The Alarming Expansion Of Mexican Cartels In Every U.S. State: No Joe, This Isn’t Going Well.

Story by Brian Burns

The scourge of Mexican drug cartels has infiltrated every corner of the United States, according to a chilling new report from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

The agency’s 2024 National Drug Threat Assessment paints a grim picture, revealing how the Sinaloa Cartel and Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG) have established a stranglehold on the illicit drug trade, fueling an unprecedented overdose crisis that is now the leading cause of death for Americans aged 18-45.

The DEA’s findings are unequivocal – the Sinaloa and Jalisco cartels have a presence in all 50 states, dominating the production and trafficking of fentanyl, methamphetamine, and other synthetic drugs that have ravaged communities nationwide.

These criminal organizations have effectively “eliminated any competition in U.S. markets,” the report states, dictating the flow of virtually every illegal substance that crosses the southern border.

At the heart of this crisis is fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that is up to 100 times more potent than morphine. Fueled by the cartels’ ruthless efficiency in manufacturing and distributing the drug, fentanyl overdoses have skyrocketed, accounting for nearly 70% of all drug-related deaths in 2022. In just the first six months of 2023, the DEA estimates that fentanyl caused over 38,000 fatalities – a staggering statistic that underscores the gravity of the situation.

The cartels’ stranglehold extends beyond fentanyl, with methamphetamine and cocaine also emerging as major threats. In 2022, methamphetamine was linked to over 34,000 deaths, while cocaine-related fatalities, often due to fentanyl-laced supplies, topped 15,000 in the first half of 2023 alone.

Deaths involving more than one substance are reflected in the totals for all substances cited in the decedent’s toxicology report. (DEA)

Deaths involving more than one substance are reflected in the totals for all substances cited in the decedent’s toxicology report. (DEA)© Tampa Free Press

The DEA’s report delves into the intricate organizational structures of the Sinaloa and Jalisco cartels, shedding light on how they maintain their dominance.

DEA Drug Seizures (DEA)

DEA Drug Seizures (DEA)© Tampa Free Press

Sinaloa Cartel: The Umbrella Model

The Sinaloa Cartel, once led by the infamous Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, operates under a unique “umbrella” model, with four separate but cooperating criminal organizations working in tandem. This structure, the DEA says, “theoretically gives the heads of the independent drug trafficking groups the ability to share resources – like smuggling routes, corrupt contacts, access to illicit chemical suppliers and money laundering networks – without sharing profits or having to answer to a main chain of command.”

Jalisco Cartel: The Franchise Approach

In contrast, the Jalisco Cartel employs a franchise-like business model, overseen by the cartel’s leader, Rubén “El Mencho” Oseguera Cervantes, and a small cadre of top commanders. This system allows for rapid expansion, as individual franchise groups can customize their operations to specific market demands while still adhering to the cartel’s branding and organizational structure.

The Cartels’ Reach into American Communities

The DEA’s report paints a troubling picture of the cartels’ deep infiltration into communities across the United States.

Thousands of cartel-linked drug dealers operate in major cities, serving as the final link in a vast distribution network that stretches from Mexico to every corner of America.

The report identifies key hubs for the cartels, such as Los Angeles, Phoenix, Houston, Chicago, Atlanta, and Miami, where the organizations maintain a strong presence. From these central nodes, smaller branches spread the deadly drugs further, often utilizing social media and messaging apps to advertise their products and recruit new dealers.

The DEA’s report includes a detailed map illustrating the varying levels of cartel presence in each U.S. state.

The border states of California, Arizona, and Texas, as well as Illinois, Florida, and New York, are shaded in the darkest blue, indicating the highest levels of cartel activity. However, the report emphasizes that no state is immune, with some degree of cartel presence now documented in all 50 states.

DEA Report (2024)

DEA Report (2024)© Tampa Free Press

The Sinaloa and Jalisco cartels’ influence extends far beyond the borders of the United States, with the DEA report noting their “global reach” into lucrative drug markets in Europe, Africa, Asia, and Oceania. In addition to their core drug trafficking operations, the cartels are also involved in a range of other illicit activities, including arms trafficking, money laundering, migrant smuggling, and sex trafficking.

In the face of this daunting challenge, the DEA has launched a series of targeted operations to combat the cartels’ stranglehold on the American drug trade.

Operation Last Mile

“Operation Last Mile” was a major initiative that tracked the Sinaloa and Jalisco cartels’ distribution networks across the country, resulting in 1,436 investigations and 3,337 arrests. The operation also led to the seizure of nearly 44 million fentanyl pills, over 6,500 pounds of fentanyl powder, more than 91,000 pounds of methamphetamine, 8,497 firearms, and over $100 million in illicit proceeds.

Operation Overdrive

Building on the success of Operation Last Mile, the DEA has now launched “Operation Overdrive,” which focuses on the most violence- and overdose-plagued cities to target the cartel-linked dealers responsible for the deadly fentanyl crisis. The operation aims to “relentlessly pursue and defeat the two Mexican drug cartels … that are primarily responsible for driving the current fentanyl poisoning epidemic in the United States.”

The DEA’s efforts to combat the cartels’ influence have been hampered by the Mexican government’s apparent unwillingness to take decisive action. President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has repeatedly downplayed the threat posed by the cartels, even going so far as to describe them as “respectful people” who “respect the citizenry

The DEA’s report cites the case of Abraham Oseguera, the brother of CJNG leader Rubén “El Mencho” Oseguera Cervantes, as a prime example of Mexico’s reluctance to confront the cartels. Despite being captured by the Mexican Army, Oseguera was released just nine days later, with a judge claiming there were no legal grounds to keep him in custody.

The report also highlights Mexico’s failure to capitalize on opportunities to disrupt the cartels, such as when the son of former Sinaloa Cartel boss Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán was arrested in 2019. In that instance, the cartel’s violent response forced the Mexican government to release the suspect, a move that the DEA says demonstrates the “terrifying threat of the Jalisco cartel.”

The DEA’s 2024 National Drug Threat Assessment paints a grim picture of the Sinaloa and Jalisco cartels’ stranglehold on the United States, with their dominance of the synthetic drug trade fueling an unprecedented overdose crisis that is now the leading cause of death for young Americans. As the cartels continue to expand their reach and influence, the DEA’s ongoing efforts to combat this threat face significant challenges, particularly in the face of Mexico’s apparent unwillingness to confront the problem head-on.

The report serves as a dire warning for the future, underscoring the urgent need for a comprehensive, coordinated, and sustained response from law enforcement agencies, policymakers, and public health officials to combat the scourge of Mexican cartels and the devastation they have wreaked on communities across the United States.

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