The US government has sanctioned the alleged leaders of a Mexico-based heroin trafficking ring in another indication of a new emphasis on disrupting the flow of the Mexican heroin that is fueling an epidemic in opioid abuse in the United States.
On April 14, the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced sanctions against Job, Ismael, and Ruben Laredo Donjuan, three brothers who allegedly run the Laredo drug trafficking organization.
Sanctions were also levied against Job’s wife, Mercedes Barrios Hernandez, and Ismael’s wife, Daniela Gomez Velazquez, as well as Antonio Marcelo Barragan, who allegedly served as a supplier of raw opium for the Laredo organization, and Ismael Reyna Felix, who is accused of handling illicit funds. OFAC named a fifth individual, Andres Laredo Estrada, but did not clarify his alleged role in the organization. (See the OFAC graphic below)
According to a federal indictment that accuses the Laredo network of importing approximately 1 ton of heroin into the United States, the group began manufacturing heroin in Mexico and smuggling it into the United States around 2008. The network used the Chicago area as a hub for distributing bulk shipments of heroin to street-level dealers across the northeastern United States.
The indictment also accuses the Laredo organization of using a variety of money laundering techniques such as funnel accounts, wire transfers, and Western Union money grams to launder at least $5 million of its heroin proceeds.
Furthermore, the indictment claims that the Laredo brothers and members of their organization used violence and threats of violence — including murder, assault, kidnapping and arson — to protect their operation.
A spokesperson from the US Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, which is handling the prosecution, told InSight Crime that all of the individuals named in the indictment are in custody with the exception of Job, Ismael and their spouses and the alleged opium supplier Barragan.
InSight Crime Analysis
The details of the Laredo operation underscore a trend previously reported by InSight Crime; Mexican heroin trafficking organizations are increasingly competing with traditionally dominant Colombian groups for heroin markets in the eastern United States.
SEE ALSO: Coverage of Heroin
The sanctions against the Laredo organization come as US anti-drugs authorities continue to express alarm over rising rates of heroin abuse in the United States and are the latest sign that heroin trafficking is a growing priority for US government agencies. According to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), heroin has replaced methamphetamine as the drug of greatest concern for law enforcement due to its increasing availability around the country and a spike in deaths attributable to heroin overdoses (pdf). In addition, the White House recently described opioid abuse in the United States as an “epidemic” and proposed more than $1 billion in new funding to address the issue.