A 29-year-old man believed to be the godson of Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman was indicted on drug smuggling charges in San Diego federal court Monday.
Damaso Lopez Serrano, who turned himself in to U.S. authorities amid a bloody power struggle over the Sinaloa cartel, and five close associates are accused of doling out drugs to smugglers and smuggling drugs into the United States themselves from about May 2005 to August 2016.
Court documents don’t specify the exact amount of drugs they are accused of funneling into the country, but state it was more than a pound of methamphetamine, more than two pounds of heroin and more than 11 pounds of cocaine.
They are also are suspected of laundering money into the United States “with the intent to promote… the distribution of controlled substances,” court records said.
Lopez Serrano, also known as “Mini Lic,” pleaded not guilty to conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine, cocaine and heroin intended for importation, conspiracy to import meth, cocaine and heroin, and conspiracy to launder money. The five associates, including 29-year-old Nahum Abraham Sicairos Montalvo, who goes by “Kinceanero,” face those same charges.
The indictment is just one piece of a massive five-year investigation that has resulted in charges against more than 125 people and has had a significant impact on one of the world’s most “prolific, violent and powerful drug cartels, said Kelly Thornton, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
“Today marks another important step in the dismantling of the Sinaloa cartel and is a reflection of law enforcement’s focused efforts these last several years to put an end to this most powerful drug trafficking organization,” Acting U.S. Attorney Alana Robinson in a statement.
Lopez Serrano was also charged with drug smuggling charges in a separate case being handled in Virginia, Thornton said. His father, Damaso Lopez Nunez, who was arrested in Mexico earlier this year, was also named in the indictment.
Lopez Serrano surrendered to U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers on July 27 at the U.S.-Mexico border crossing in Calexico, officials said.
Mexican authorities had been looking for Lopez Serrano in nearby Mexicali, according to the Mexican news wire service EFE.
He is thought to be the highest-ranking Mexican cartel leader to self-surrender in the United States. Lopez Serrano is the son of — and got his nickname from — Damaso Lopez Nunez, who goes by “El Licenciado” or the graduate. The father was reputed to be one of Guzmán’s top leaders in the Sinaloa cartel.
The younger man has a playboy reputation and often posted images of his lavish lifestyle on social media. His Instagram is littered with pictures of scantily clad women, men with guns, gold-plated weapons and exotic pets including a tiger.
After Guzmán was arrested in Sinaloa in January 2016, Lopez Nuñez allegedly launched an effort to wrest control of the cartel, especially from the drug lord’s two sons, who go by “Los Chapitos,” according to news reports.
The friendly relationship Lopez Serrano and Guzmán’s sons once shared apparently deteriorated as the struggle for power escalated.
In May, Lopez Nunez was arrested by Mexican authorities at a high-rise tower in Mexico City. His son’s surrender to U.S. authorities soon followed.
Other high-level targets close to Guzman’s empire have often been nabbed along this stretch of the U.S.-Mexico border.
Last month, Guzman’s alleged mistress and a former Mexican legislator, Lucero Guadalupe Sanchez Lopez, was taken into custody while trying to enter San Diego at the Cross Border Xpress airport terminal.
She has been indicted on a conspiracy charge of helping the cartel launder money and will be tried in Washington, D.C.