Former Gulf Cartel leader extradited from Mexico to the US on cocaine trafficking charges


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A former leader of the infamous Gulf Cartel, one of the oldest drug trafficking operations in Mexico, was extradited to the United States this week to face trial for conspiracy to distribute cocaine. 

Mario Cardenas-Guillen, a 57-year-old from the northeast Mexican city of Matamoros, was originally indicted by a federal grand jury in 2012 and was surrendered to U.S. authorities on Tuesday. 

He is facing one count of conspiracy with intent to distribute five kilograms or more of cocaine

Mexican marines escort former Gulf Cartel leader Mario Cardenas Guillen, alias "El Gordo or El M-1," as he is presented to the media in Mexico City September 4, 2012. 

Mexican marines escort former Gulf Cartel leader Mario Cardenas Guillen, alias “El Gordo or El M-1,” as he is presented to the media in Mexico City September 4, 2012. 
( REUTERS/Henry Romero)

The Gulf Cartel has been active since the 1930s, when they smuggled whiskey and other illegal substances from Mexico into the United States during the Prohibition era. 

The crime syndicate expanded in the 1970s under the leadership of Juan Garcia-Abrego, who was the first drug trafficker to be named to the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted List. 

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In the 1990s, Gulf Cartel leaders hired former members of the Mexican Army Special Forces to be their lethal enforcers, who would come to be known as Los Zetas and eventually splinter off to form their own criminal organization, according to the State Department. 

A U.S. Border Patrol agent and drug sniffing German Shepherd Jack-D prepare to search vehicles for drugs at a checkpoint near the U.S. Mexico border.

A U.S. Border Patrol agent and drug sniffing German Shepherd Jack-D prepare to search vehicles for drugs at a checkpoint near the U.S. Mexico border.
(John Moore/Getty Images)

The Gulf Cartel now mostly traffics heroin and cocaine into the Texas border cities of McAllen and Brownsville, according to a 2020 DEA National Drug Threat Assessment. 

“For decades, the Gulf Cartel has used intimidation and extreme violence to maintain control of its territories in northeast Mexico and smuggle deadly drugs into communities across the United States,” DEA Administrator Anne Milgram said in a statement Thursday. 

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“The extradition of Mario Cardenas Guillen, the former leader of the Gulf Cartel, should send a clear message to the leaders of drug trafficking organizations around the world that no one is beyond the reach of the DEA and our law enforcement partners.”

Mario Cardenas Guillen was originally arrested in 2012 and extradited to the United States on Tuesday. 

Mario Cardenas Guillen was originally arrested in 2012 and extradited to the United States on Tuesday. 
(REUTERS/Henry Romero)

Cardenas-Guillen conspired to traffic cocaine from 2000 to 2012, according to the indictment. 

He’ll make his first appearance before U.S. Magistrate Judge Zack Hawthorn in the Eastern District of Texas on May 23, and faces 10 years to life in prison if convicted.

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The most recent leader of the Gulf Cartel, 42-year-old Jose Alfredo Cardenas-Martinez, was indicted in March on charges of trafficking meth, cocaine, and fentanyl. 

Cardenas-Martinez is currently in the custody of Mexican authorities awaiting extradition to the U.S. 



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