Last November, the cook at a Mexican seafood restaurant in Santa Ana approached a diner with a question. Would it be possible, he asked the man, to get him 200 to 300 assault rifles?
So began an alleged deal for machine guns that Nicola Hanna, the U.S. attorney in Los Angeles, traced on Wednesday to the Cártel de Jalisco Nueva Generación, or Jalisco New Generation, a Mexican drug trafficking organization known to few people in the United States, but one Hanna called “one of the most significant transnational criminal threats we face today.”
Twenty-seven people were arrested Wednesday morning in Rancho Cucamonga, North Hollywood and Sun Valley, a group that included distributors, stash house managers and couriers for the cartel, officials said.
Bill Bodner, the special agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Los Angeles office, described Jalisco New Generation as a pioneer in manufacturing synthetic drugs such as methamphetamine and fentanyl, which are cheap to produce and highly potent — often fatally so.
The cartel has seized control of Tijuana’s smuggling routes, Bodner said, moving methamphetamine, fentanyl, heroin and cocaine through the border city and into Los Angeles, where drugs are warehoused before being ferried to distribution hubs that include Houston, Chicago and Atlanta.
Its leader, Nemesio Oseguera Cervantes, has no qualms killing people, Bodner said, through either overdoses from drugs his organization peddles or outright murder. The DEA is offering a $10-million reward for information leading to his arrest. Oseguera, who is known as “El Mencho,” is believed to be living in Mexico, Bodner said.
Oseguera lived for a time in San Francisco and his children are U.S. citizens. His son and daughter are under federal indictment in Washington, D.C., his son charged with drug trafficking and firearms offenses, his daughter accused of violating the Kingpin Act, which bars U.S. citizens from doing business with entities the Treasury Department has linked to drug traffickers and money launderers.
Oseguera is a slight man — about 5 feet 7 and 150 pounds, according to his wanted notice at the DEA — but ruthless, Bodner said. The cartel he leads is “very top-down, a traditional pyramid-type business,” he said, one he contrasted with Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman’s Sinaloa cartel, which was riven with infighting. While Guzman “was a lot of flash,” Oseguera is more disciplined, Bodner said, practicing a methodical brand of violence and always pursuing new, more stealthy ways of making money.
Hanna said he traveled to Mexico City recently to discuss the Jalisco New Generation cartel with the Mexican attorney general’s office. The cartel, he said, is spending some of the drug proceeds on high-powered weaponry for its arsenals in Mexico. He pointed to an indictment returned last week, charging four men with attempting to purchase belt-fed machine guns.
When the cook, Oscar Hernandez Miranda, asked the diner at the Mariscos Centenario restaurant in Santa Ana in November about buying AK-47s and AR-15s, he didn’t know the man he’d approached was an informant for the DEA, according to an affidavit signed by Special Agent Adam Cirillo. The informant told Hernandez he would ask around.
He introduced Hernandez to a man he described as a gun supplier, but who was actually a second informant for the DEA, the affidavit said. Hernandez brought several associates into the negotiations, according to the affidavit, among them Juan Cobian-Alvarez, a U.S. citizen who was living in Mexico.
On a Thursday afternoon last month, Cobian-Alvarez and his driver, Ignacio Santana-Robles, pulled up in a white Jeep Grand Cherokee to a warehouse in Los Angeles. The informant introduced the men to his “boss,” who was actually an agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
In a recorded meeting, Cobian-Alvarez said he wanted to buy as many M60 belt-fed machine guns and M203 grenade launchers as possible, but he would purchase just two M60s that day for $15,000 apiece, according to the affidavit. Santana-Robles put stacks of cash on the table, the affidavit said, and the two men were promptly arrested. Hernandez and a fourth man, Juan Panduro of Santa Ana, were also arrested that day.
Had they succeeded in purchasing those machine guns, Hanna said, the weaponry would have been bound for the Jalisco New Generation cartel’s armory.
After he was arrested, Hernandez told agents all he knew of the cartel’s leader came from the news, which portrayed Oseguera as “killing people and doing bad things,” Cirillo, the DEA agent, wrote in the affidavit. Cobian-Alvarez told agents he “has nothing to do with the cartel but the guy that provided [him] the money does,” Cirillo wrote.
The four men are scheduled to be arraigned March 20 and have yet to enter a plea.
“The government is going to allege this is connected to the cartels — this may or may not be the case,” said Angel Navarro, Cobian-Alvarez’s attorney. “It’s really too early for me to give an assessment.”
Navarro said he has yet to review the government’s evidence. Attorneys for Cobian-Alvarez’s codefendants couldn’t be reached Wednesday.
Two additional indictments, returned recently by grand juries in Los Angeles, describe a trafficking network that spanned several Southern California counties, moved drugs in bulk and turned dirty American dollars into Mexican pesos through an unnamed “Chinese money laundering organization.”
Outside a shopping center in Solana Beach, at a bus stop in Claremont and in an apartment in Rancho Cucamonga, pounds of methamphetamine and kilograms of cocaine changed hands, the indictments charge.
Five people named in the indictments and allegedly tied to the cartel were arrested Wednesday, according to a DEA spokeswoman.
Griselda Reyes surrendered to the authorities, while Angello Medina was taken into custody in Arleta, Yadhira Rodriguez in Moreno Valley, Jesus Chaidez in Riverside and Luis Martinez in Los Angeles’ Mid-City neighborhood. Eduardo Monroy was arrested at the San Ysidro port of entry near Tijuana on Saturday. It was unclear from court records whether any of them had retained lawyers as of Wednesday.