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U.S. prepares to prosecute man accused of being top Sinaloa assassin

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(The Center Square) – U.S. prosecutors are preparing to prosecute the man they accuse of acting as a top cartel killer after he was extradited from Mexico.

Alleged Sinaloa Cartel leader and lead sicario, or assassin, Néstor Isidro Pérez Salas, also known as El Nini, 32, of Mexico, was extradited on May 25 from Mexico to the United States to face charges from two indictments, including murder, conspiracy and fentanyl trafficking.

Conviction of the most serious charges could result in a mandatory minimum sentence of 30 years and a maximum penalty of life in prison.

“We allege El Nini was one of the Sinaloa Cartel’s lead sicarios, or assassins, and was responsible for the murder, torture, and kidnapping of rivals and witnesses who threatened the cartel’s criminal drug trafficking enterprise. This includes killing a Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) confidential source and killing others in retaliation for the confidential source’s cooperation,” U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement. “We also allege El Nini was a part of the Sinaloa Cartel’s production and sale of fentanyl, including in the United States.”

Prosecutors charged Pérez Salas in the first indictment with cocaine and methamphetamine importation, firearms offenses, and conspiracy to obstruct justice through murder. The second indictment, filed in the Southern District of New York, prosecutors charged Pérez Salas with leading a continuing criminal enterprise resulting in the deaths of numerous victims, including a confidential source for the DEA, fentanyl importation and trafficking, obstruction of justice by murdering an informant, kidnapping resulting in the deaths of eight people, including a minor boy, firearms, and money laundering offenses, according to the U.S. Department of Justice and court records.

Mexican authorities arrested Pérez Salas in Culiacan, Mexico, by Mexican authorities on Nov. 22, 2023. He was sent to the U.S. over the weekend and heard the charges contained in the SDNY indictment Tuesday morning before U.S. Magistrate Judge Ona T. Wang.

The Sinaloa Cartel is one of the most powerful drug cartels in Mexico. It is responsible for much of the fentanyl smuggled into the U.S. from Mexico. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is up to 50 times more potent than heroin. It is the leading cause of death for Americans ages 18 to 49.

In recent years, the cartel has been led, in part, by the sons of the cartel’s former leader, Joaquin Archivaldo Guzman Loera, also known as El Chapo, and Ivan Archivaldo Guzman Salazar, Jesus Alfredo Guzman Salazar, and Ovidio Guzman Lopez – known collectively as the “Chapitos.” Like their father, the Chapitos have used violence to protect their drug empire, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

Pérez Salas has also allegedly killed to advance the Chapitos’ trafficking operations. For example, in or about 2017, Pérez Salas, with two of the Chapitos, allegedly captured, tortured, interrogated, and killed two Mexican federal law enforcement officers. In May 2017, Pérez Salas, with two of the Chapitos and others, allegedly captured three members of a rival drug cartel, Los Zetas, and tortured them before interrogating and killing them. Also, in 2017, Pérez Salas and others allegedly conspired to kill and retaliate against a witness and informant. In 2022, Pérez Salas and another sicario allegedly tested the potency of their fentanyl on individuals.

In addition, Pérez Salas has allegedly participated in the negotiation and sale of fentanyl. More specifically, in or about the summer of 2022, Pérez Salas and other associates allegedly sold fentanyl – later seized by the DEA – in Los Angeles. Finally, in or about October 2023, Pérez Salas and other sicarios, allegedly kidnapped a confidential source and 10 other victims in Mexico – including a U.S. citizen – whom Pérez Salas believed worked for or were related to the confidential source. Pérez Salas and his sicarios allegedly killed eight of the kidnapped victims, including the confidential source, and a 13-year-old boy. Pérez Salas allegedly kidnapped and killed these victims in retaliation for the confidential source’s provision of information to law enforcement in connection with the investigation of Pérez Salas and his associates in the Southern District of New York.

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