- The Washington Times - Friday, August 21, 2009

The Justice Department on Thursday announced the indictments of 43 leaders, members and associates of Mexican drug cartels, including a cartel leader who appeared this year on Forbes magazine’s list of billionaires.

But reputed billionaire Joaquin “el Chapo” Guzman-Loera has not been apprehended. In fact, Guzman, for whom the State Department recently offered a $5 million bounty, has been under U.S. indictment since the 1990s and has been on the run since escaping from a Mexican prison earlier this decade.

Overall, 10 cartel leaders were indicted, though only one is in custody. Esteban Rodriguez-Olivera, a leader of the Los Gueros drug trafficking organization, is currently in a Mexican jail. The Justice Department declined to say whether it would seek his extradition to the U.S.

Despite most of the cartel leaders remaining free, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said Thursday’s announcement was not simply “symbolic.”

“Our intention is to indict these people, to get these people to the United States and to put them in jail for extended periods of time,” Mr. Holder said at a news conference announcing the indictments. “This is not simply an expression of displeasure by the United States government. This is the result of a lot of really intense work by a great number of people in our government in cooperation with people in Mexico.”

Acting Drug Enforcement Administration Administrator Michele Leonhart said, “These indictments now are more recent and every time we target and go after these cartel leaders we find more and more ways to attack them.”

Thursday’s announcement highlighted the fourth recent major operation undertaken by the Justice Department against Mexican drug cartels, which have spread corruption and violence that has left thousands of drug dealers, law enforcement officers and innocent bystanders dead.

In February, the Justice Department announced the arrests of 755 members or associates of the powerful Sinaloa Cartel, of which Guzman is the reputed boss.

The new indictments charge Guzman, fellow Sinaloa cartel leader Ismael Zambada-Garcia and Arturo Beltran-Leyva, a former Sinaloa cartel members who split with the group after a 2008 dispute, with running one of the most lucrative and deadly drug organizations since 1990. Authorities say they, along with others, trafficked hundreds of tons of cocaine and other drugs into the U.S. and took $5.8 billion back across the border.

The indictments, 12 in all, were unsealed in federal courts in Brooklyn, N.Y., and Chicago. Every person charged faces life in prison.

Most of the people indicted have ties to the Sinaloa cartel, though some are linked to other drug trafficking organizations, including the Los Gueros and the Juarez cartels.

Along with the 43 people indicted, 15 others had been previously charged as part of the same investigation. The Justice Department said about half of the 58 people charged in total have been apprehended.

According to authorities, the probe in New York grew out of investigations into contract killings involving lost drug shipments. The probe in Chicago grew out of a DEA investigation into street gangs that pierced through layers of drug wholesalers to reach cartel leaders.

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