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36 alleged cartel members indicted

August 21, 2009 4:27:46 AM PDT
The U.S. Justice Department has announced indictments against 36 members of the leading Mexican drug cartel. Several of those suspects were arrested in Chicago this week.

The government claims much of the drugs sold on streets across the U.S. came from Chicago, a well-worn route for drugs coming into America.

The DEA says 90 percent of cocaine comes through Mexico.

Chicago is a large distribution point, and whereas previous busts have focused on those doing street selling and their immediate bosses, today the feds indicted the next level-up: drug wholesalers who control the product and push it in the area.

In warehouses big and small, expensive homes in the South Loop and on the Near North Side, Federal agents say they have shut down stash houses all over our area where massive amounts of drugs were being held for distribution and sale.

"We essentially traced tons of cocaine from the streets of Chicago back to the groups in Mexico who obtained that cocaine by plane, by boat, by submarine, brought it into Mexico and shipped it by two streams to a pipeline in Chicago," U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald said.

In recent weeks and months, the feds have been working to close down the drug pipeline that leads from America's southwest border to Chicago and other big cities.

They've arrested alleged cartel members not just in the city, but also communities like Riverside, Oak Lawn, Palos Hills, Naperville, Orland Hills and Northlake.

In April, ABC7's Stacey Baca reported on Mexican drug cartels setting up shop in Chicago and the suburbs.

"We're going after these cell heads and the organization to disrupt and dismantle," DEA Special Agent in charge of the Chicago Division Gary Olenkiewicz said.

In Chicago, a pair of 28-year-old twin brothers named Pedro and Margarito Flores are in custody, charged with being a cartel's major distributor here.

"Approximately 1,500 to 2,000 kilograms of cocaine per month and significant quantities of heroin were going to an organization in Chicago led by the Flores brothers who had a pipeline. That's about two tons per month," Fitzgerald said.

While law enforcement in Washington and here in Chicago is heralding the indictment of 36 alleged drug distributors, the fact is not all are in custody--including the two men who allegedly run the Mexican cartel: Ismael Zambada-Garcia, known as El Mayo, and Joaquin Guzman-Loera, aka El Chapo. He's a billionaire who Forbes lists as the 701st richest man in the world.

"These are not symbolic acts that we are taking today. Our intention is to indict these people, get these people to the United States and put them in jail for extend periods of time," U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said.

At an off-camera briefing today by Federal law enforcement officials in Chicago, there was genuine enthusiasm for the size and scope of this bust, but also realism. One prosecutor said they know these indictments won't stop the flow of drugs into Chicago, perhaps just slowing it down a bit.


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