Friday, June 21, 2024

US sanctions the ‘Malas Mañas’ criminal group based in Sonora

The United States Department of the Treasury is clamping down on migrant trafficking over the Mexican border, announcing new indictments and sanctions against the Sonora-based criminal organization known as the “Malas Mañas.”

According to a Treasury press release, the group is commanded by Sergio Valenzuela Valenzuela, plaza boss for the infamous Sinaloa Cartel.

Members of the gang operate on both sides of the Mexico-U.S. border. (Los Pennys/Youtube)

Their human smuggling operations move undocumented migrants, mostly from Guatemala and El Salvador, across the border into Phoenix and Tucson, Arizona. They also collaborate with the Sinaloa Cartel to distribute drugs including fentanyl and methamphetamine in the United States.

“Through whole-of-government efforts targeting cartels and smugglers like the Malas Mañas, we are disrupting the illicit financial networks of criminals who profit off of vulnerable migrants and devastate our communities with fentanyl and other dangerous narcotics,” said Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro N. Mayorkas. 

Formed in 2016, the Malas Mañas now have members – including enforcers – on both sides of the Sonora-Arizona border. 

The sanctions specifically target group members Luis Eduardo Román Flores and Joel Alexandro Salazar Ballesteros. This freezes any assets they have in the U.S. and blocks any U.S. citizens from doing business with them.

According to the U.S. Treasury, Román works for his imprisoned brother – Malas Mañas’ founder Jorge Damian Román Figueroa, alias ‘El Soldado’ – who was sanctioned in Sep. 2021 and arrested in Nogales, Sonora a month later. Román allegedly oversees the gathering of migrants, sets smuggling prices, uses social media to coordinate smuggling arrangements, and receives payments on behalf of the organization.

Salazar is accused of managing the Malas Mañas’ finances and distributing fentanyl, cocaine and methamphetamine in the U.S.

The sanctions were announced on the same day as an 11-count indictment against five members of the Malas Mañas, which was delivered in Tucson by the U.S. Justice Department on Nov. 29. In addition to the three sanctioned individuals, the indictment also names Manuel José Bernal and Jesús Armando González-Villela on

various charges related to human smuggling, drug trafficking and money laundering. The most serious of the charges carry a minimum jail term of between ten years and life, and a fine of up to US $10 million.

“The facts alleged here illustrate the breadth and diversity of the harmful actions by transnational criminal organizations,” said U.S. Attorney Gary Restaino. “This case isn’t about just guns, or drugs, or aliens. In our continuing efforts to safeguard and bolster border communities, we look forward to establishing the interconnectedness of these three related crimes.”

With reports from Tucson Sentinel

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