The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Illinois recently announced that 20 defendants are facing federal narcotics charges. Five of those indicted are alleged members of a Chicago-based cell of the Zetas Mexican drug cartel who were responsible for transporting millions of dollars in drug proceeds between Chicago and Mexico. The same day the defendants were arrested DEA and FBI agents seized $480,000 in cash and two kilograms of heroin. However, during the course of the investigation leading up to these arrests authorities seized $12.4 million in cash and approximately 250 kilograms of cocaine.

The 20 defendants were charged in five separate indictments returned by a federal grand jury on November 2 and unsealed following the arrests. Of the 20 defendants charged, five remain fugitives. All 20 were charged with various narcotics offenses, including conspiracy to possess and distribute quanities of cocaine and using a telephone to facilitate narcotics trafficking. The five with alleged ties to the Zetas drug cartel were part of an alleged “money transportation cell” and are being charged wtih conspiracy to transfer narcotics proceeds outside the United States. It is alleged that this money transportation cell would coordinate the transfer of money from places such as Chicago to Laredo, TX, and then from Laredo to Mexico. At the direction of the Zetas, one of the defendants would allegedly collect, process, and conceal the cash earned from narcotics sales. Other defendants would drive the cash south, while other defendants would allegedly identify and maintain the physical safe houses were the drug proceeds were secretly collected, packaged, and concealed.

Those charged in the 5 five indictments include Eduardo Trevino, Salvador Estrada, Miguel Arredondo, Juan Aguirre, Vicente Casares, Aureliana Montoya-Pena, Jesus Maria Carreno-Lechuga, Julio Morales-Soto, Antonio Quezada, Miguel Angel Hernandez, Alejandro Kader, Carlos Aaron Nevarez-Diaz, Evaristo Martinez Zamaniego, Manuel Estrada, Alvaro Torres-Estrada, Abel Galindo Herrarra, Noel Cano, David Aquirre, Adrian Herrera, and Margarito Lechuga.

Given the number of participants in the alleged conspiracies, litigation of the case will likely be complex. Of primary concern will be whether the drug distribution and money processing/transportation activities can be conceived of as a single operation known as a “chain conspiracy” linking several parties in one long criminal enterprise. If so, the prosectuion gains certain advantages such as charging all 20 defendants together (including those who were only minor participants with very little evidence against them), more venue options, an expanded scope of relevant evidence admissible at trial, and the use of hearsay statements at trial under the “co-conspirators exception” to the hearsay rule. Perhaps most damning to the individual defendants if they are all charged as part of the same conspiracy is that they can all be vicariously liable for the substantive criminal offenses committed by any other co-conspirators, even if the individual defendant doesn’t know the co-conspirator committing the offense.

In addition to these charges, federal authorities are seeking criminal forfeiture of approximately $13 million, including the $12.4 million already seized. With most of the funds already seized, the government only needs to commence its forfeiture action pursuant to Rule 32.2. If successful, the ownership of the money will be granted to the government as proceeds and instrumentalities of criminal conduct.

The author of this blog is Erich Ferrari, an attorney specializing in Federal Criminal Defense matters. If you have any questions please contact him at 202-280-6370 or

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