Alleged cartel kingpin ‘El Piolin’ charged in newly unsealed indictment

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions speaks during a news conference on October 16, 2018 in Washington, DC. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Acting Administrator Uttam Dhillon of the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) announced plans to take enforcement actions against Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generacion (CJNG). (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

SAN DIEGO – An alleged leader of a cartel considered by federal authorities to be one of the largest and most dangerous criminal groups operating in Mexico has been indicted, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of California announced Tuesday.

Juan “Piolin” Perez-Vargas of Guadalajara was arrested in that Mexican city in September 2017 and is awaiting extradition to the United States, according to prosecutors.

In January 2017, a federal grand jury in San Diego returned a sealed indictment charging Perez-Vargas with conspiracy to import and distribute illicit narcotics.

Perez-Vargas, 37, allegedly has served as a ringleader of the Jalisco Nueva Generacion cartel, considered by the U.S. Department of Justice one of the five most dangerous transnational criminal organizations in the world.

The cartel, founded in 2011, is responsible for trafficking many tons of cocaine, methamphetamine and fentanyl-laced heroin into the United States, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

The Drug Enforcement Administration estimates that cartel exerts influence in 23 of 31 of Mexican states, controlling key drug production and transportation corridors. The organization also is responsible for significant amounts of violence and loss of life in Mexico, according to government officials.

CJNG gained its power in Mexico as a result of the organization’s disciplined command and control, sophisticated money-laundering techniques, efficient drug-transportation routes and extreme violence, prosecutors contend. The cartel has expanded globally, with significant presence and illicit business not only throughout the United States and Mexico, but also Europe, Asia and Australia.

The newly unsealed indictment marks the conclusion of the initial phase of a multi-year investigation targeting the leadership elements, lieutenants, associates and money launderers connected with CJNG.

“With today’s announcement, the attorney general has made clear the department’s focus on dismantling transnational criminal organizations,” San Diego-area U.S. Attorney Adam Braverman said, referring to Jeff Sessions.

“This indictment proves yet again that the Southern District of California will take the lead to relentlessly target and bring to justice the most significant drug kingpins, no matter where they operate.”

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