CHICAGO — Federal authorities on Thursday announced the indictment of 10 men described as Mexican cartel leaders who have organized the smuggling of billions of dollars of drugs into the United States.
The indictments, unsealed in federal courts here and in Brooklyn and announced in Washington by Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., charge those 10 and 33 others with operating a coast-to-coast distribution network through which, the government said, cash and drugs have flowed freely for nearly two decades.
The 10 chief suspects remain at large, as do 25 of the 33 others charged. During the last week, The remaining eight have been arrested in Chicago and Atlanta.
The new cases, following several others Holder has announced this year, coincide with the United States' efforts to reassure Mexico that it will support a crackdown on drug wars there that have left thousands dead.
The three leading suspects — Joaquin Guzman Loera, Ismael Zambada Garcia and Arturo Beltran Leyva — are accused of being current or former heads of one of the most powerful Mexican crime syndicates, the Sinaloa Cartel, also known as the Federation. They have coordinated the shipment of more than 200 tons of cocaine and large quantities of heroin into the United States, said prosecutors, who as part of the case are seeking the forfeiture of $5.8 billion in drug proceeds.
Though some of the accused have long been sought by the authorities, Holder said the effort now was different because of the "unprecedented cooperation" of Mexico. "We are in a substantially different place than we were 10 years ago," he said.
The indictments were announced little more than a week after President Barack Obama met with Mexico's president, Felipe Calderon, and renewed a pledge to work closely with the Mexican authorities in combating drug trafficking.
Many top leaders of the cartels continue to elude the authorities of both countries. Guzman, for instance, who was indicted in the United States on drug charges several years ago, has been on the run since escaping from a Mexican prison in 2001.