Eight high-ranking members of the Sinaloa drug cartel, who direct drug smuggling along a 375-mile area of the U.S.-Arizona border, were named Tuesday by the Treasury Department as narcotics kingpins — which targets them for multimillion-dollar fines and severe prison sentences.
The designation by the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control marks what U.S. officials described as “another step” in efforts to specifically target drug smugglers “responsible for the horrific acts of violence committed along the Arizona border with Mexico.
“We will continue to work alongside our partners in federal law enforcement as well as the Mexican government to financially cripple and dismantle the Sinaloa cartel,” Director Adam J. Szubin said.
The designation prohibits people in the U.S. from conducting financial or commercial transactions with the kingpins and freezes any assets they may have under U.S. jurisdiction. It also subjects them to civil penalties of up to $1.075 million per violation and criminal penalties of up to 30 years in prison and fines up to $5 million.
The eight named Sinaloa leaders are described as “plaza bosses,” each of whom is assigned an area of the border to oversee drug-smuggling operations. They are Cenobio Flores Pacheco, Jesus Alfred Salazar Ramirez, Guillermo Nieblas Nava, Ramon Ignacio Paes Soto, Felipe De Jesus Sosa Canisales, Armando Lopez Aispuro, Jose Javier Rascon Ramirez and Raul Sabon Cisneros.
U.S. law enforcement authorities said the Sinaloa cartel depends on the plaza bosses along the border to coordinate, direct and support the smuggling of illegal drugs from Mexico into the United States and the smuggling of contraband from the U.S. to Mexico. The plaza bosses rely on violence to maintain their positions, using hitmen — known as “sicarios” — to control a specific area.
The Tucson and Phoenix metropolitan areas are major transshipment and distribution points for contraband being smuggling out of and into Sonora, Mexico.
The U.S. authorities said the eight Sinaloa plaza bosses work on behalf of Joaquin “Chapo” Guzman Loera and Ismael “Mayo” Zambada Garcia — the leaders of the cartel — as well as Gonzalo Inzunza Inzunza, a top cartel lieutenant.
“We must continue to utilize every tool available to ensure that these criminal groups and their associates cannot exploit the U.S. financial system,” said Douglas W. Coleman, the special agent in charge at the DEA’s Phoenix field office.
U.S. law enforcement authorities have described the Sinaloa cartel as the most powerful drug trafficking organization in the world. It was founded nearly 40 years ago. Due to its desire to expand, and the successful efforts of law enforcement to curtail them, the cartel has lashed out violently and is responsible for much of the violence taking place in Mexico.