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Unprecedented Discovery at Southern US Border Exposes Chinese Criminal Alliance with Sinaloa Cartel

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An investigation is underway after a major drug bust at the southern border. Law enforcement say this case is unprecedented. 

Two dozen Chinese nationals are charged with money laundering for Mexico's Sinaloa drug cartel. Officials say they also conspired to inundate the U.S. with illicit drugs like fentanyl.

Federal prosecutors in southern California call it the first of is kind with more than $50 million in drug proceeds exchanged between the two groups.

U.S. Attorney General for the Central District of California Marti Estrada said, "Millions and millions of dollars are moved in proceeds from the drug sales in the United States back down to Mexico, and wealthy Chinese nationals in this country are given access to virtually limitless supplies of cash."

Prosecutors say the cartel is using Chinese money launderers to convert this money into Chinese currency and then import goods from China back to Mexico. 

That includes precursor chemicals for manufacturing drugs such as fentanyl and methamphetamine. 

Law enforcement seized 300 pounds of cocaine alone and 10,000 fake fentanyl pills in this operation.

Who is this criminal network? The DEA says it's an array of Chinese, Mexican, and American men who work as couriers, brokers, and traffickers in an elaborate scheme to pick up big amounts of cash from the sale of drugs in the Los Angeles area and launder the profits to the cartel.

The bust comes amid increased scrutiny of Chinese migrants coming over the border. Ecuador has suspended visa-free travel for Chinese citizens, citing concerns over an "increase in migratory flows from China."

Ecuador is now a key transit point for Chinese migrants headed to the U.S. Southern border.

U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration Chief Anne Milgram said, "Martinez-Reyes' couriers in Los Angeles picked up hundreds of thousands of dollars at a time tens, twenties, fifties, and hundreds wrapped in rubber bands from drug traffickers supplied by the Sinaloa Cartel. These couriers would take that money, count it, package it, and deposit it in bank accounts set up in their own names and in other names, depositing small amounts over and over again to envoy to avoid the bank's reporting requirements."

Meanwhile, the CDC says fentanyl is driving a surge in deadly drug overdoses in the U.S. Last year alone, more than 74,000 people died from synthetic fentanyl. That number is only expected to go up amid the U.S. border crisis.

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About The Author


Tara Mergener is an award-winning journalist and expert storyteller who spent the majority of her career as a correspondent in Washington, D.C. She worked at CBS Newspath for many years, reporting for all CBS platforms, including CBS News and CBS affiliates throughout the nation. Tara also reported at CNN, Hearst’s Washington, D.C. Bureau, and was a contributor on Full Court Press with Greta Van Susteren. Tara has won dozens of awards for her investigative and political reporting, including Headliner Foundation’s Best Reporter in Texas, multiple Edward R. Murrow awards, Texas Associated Press