SAN DIEGO – A man believed to be the highest-ranking Mexican cartel leader ever to self-surrender in the United States was arraigned in federal court in San Diego Monday on drug charges.
Sinaloa Cartel cell leader Damaso Lopez-Serrano, aka Mini Lic, surrendered to U.S. law enforcement at the Calexico West Port of Entry on July 27.
Lopez-Serrano, 29, was arraigned on an indictment returned by a federal grand jury in San Diego last Aug. 19, charging him and five of his close associates, including 29-year-old Nahum Sicairos-Montalvo, with conspiracy to distribute controlled substances intended for importation and conspiracy to import controlled substances.
U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw unsealed the indictment against Lopez- Serrano and Sicairos-Montalvo and ordered Lopez-Serrano held without bail. A status hearing was set for Nov. 2.
Lopez-Serrano is believed to be the godson of notorious Sinaloa Cartel druglord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman Loera, who faces drug trafficking charges in the U.S., the San Diego Union Tribune reported.
The announcement of Lopez-Serrano’s surrender was made by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Acting Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Blanco of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and the Acting U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of California, Alana Robinson.
The government also announced the unsealing of an additional indictment returned last December in the Eastern District of Virginia charging father and son Damaso Lopez-Nunez and Damaso Lopez-Serrano, respectively, with conspiracy to distribute controlled substances intended for importation. Damaso Lopez- Nunez was arrested by Mexican authorities in May and the United States is in the process of seeking his extradition, prosecutors said.
“At a time when more Americans than ever are dying from drug overdoses, the Department of Justice has made it a top priority to target the Mexican cartel leaders responsible for the dangerous drugs that poison our families,” Sessions said. “We will continue to go after these cartel leaders in order to dismantle their organizations from top to bottom, and today’s announcement should send them a clear message: you can turn yourselves in the easy way, or we will find you and bring you to justice the hard way. No matter what, you will face the consequences.”
The newly unsealed Southern District of California indictment marks the conclusion of the fourth phase of a five-year investigation that has resulted in charges against more than 125 people and has had a significant impact on the worldwide operations of the Sinaloa Cartel, federal authorities said.
The case began in 2011 as an investigation of what was at first believed to be a small-scale drug distribution cell in National City and Chula Vista. When it became evident that the drugs were being supplied by the Sinaloa Cartel, the case evolved into a massive multi-national, multi-state probe that resulted in scores of arrests and seizures of 1,397 kilograms of methamphetamine, 2,214 kilograms of cocaine, 17.2 tons of marijuana, 95.84 kilograms of heroin and nearly $28 million in drug proceeds.
The primary indictment in the investigation, which was previously unsealed, targets the alleged leader of the cartel, Ismael Zambada-Garcia, known as “El Mayo,” as well as two of his four sons — Ismael Zambada- Sicairos and Ismael Zambada-Imperial,
Also part of that indictment is Ivan Archivaldo Guzman-Salazar, known as “Chapito.” He is the son of “El Chapo,” who was first arrested in Guatemala in 1993 and extradited to Mexico, where he was convicted and imprisoned. He escaped in 2001 by hiding in a laundry cart and remained on the lam until 2014, when he was apprehended in Mazatlan. The elder Guzman was then sent back to prison, but made another daring Mexican prison breakout last July, a month after U.S. authorities sought his extradition, and was recaptured Jan. 8 during a shootout.