were seized Wednesday.
Federal agents yesterday executed simultaneous arrests in the Chicago area and in Laredo, Texas, of defendants stemming from the multi-jurisdiction investigation of drug-trafficking and the flow of its narcotics proceeds. Twelve of the 20 defendants indicted in Chicago were arrested in Chicago and one suspect was nabbed in Laredo.
The 20 Chicago defendants were charged in five separate indictments that were returned by a federal grand jury on November 2 and unsealed following the suspects’ arrests. The 12 Chicago defendants arrested yesterday appeared in U.S. District Court and remain in federal custody pending detention hearings. Five defendants remain fugitives; one was already in federal custody and another is being hospitalized.
Yesterday’s seizures of cash and heroin occurred during the arrests and execution of search warrants at the residence of one defendant in Bellwood section of Chicago and another defendant’s residence in Bolingbrook, as well as a safe deposit box.
All 20 Chicago defendants were charged with various narcotics offenses, including conspiracy to possess and distribute quantities of cocaine and using a telephone to facilitate narcotics trafficking. The five alleged members of the money transportation cell were also charged with conspiracy to transfer narcotics proceeds outside the United States.
If convicted, 12 defendants face a mandatory minimum of 10 years to a maximum of life in prison and a $10 million fine, while the remaining eight defendants face a mandatory minimum of 5 years to a maximum of 40 years in prison and a $5 million fine.
The money transportation conspiracy carries a maximum of 20 years in prison and fine of twice the value of the money involved. If convicted, the Court must impose a reasonable sentence under federal statutes and the advisory United States Sentencing Guidelines.
“One indictment in this group signals the first federal prosecution in Chicago of defendants allegedly tied to Los Zetas drug-trafficking cartel, and the seizures of cash represented a significant blow to the operation of this alleged money transportation cell,” said Patrick J. Fitzgerald, United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois.
One indictment alleges that defendant Eduardo Trevino, a fugitive believed to reside in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, directed a money transportation network for Los Zetas from Nuevo Laredo, and that this network coordinated the transfer of money from places such as Chicago to Laredo, and then from Laredo to Mexico.
At the direction of Los Zetas, defendant Salvador Estrada allegedly collected, processed and concealed cash from the sale of drugs so that the narcotics proceeds could be transported by truck drivers, including defendants Miguel Arredondo and Vicente Casares, from Chicago to Laredo, knowing that the proceeds would be transported to Los Zetas in Mexico. Defendant Juan Aguirre allegedly worked with the others to coordinate the delivery of cash proceeds to truck drivers.
Estrada allegedly identified and maintained safe houses where drug proceeds were secretly collected, packaged and concealed in Chicago.
The 14-count indictment against Trevino and the five alleged Chicago cell members seeks forfeiture of approximately $13 million, including the $12.45 million seized previously. Five of the six were charged with conspiracy to transport narcotics proceeds outside the United States.
Together with defendant, Aureliano Montoya-Pena, all six were charged with conspiracy to possess and distribute more than five kilograms of cocaine and various other narcotics offenses. The other four indictments charge the remaining 14 defendants with various narcotics distribution offenses.