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DEA investigation into luxury planes linked to El Chapo, reveals Sinaloa cartel’s reach in Midwest

January 11, 2017  |  Posted by: JammedUp Staff
DEA investigation into luxury planes linked to El Chapo, reveals Sinaloa cartel’s reach in Midwest DEA investigation

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A luxury airplane purchased from a Michigan-based company by Mexican drug lord Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzman that was intercepted by federal agents in 2014 as part of a DEA investigation exemplifies the reach, the level of complicity, and the immense size of the illegal operations of the Sinaloa drug cartel in the United States.

Additionally, the DEA investigation also revealed that cartel operatives weren’t only trafficking narcotics in Michigan, but were also laundering millions of dollars of drug money and going on shopping sprees, according to a report by The Detroit News.

Federal agents seized the turboprop Rockwell International Commander 690B two years ago at the San Antonio International Airport in Texas before a pilot could fly the plane into Mexico as part of a widespread criminal probe targeting the Sinaloa cartel that dates back to 2012.

However, nobody has ever tried to retrieve the aircraft.

Feds seized this Commander two years ago in Texas. (Photo: R.A. Swick & Associates)

As a result, the Commander plane, which sold for $940,000 was forfeited to the U.S. government and will likely be sold.

“Nobody wants the plane except for the government?” U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman asked a U.S. prosecutor during a recent hearing in Detroit Federal Court.

The judge asked what the plane was worth. “Almost a million dollars,” U.S. Attorney Paul Kuebler responded.

When DEA officials launched an investigation that eventually led to the Detroit Metro area, Guzman remained a fugitive for 11 years following his first escape from a prison in Puente Grande, Jalisco in 2001.

The plane was sold in May 2014 for $940,000. It is now in the feds’ hands. (Photo: Department of Homeland Security)

At the time, ‘El Chapo’ still led the Sinaloa cartel, a billion dollar criminal enterprise widely recognized as the most powerful drug trafficking organization in the world with a presence in 59 different countries.

The DEA investigation uncovered the Sinaloa cartel’s powerful grip on the U.S. drug market and the group’s deep ties throughout the Midwest including Chicago and Detroit.

Federal officials said that from 2008 to 2012, a Sinaloa cartel drug network was trafficking over 600 kilos of cocaine every month into the city of Detroit.

According to court records, the DEA investigation uncovered that the narcotics shipments destined for Detroit were often smuggled into the U.S. over the Arizona border with Mexico before they were transported to Michigan.

Pictured: Dozens of airplanes by Mexican authorities in Culiacan, Mexico belonging to the Sinaloa cartel

Cartel members met the drug loads at a warehouse in Wyandotte, Michigan, where the cocaine was unloaded and distributed.

Law enforcement officials said the investigation discovered that Sinaloa drug cartel operatives began purchasing planes further away from Mexico and southern border states in an attempt to evade detection by law enforcement.

Authorities said ‘El Chapo’s’ criminal organization owns a bigger fleet of planes than Mexico’s Aeromexico Airlines.

According to the newspaper El Universal, between 2006-2015, Mexican authorities seized 599 air crafts from the Sinaloa cartel.

Trafficking routes of the Sinaloa cartel to the major U.S. markets in the midwest and west coast

“Typically, a cartel would utilize small panes … to facilitate the movement of narcotics … or themselves. Often times senior cartel figures are fugitives and can’t travel via commercial aircraft like you or I could, or by other legitimate means,” DEA special agent Patrick Curran, who was involved in the Torres investigation, testified during a court hearing.

The massive fleet also utilized almost 5,000 clandestine airstrips lacing the remote mountainous regions in the northwestern state of Sinaloa.

During the DEA investigation, agents further uncovered intel that the Detroit drug trafficking network was headed by none other than Ivan Archivaldo and Jesus Alfredo Salazar Guzman, the sons of ‘El Chapo.’

Agents intercepted electronic communications that led to Jorge Martin Torres, a businessman from Mexico who federal court records described as a high-level money laundering associate working for the sons of the drug kingpin.

Sons of El Chapo, Ivan Archivaldo Guzman Salazar (left) and Jesus Alfredo Guzman Salazar, oversaw the drug trafficking network in Detroit for their father

In addition to laundering drug proceeds, Torres would travel the U.S. on a visa and employ straw purchasers to buy luxury cars, properties, and airplanes for his clients.

A DEA agent testified that Torres laundered the money through multiple resources, which were then used to purchase planes and luxury items.

In 2014, law enforcement managed to track the case back to Detroit after cartel operatives went shopping for air crafts. Consequently, around the same time, Homeland Security had alerted companies in the Midwest that members of Mexican drug trafficking organizations were increasingly purchasing airplanes in the Midwest.

A representative of the Michigan-based aircraft company alerted federal authorities of Mexican nationals who were interested in buying the Commander.

The Sinaloa cartel utilized 87-year-old Leo Sharp as a drug trafficking mule to evade the detection of law enforcement

Law enforcement officials allowed the sale ao the seller of the plane could collect his commission before seizing the craft in May 2014 in San Antonio.

Five months later, feds nabbed Torres as he exited a flight to San Antonio from Mexico.

A federal judge sentenced Torres to 44 months in prison for helping the Sinaloa cartel purchase of the turboprop Commander.

A 2011 arrest, which agents would eventually link to the drug trafficking network, uncovered how the Sinaloa cartel utilized the most extraordinary means to avoid the detection of authorities in Detroit: in the form of an 87-year-old drug mule from Michigan City, Indiana.

A Michigan State trooper arrested  Leo Sharp, an elderly suspect, who was attempting to transport 228 pounds of cocaine concealed in the back of his pickup in Oct 2011.

Mexican drug lord Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzman during his recapture in January 2016 could soon be U.S. bound after exhausting the legal process against his extradition

When the trooper discovered the drugs, Sharp told the officer “Just kill me and let me leave this planet.”

A terminally ill Sharp was released from federal custody in August 2015.

As for Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzmán, he currently sits in a maximum security facility under 24-hour heavy guard in the border state of Chihuahua after he was recaptured in January 2016 following his July 2015 dramatic prison escape through a 1.5-mile elaborate tunnel that led underneath the shower area of his cell

After exhausting the extradition process, the notorious drug lord could be mere weeks away from his extradition to the United States, where he is wanted for multiple drug trafficking indictments in several different jurisdictions.

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