Brian McKnight, special agent in charge of the Chicago office of the Drug Enforcement Administration, said the new coordination will allow for easier targeting of every player in the drug networks regardless of which country they are in.
“From the local Chicago-based gangs to those who traffic in multiton quantities of heroin and fentanyl … to those cartel leaders poisoning the neighborhoods of Chicago,” McKnight said.
The announcement came at a news conference at the DEA’s headquarters in Chicago following strategy meetings with Mexican officials, including leaders of the Mexican attorney general’s office and that country’s federal police. The cooperation between the countries’ law enforcement agencies comes as strains between the U.S. and Mexico have risen under President Donald Trump, though officials did not address those tensions.
While the Wednesday event was somewhat short on details, Chicago police Superintendent Eddie Johnson said he welcomed the help to address what many believe is an important factor in the city’s struggles with violence.
“We have a unique gang problem, and with that comes a unique violence problem with the guns associated with that,” Johnson said. “We also know that cartels in Mexico are responsible for much of the illegal drugs that are finding their way to Chicago.”
Federal investigators have long said that the same factors that make Chicago a national business and transportation center make it an attractive place through which to run an efficient hub-and-spoke system for illicit drugs. Those who addressed the media Wednesday said they are all too aware that cartels work hard to get heroin and other drugs to the city for distribution, and that large amounts of money then flows the other way.
McKnight said that so far this year, some 300 kilograms of heroin have been seized in Chicago alone, and the city has seen a 50 percent increase in overdose deaths.
“To be crystal clear, the drugs are being manufactured in Mexico, and Mexican cartels control the routes into the United States for distribution,” he said.
The problem then moves past Chicago to the rest of the center of the country and beyond, officials said, as the same networks move factory-quantity amounts of methamphetamine to cities such as Detroit, Milwaukee and St. Louis.
Mexican law enforcement leaders who attended the press conference, including Mexico’s acting attorney general, Alberto Elias Beltran, said the country’s new president, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, backs the new cooperation. Lopez Obrador was elected on a platform that included a call to ease the drug war.
McKnight said the plans include a new local task force involving the DEA, FBI, Chicago police and others to target gangs, as well as the group that will target international cartel members with the help of 10 DEA offices in Mexico and Mexican law enforcement.
Chicago efforts have previously proved important in U.S. attempts to crack down on the cartels.
Sinaloa cartel leader Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman was indicted here in connection with his group’s vast trafficking network with the help of two brothers from the Little Village neighborhood who recorded the infamous drug boss. Guzman is expected to be tried in New York in a federal case there, however.
Officials on Wednesday said Guzman’s takedown and subsequent extradition to the U.S. sent a message to top traffickers that they would like to repeat. And that effort has created a power vacuum being filled by the likes of Nemesio Oseguera Cervantes, known as “El Mencho,” who is head of the Jalisco New Generation cartel.
Guzman was the first declared “Public Enemy No. 1” here since the legendary Chicago Outfit boss Al Capone, as decided by the Chicago Crime Commission.
The commission, which first gave Guzman the label in 2013, so far has not applied it to Cervantes or any other would-be replacement, but its director, Jeff Johnson, did attend Wednesday’s announcement. Johnson said his organization is excited to support the new law enforcement efforts.
He noted that the news conference was happening not far from the Chicago Board of Trade, an economic powerhouse. Giant illicit drug markets on Chicago’s South and West sides operate in stark contrast to that institution, he said.
“The buyers and sellers there don’t rely on contracts, they don’t resort to courts of law,” Johnson said. “When they have disputes, they settle those disputes through intimidation and violence, resulting even in shootings and killings, and we’ve seen too many of them over the years.”
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