NEW YORK (AP) _ The Department of State offered up to $50 million on Monday for information leading to the arrests of 10 top Mexican drug suspects accused of key roles in a violent organization estimated to have sold more than $1 billion worth of drugs in the United States.
U.S. Attorney Benton J. Campbell said the reward money and new federal charges were among U.S. efforts to dismantle a powerful drug trafficking organization known as The Company, whose members came from an elite security force called Los Zetas.
The only name on an indictment unsealed in federal court in Brooklyn was Miguel Trevino-Morales, a fugitive charged with operating a continuing criminal enterprise, international cocaine distribution and firearms violations. The indictment also sought the forfeiture of $1 billion in drug proceeds.
Campbell said in a release that Trevino-Morales, who could face life in prison if convicted, was the principal leader of Los Zetas, a group that includes former members of the Air Mobile Special Forces Group of the Mexican military who went into the drug-smuggling business.
In Washington, the Department of State announced it was offering a total of $50 million for tips leading to the capture of the defendants, including four leaders who were designated as narcotics kingpins by the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control.
The government said it was offering up to $5 million apiece for information leading to the arrests of 10 people, one of whom has been captured.
Nineteen defendants have been charged in an indictment in federal court in Washington with drug trafficking-related crimes, and others are charged in indictments in federal court in Houston.
“The joint efforts announced on Tuesday are significant steps in the department’s strategy to stop the flow of illegal drugs into our communities and the shipment of drug proceeds back to Mexico,” Campbell said.
Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer said the actions taken on Monday will at least make it more difficult for the drug dealers to move cash around.
“We have learned that the most effective way to disrupt and dismantle criminal organizations is to prosecute their leaders and seize their funding,” she said in a release. “We stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our brave Mexican colleagues in the fight against these destructive cartels.”
The Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act, which became law in 1999, prohibits all trade and transactions between U.S. companies and individuals and significant foreign narcotics traffickers, their organizations and associates who act on their behalf.
Fewer than 100 people have been designated narcotics kingpins since the first major targets were announced in June 2000.
The indictment unsealed in Brooklyn said the drug organization, formerly known as the Gulf Cartel, had become the dominant force in the drug trade along the Gulf of Mexico, transporting multi-ton quantities of cocaine each month from Mexico to Texas after obtaining it in Guatemala, Colombia, Venezuela and elsewhere.
It said a small group of deserters from the Mexican military was taken into the drug organization in the 1990s to provide a personal security force for the organization’s leader.
Eventually, the security force protected the entire organization, carrying out numerous murders, kidnappings and tortures as it ensured that cocaine and other drugs moved safely through Mexico into the United States, the indictment said.