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3 suspected in Mexican drug ring charged in NH

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CONCORD, N.H. — Four suspected members of a major Mexican drug smuggling and distribution ring will be prosecuted in New Hampshire, in part to symbolize law enforcement's wide-ranging efforts to dismantle the operation, authorities said Tuesday.

The men, suspected of belonging to the Sinaloa cartel, were arrested last month in Madrid by Spanish police working with the FBI's Boston division and Boston police. Authorities said the arrests, which followed a three-year investigation, halted the cartel's attempt to establish a European distribution route for cocaine as well as a heroin and methamphetamine route to Canada.

"We're taking the approach that this is going to be death by a thousand cuts. This is one of those cuts," said U.S. Attorney John Kacavas.

Manuel Jesus Guttierez Guzman, Fafael Humberto Celaya Valenzuela, Samuel Zazueta Valenzuela were arrested in the port city of Algeciras, Spain, on Aug. 7. Authorities also arrested Jesus Soto in Spain. The men have been indicted in New Hampshire on charges of conspiracy to distribute drugs because they had at least one meeting there, Kacavas said. New Hampshire also was chosen to highlight the commitment by law enforcement at all levels to stop drug trafficking, he said.

"This is law enforcement in the 21st century. It isn't restricted to localities anymore. It isn't constrained by boundaries, state or international," he said. "The world is smaller, and we have to work with law enforcement agencies across the country and across the world in order to stem the tide of these drug trafficking organizations shipping their poison to our streets."

Guzman is a cousin to the cartel's notorious leader, Joaquin Guzman, known as "El Chapo." Since escaping prison in 2001, Joaquin Guzman has run the cartel from a series of hideouts and safe houses across Mexico, and officials say he has earned billions of dollars moving tons of cocaine and other drugs north to the United States. He has been indicted in numerous states, including New Hampshire.

Authorities said the investigation began in 2009 when a link to the cartel was discovered in Massachusetts. Undercover FBI agents later posed as members of a European drug trafficking organization and held numerous meetings with the arrested men in Spain, Mexico and the United States. During those meetings, Joaquin Guzman's cousin held himself out as a direct representative of his cousin and boasted that European distribution route would initially involve shipments of 20 tons of cocaine at a time, officials said.

In July, the cartel sent test shipments of pineapples and plantains from South America to Spain, then followed up 750 pounds of cocaine, which was intercepted by law enforcement. Authorities also seized heroin and methamphetamine in Detroit in May.