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‘Chapitos,’ sons of the convicted Mexican drug lord El Chapo, indicted in far-flung fentanyl conspiracy involving Chinese suppliers

Los 'Chapitos'

The Chapitos are Ivan Guzman Salazar, 40, Alfredo Guzman Salazar, 37, Ovidio Guzman Lopez, 33 and Joaquin Guzman Lopez, 36. (Photos via the State Dept.)

Four sons of convicted Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman are among 28 Sinaloa cartel members and others charged in a massive Justice Department indictment alleging a global fentanyl conspiracy involving Chinese suppliers.

Known as the “Chapitos,” the indicted “El Chapo” spawn are Ivan Guzman Salazar, 40, Alfredo Guzman Salazar, 37, Joaquin Guzman Lopez, 36, and Ovidio Guzman Lopez, 33.

Their cases were greeted with great fanfare on Friday morning inside the Justice Department and no fewer than three U.S. attorneys’ offices.

Attorney General Merrick B. Garland trumpeted the “significant enforcement actions against the largest, most violent, and most prolific fentanyl trafficking operation in the world – run by the Sinaloa Cartel, and fueled by Chinese precursor chemical and pharmaceutical companies.”

“Families and communities across our country are being devastated by the fentanyl epidemic,” Garland added.

Federal prosecutors allege that the “Chapitos” helped take over the family business after their father’s January 2016 arrest — and extradition the following year. They allegedly shared power with Zambada Garcia and Damaso Lopez Nunez, aka Licenciado, but the alleged drug traffickers internally struggled for dominance.

Prosecutors say that the “Chapitos” threatened and wrought violence against Lopez Nunez, his family, and his associates in order to become principal leaders and drug traffickers within the Sinaloa Cartel.

Drug kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman is escorted to a helicopter at Mexico City’s airport on Jan. 8, 2016 following his recapture during an intense military operation in Los Mochis, in Sinaloa State. (Photo via ALFREDO ESTRELLA/AFP/Getty Images)

In addition to charging the Chapo offspring, the Justice Department charged their alleged Chinese suppliers, a Guatemalan-based broker who allegedly bought the cartel’s chemicals, an alleged weapons supplier, and their alleged money launderers.

Officials framed the indictment as a blow against those profiting from the suffering and death wrought by the opioid epidemic.

“From August 2021 to August 2022, 107,735 people died of drug overdoses in the United States,” Garland noted at a press conference. “Two-thirds of those deaths involved synthetic opioids — primarily fentanyl. Between 2019 and 2021, fatal overdoses in America increased by about 94%, with an estimated 196 Americans dying every day from fentanyl poisoning.”

Manhattan U.S. Attorney Damian Williams highlighted that “misery” in his statement.

“For over a decade, the illicit fentanyl trade has created a plague of addiction, death, and misery for Americans and New Yorkers of all walks of life,” Williams said. “As alleged, the sons of the infamous Sinaloa Cartel leader ‘El Chapo,’ Ivan Archivaldo Guzman Salazar, Jesus Alfredo Guzman Salazar, and Ovidio Guzman Lopez, commanded the Sinaloa Cartel’s fentanyl manufacturing and trafficking operation.”

DEA Administrator Anne Milgram told reporters that the massive takedown occurred thanks in part to the agency’s “infiltration” of the cartel.”

“Today’s indictments send a clear message to the Chapitos, the Sinaloa Cartel, and criminal drug networks around the world that the DEA will stop at nothing to protect the national security of the United States and the safety and health of the American people,” Milgram said in a statement. “The Chapitos pioneered the manufacture and trafficking of fentanyl – the deadliest drug threat our country has ever faced – flooded it into the United States for the past eight years and killed hundreds of thousands of Americans. Over the last year and a half, the DEA proactively infiltrated the Sinaloa Cartel and the Chapitos network, obtained unprecedented access to the organization’s highest levels, and followed them across the world.”

Like their father, the “Chapitos” face life imprisonment if convicted, but authorities will have to find most of them first. Only Ovidio Guzman Lopez reportedly is in custody, incarcerated in the same Juarez lockup that his father escaped from in 2015, according to The Independent. Seven other defendants are in custody.

As for the remaining “Chapitos,” U.S. authorities are offering a $15 million reward for information leading to their capture.

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Law&Crime's managing editor Adam Klasfeld has spent more than a decade on the legal beat. Previously a reporter for Courthouse News, he has appeared as a guest on NewsNation, NBC, MSNBC, CBS's "Inside Edition," BBC, NPR, PBS, Sky News, and other networks. His reporting on the trial of Ghislaine Maxwell was featured on the Starz and Channel 4 documentary "Who Is Ghislaine Maxwell?" He is the host of Law&Crime podcast "Objections: with Adam Klasfeld."