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Suspected Mexican cartel leader and 'El Chapo' henchman suspected in American deaths faces slew of US charges

Néstor Isidro Pérez Salas was extradited to the U.S. over the weekend to appear in court on indictments related to murder, kidnapping, and drugs.

An alleged Sinaloa Cartel leader and assassin was extradited to the U.S. from Mexico over the weekend to face a litany of charges between indictments in southern New York and Washington, D.C.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) said in a release Tuesday that 32-year-old Mexican national Néstor Isidro Pérez Salas, also known as "El Nini," faces charges such as conspiring to import narcotics into the U.S., using and possessing machine guns in connection with the narcotics' conspiracy, conspiring to import fentanyl into the U.S., conspiring to obstruct justice by retaliating against a witness and information through murder, kidnapping resulting in the death of a minor, and money laundering, among other charges.

"Today, El Nini joins the growing list of cartel leaders and associates extradited to the United States and held accountable in an American courtroom," Attorney General Merrick B. Garland said. "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."

Mexican authorities arrested Pérez Salas on Nov. 22, 2023, before being extradited to the U.S. last week. On Tuesday, Pérez Salas appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge Ona T. Wang in the Southern District of New York (SDNY).

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The indictment filed in the SDNY alleges Pérez Salas is one of the leaders of the Sinaloa Cartel, one of the most powerful cartels in Mexico which is responsible for a substantial portion of the fentanyl brought into the U.S.

Over the past few years, the cartel has been led by Joaquine Guzman, also known as "El Chapo," as well as his sons, who collectively are known as the "Chapitos."

The DOJ alleges that Pérez Salas is a senior leader of the Chapitos’ security team, and under his direction, armed enforcers known as sicarios have used violence to protect the cartel’s operations, while also demolishing unsupportive businesses, intimidating civilians, attacking and murdering law enforcement officials who resist their efforts, and capturing contested territories.

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Also, under Pérez Salas’ direction, the sicarios allegedly use military-grade firearms and explosives to kidnap, torture and kill anyone who opposes the Chapitos.

Pérez Salas is the head of the Ninis, court documents claim, which is a security group for the Chapitos.

The indictment alleges that between 2012 and 2021, Pérez Salas conspired to manufacture and distribute cocaine and methamphetamine in the U.S., used a firearm for drug trafficking-related offenses, and killed, attempted to kill, threatened, and physically harmed people to intimidate a government witness and informant.

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The documents also claim in 2018, Pérez Salas and two Chapitos captured, tortured, interrogated and killed Mexican law enforcement officers, as well as three members of the rival drug cartel, Los Zetas.

In 2022, he and a sicario allegedly used individuals to test the potency of their fentanyl, while also allegedly selling fentanyl that was later seized by the DEA in Los Angeles.

Last October, Pérez Salas and sicarios allegedly kidnapped 10 victims and a confidential source in Mexico, including a U.S. citizen, who Pérez Salas believed worked for, or was related to the confidential source.

The cartel members then allegedly killed eight of the kidnapped victims, including a 13-year-old boy, in retaliation for the confidential source’s move to provide law enforcement officials with information about Pérez Salas and his associates.

Pérez Salas faces life in prison if convicted.

"I am grateful to our Mexican government counterparts for their extraordinary efforts in apprehending and extraditing El Nini," Garland said. "The Justice Department will always be relentless in its pursuit of the cartels responsible for flooding our communities with fentanyl and other drugs."

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